By Jack Sharp
Three teams go into the weekend with unbeaten records in the Lotto NRFL Northern Conference as pressure mounts to find a clear leader in the competition.
The top four sides are all within a point of each other and only Central United — who have a bye — can’t be the competition leader come Saturday night.
Current leaders Franklin United probably face the toughest test, at home to Oratia United, while nearest challengers Bucklands Beach and Beachlands Maraetai both face sides in the bottom half of the table.
On form, the top three should all win but any slip-up will provide the chance for the others to pull clear.
Game of the week
Franklin United’s game against Oratia United will be a decent test for both sides.
Playing at their Drury ground, Franklin have conceded only three goals and have scored just enough goals to make sure they can win when needed.
Oratia have scored an average of three goals per game since gaining a late inclusion in the competition, and it’s clear they have sufficient firepower to cause problems for side.
Captain Mark Withers has scored four of his side’s 12 goals, Andy Kapteyn has claimed three, but the rest have been shared among five different players.
Franklin don’t have a standout scorer yet but they find the goals they need. Defender Cameron Sinclair got the winner in the fifth minute last week at Northland and his side’s cleansheet did the rest.
From a spectator’s point of view, the game needs an early goal from Oratia, forcing Franklin to go in pursuit of the result.
A win by Oratia would see the side go ahead of Franklin on the table; that’s how tight it is.
Player to watch
Jack Beguely is in his fifth season at Albany United since making the move from East Coast Bays.
Now 34, he’s been a key cog in Albany’s team, playing well in a side that was always struggling last year as it was relegated from the Lotto NRFL first division.
Last weekend, Beguely popped up with two goals against Beachlands Maraetai, one either side of half-time.
They weren’t enough to prevent a 3-2 loss and they’re the only goals scored by winless Albany this season.
This weekend, Albany host Waitemata, the only other side yet to find a victory.
If Beguely can fire, it could well inspire Albany to break through and to climb off the bottom of the table.
Beachlands Maraetai should win at West Auckland, but I think they’ll find it more difficult than it looks.
West Auckland haven’t yet found the form that made them title contenders in last season’s Lotto NRFL second division but if they can shore up their defence (the leakiest in the competition), they’ll be competitive.
Beachlands Maraetai will get the win, I believe, but only just.
Last week, I tipped Franklin United to beat Northland by a three-goal margin. They beat them 1-0.
Games to be played on Saturday , 2023
Albany United v Waitemata
Rosedale Park, Albany, 3pm
Bucklands Beach v Northland
Lloyd Elsmore Park, Pakuranga, 3pm
Franklin United v Oratia United
Drury Sports Complex, Drury, 3pm
West Auckland v Beachlands Maraetai
Brains Park, Kelston, 3pm
Central United — Bye
Jack Sharp is a long-time follower of club football in New Zealand and is a volunteer writer for Friends of Football.