Waikato derby heads next round of games in Lotto NRFL Southern Conference

By Jack Sharp

With a third of the fixture schedule complete, Waikato Unicol and Cambridge look the sides most likely to be fighting out the title race later in the season.

Unicol should be good for another three points this weekend — they play Ngongotaha Lakes — but Cambridge have a tough opponent in local rivals Claudelands Rovers.

At the other end of the table, the bottom two sides meet in a match that could have long-term implications for the loser.

Game of the week

Claudelands Rovers host Cambridge in a Waikato derby that has delivered some high-scoring games in recent years.

They are the only two clubs in the competition who were playing at a higher level last season, when they were in the Lotto NRFL second division before the competition was restructured.

By rights, they should be among the leaders in this league.

Cambridge took a while to get going but have now moved into second spot, and have been boosted by the return to the forward line of striker Josh Clarkin (back from a short spell at Hamilton Wanderers).

Ironically, their only loss this year was the season opener when they lost to Claudelands Rovers.

Rovers don’t do draws. They play for the result and have won four, lost three.

Harry Christensen-Rose is their form player — he grabbed a hat-trick last week in the 7-0 routing of Te Awamutu — and they have the second-best defensive record in the league.

The result could go either way and expect both teams to play with plenty of spirit. A good one for the spectators.

Player to watch

Goalkeeper Andrew Gibbs has been around the WaiBOP scene a long time, as a player and coach (he’s coached ‘keepers, and men’s and women’s teams).

Now 37, he’s back at Ngongotaha (after spells with Claudlands Rovers and Matamata Swifts) to be part of the new composite team formed by Ngongotaha and Rotorua’s Lakes FC.

It’s taken time for Ngongotaha Lakes to find their feet, conceding 19 goals in their seven outings.

But last weekend’s 1-1 draw with high-flying Cambridge was encouraging and Gibbs is the sort of player who leads from the back.

This week, he’ll face leaders Waikato Unicol, scorer of 26 goals already.  The biggest test yet for Gibbs and his team.

Bold prediction

I’m tipping Te Awamutu to be four points adrift at the foot of the table by Saturday night.

They play Otumoetai in a bottom-of-the-table clash and have to play at Fergusson Park, often a tricky venue if the wind picks up.

Otumoetai grabbed a useful point last weekend in their 1-1 draw with Taupo.

Te Awamutu were overrun 7-0 by Claudelands Rovers last time out.

My pick is for a home win, leaving Te Awamutu lonely at the foot of the ladder.

Last weekend, I picked Unicol to put Papamoa to the sword with a rush of goals in the last 20 minutes. Unicol did the business, winning 6-0, but scored five of them in the first half.


Games to be played on Saturday May 27, 2023

Claudelands Rovers v Cambridge
Galloway Park, Hamilton, 3pm

Ngongotaha Lakes v Waikato Unicol
Tamarahi Reserve, Ngongotaha 3pm

Otumoetai v Te Awamutu
Fergusson Park, Otumoetai, 3pm

Papamoa v Taupo
Gordon Spratt Reserve, Papamoa, 3pm

Jack Sharp

Jack Sharp is a long-time follower of club football in New Zealand and is a volunteer writer for Friends of Football.

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