Half-term report: Who our writers tip to make this year’s Men’s National League

With about half the season completed, the leading regional contenders are emerging in the race to qualify for this year’s Men’s National League.

Ten teams will qualify to take part in the 2023 edition of the National League:

  • The top four teams in the Northern League.
  • The top four teams in the Central League, with a guaranteed spot for the Wellington Phoenix reserves.
  • The top two teams in the Southern League.

The Friends of Football writing team have done their mid-term homework on the three regional leagues and they tip this year’s National League to look like this:

  • Northern League: Auckland City, Eastern Suburbs, Auckland United, Manurewa.
  • Central League: Wellington Olympic, Wellington Phoenix Reserves, Western Suburbs, Petone.
  • Southern League: Christchurch United, plus Cashmere Technical or Dunedin City Royals.

If their tips are on the money, that means three or four new teams will feature in this year’s competition.

Main photo: Auckland City captain Cam Howieson raises the Men’s National League trophy after his side’s Grand Final win against Wellington Olympic at Mt Smart Stadium. Photo: Shane Wenzlick / Phototek.

Last season’s National League

Final 2023 table:

Northern League

Jonno Ross writes …

Auckland City occupy third spot in the league with three games in hand over current leaders Eastern Suburbs.

Even if Eastern Suburbs and Auckland City remain undefeated for the rest of the campaign, they will both be level on points, but I don’t think it will come to that.

Auckland City have the experience and the depth in their squad to get them over the line.

I think this season will be comparable to the English Premier League — Eastern Suburbs are going to be the Arsenal of the league, and Auckland City, the Manchester City.

There’s just too much about them — the likes of Ryan De Vries, Cam Howieson, Dylan Manickum, and Jordan Vale — to name a few, will prove too good for the rest of the league.

Auckland City striker Ryan De Vries … one of the Navy Blues’ class acts. Photo: Shane Wenzlick / Phototek.

Suburbs have been brilliant throughout round one of this season.

I think they have surprised most, considering where they ended up last season when they finished 10th in the league.

I suspect they will pull up short and drop points in the second half of the season, especially as the teams they have faced will know more about them.

Auckland United are a quality side, with past National League experience under their belts.

Normally consistent, they will feel like they haven’t been up to scratch so far, dropping points against sides they were expected to beat.

Again, experienced players in Ross Haviland, Sione Fa’apoi and the international experience of Noah Billingsley should see them pick up the pace in the second round and get them home.

I predict Auckland United to go on a solid run, as they did last season when they went the whole second round robin undefeated, bar one game.

It’s going to be a heck of a race for third and fourth. With just a six-point gap between second and seventh, the last two places are up for grabs.

Manurewa have had an impressive season so far, and currently hold second place.

No doubt Auckland City will take their spot with games in hand which will put Rewa third.

After getting promoted from Division 1 (now called Lotto NRFL Men’s Championship), not many, if any, would have predicted the South Auckland outfit to be doing as well as they are.

The 10-match suspension to key players Nico Bobadilla and Agustin Contratti hasn’t stopped the Rewa roll; I think they’ll just make it into the fourth spot.

Jonno Ross’ tip

Prediction: 1st — Auckland City; 2nd — Eastern Suburbs; 3rd — Auckland United; 4th — Manurewa.

Central League

Luke Austin writes …

Leaders Olympic look increasingly likely to cruise towards their third title in a row, with 24 points gained from the 27 available.

Their main challengers so far have been Western Suburbs and the Phoenix Reserves.

Olympic have beaten both these sides away from home, including a statement 5-2 win against previously second-placed Wests.

While the top three look relatively set for the season, the battle for the all-important 4th place is incredibly close.

Remember, the top three teams, plus Wellington Phoenix Reserves, qualify for the National League.

Only two points separate Napier in 4th and Stop Out in 8th, with Petone, Miramar and Karori between.

Of this group, it is 5th-placed Petone who will be the most confident. They have played one game fewer than Napier and trail them on goal difference only. They are in good form, with two wins and a draw in their last three games and recorded big wins against top-four rivals Napier and Miramar in the first half of the competition.

Wellington Olympic’s Hamish Watson is in goalscoring form again this season. Photo: Shane Wenzlick / Phototek.

Miramar will need to bounce back from some disappointing results to return to the National League this year but remain firmly in the hunt and should not be written off.

It will be intriguing second half of the season for Karori and Stop Out who despite sitting in 7th and 8th, respectively, have impressed at times and remain within touching distance of fourth place.

Karori’s recent results suggest they may be able to turn heads in the second half of the season and push for National League qualification.

They have lost only once in the last five games and are the current holders of the O’Brien Shield after defeating Miramar at David Farrington Park.

Their defence of the shield will be a major source of motivation at home fixtures which could help carry their team over the line in close games.

I would not be surprised to see them compete with the top teams and make a run at fourth place.

Luke Austin’s tip

Prediction: 1st — Wellington Olympic; 2nd — Wellington Phoenix Reserves; 3rd — Western Suburbs; 4th — Petone.

Outside chance: Waterside Karori.

Southern League

Logan Smith writes …

A real race is brewing for the top two spots.

Reigning champions Christchurch United look likely to retain their title and will find themselves in the National League again.

They’ve strengthened throughout the park, including topscorer Sam Philip (23), and sit pretty five points clear of second place.

Their closest competitors are last year’s runners-up Cashmere Technical in second place. With experience all over the pitch and marksman Garbhan Coughlan (30) in reliably excellent form, they’re not to be written off.

Cashmere Technical’s Garbhan Coughlan (second from left) … one of the deadliest strikers in the country.

The attack-minded Dunedin City Royals have followed closely behind for some time, inflicted Cashmeres’ only defeat and stand just one point below them on the table.

With Dunedin yet to be represented in the National League since Southern United’s’ last season in 2019-20, the Royals will be motivated to put the city back on the national stage.

In fourth place and four points off Cashmere Tech, Coastal Spirit are quietly building up a head of steam and have notched up a few wins in a row. Preferring a direct and physical style of play, they might not be in the mix yet but keep those wins coming, and you never know.

It’s also looking to be a dramatic showdown at the other end of the table, with one team to be relegated.

Currently, FC Twenty 11 occupy last place with six points, but only goal difference separates them from Green Island and Selwyn United, while Nomads are just ahead with seven points.

Certainly, plenty to keep an eye on in the second half of the Southern League …

Logan Smith’s tip

I’ve got Christchurch United as champions, FC Twenty 11 to be relegated and that qualification race to go down to the wire between Cashmere Technical and Dunedin City Royals.

Jonno Ross

Friends of Football writer Jonno Ross is a media writer for the NZ Football Foundation. A former New Zealand U-20 goalkeeper, he is the team manager for Mount Albert Ponsonby. He supports the All Whites, the Football Ferns, the Wellington Phoenix and Arsenal.

Luke Austin

Luke Austin is a Wellington-based football fan and volunteer, who plays for Island Bay, and follows the Central League.

Logan Smith

Logan Smith is a passionate football fan and volunteer, based in Dunedin, covering the Southern League.

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