By Jack Sharp
Fitness will play a part in this weekend’s fortunes for five of the Lotto NRFL Men’s Northern Conference clubs.
Albany United, Franklin United, Waitemata, Bucklands Beach and West Auckland all have league fixtures on Saturday and then back up for their second-round Chatham Cup ties 48 hours later.
The top three sides in the Conference are separated by only a point but all have fixtures against teams in the lower half of the table.
Game of the week
Beachlands Maraetai are in good form and face a Waitemata side yet to register a win in the league.
Beachlands don’t have to hold anything back as they’re out of the Chatham Cup, while their opponents might be tempted to keep something in reserve for Monday’s cup tie against league rivals Bucklands Beach.
Beachlands will be without the experienced Reid Szopa (serving a three-match ban for a red card), but they have an otherwise settled squad.
Waitemata’s form is better than it looks.
They thrashed Central United 8-2 in the Chatham Cup to show what they are capable of, and in the Conference, they have drawn with leaders Franklin United, second-placed Bucklands Beach and Albany.
They also upset Championship side Hibiscus Coast 3-2 in the last round of the cup, finishing strongly with three goals in the last 20 minutes, an indication, perhaps, that they’ve got the legs to finish matches.
On Monday, they travel to Franklin for a cup tie that will see at least one Conference club through to the third round.
Player to watch
Mohammed Shah played the first eight rounds of the Northern League with Manurewa before switching to Franklin United in mid-May.
Last weekend, he struck a hat-trick in Franklin’s 4-2 win against Oratia United.
The 23-year-old Fijian could be the player that the league leaders needed to complete their title ambitions.
Despite leading the competition, Franklin had relied heavily on a tight defence, and had scored only six goals in their opening four matches.
With Shah hitting form, Mark Holt’s team could become formidable at both ends of the park.
Winless Waitemata to break through with a victory on the road at Beachlands Maraetai … yes, I think it’s on.
Waitemata are not as bad as their table position might suggest, and at the very least, I think they’ll give Beachlands Maraetai a jolt.
Let’s say, 2-1 to Waitemata.
Last week, I said Beachlands Maraetai would get up to win against West Auckland, but only just. They won 2-1, scoring twice in the last five minutes.
Lotto NRFL Men’s Northern Conference
Oratia United v Bucklands Beach
Parrs Park, Oratia, 3pm
West Auckland v Franklin United
Brains Park, Kelston, 3pm
Central United v Albany United
Kiwitea St, Sandringham, 3pm
Beachlands Maraetai v Waitemata
Te Puru Park, Beachlands, 3pm
Northland — Bye