By Jack Sharp
Midtable teams are relying on competition leaders Waikato Unicol and Cambridge to slip up to open up the title race in the Lotto NRFL Southern Conference.
After eight rounds, it looks a two-team race but this weekend’s fixtures do provide the prospect of possible upsets.
Waikato Unicol will face a Claudelands Rovers eager to kick on from their club’s 100th birthday celebrations at Kings Birthday Weekend.
And Cambridge have to travel to Otumoetai where tricky wind conditions can often catch out the visitors.
Game of the week
Claudelands Rovers badly need to beat league leaders Waikato Unicol on Saturday.
As one of two sides in this competition who played in the former Lotto NRFL second division (the other was Cambridge), the Hamilton club was expected to be among the title candidates.
They still can be. But they’ll need to beat Unicol to realistically get into the hunt.
Win and Rovers close the gap to six points; lose, and Unicol will be 12 points clear.
Unicol went out of the Chatham Cup last weekend, losing 2-0 to Northern League side Takapuna — a respectable result, given the Aucklanders play two tiers higher in the northern football structure.
Claudelands lost 4-2 at home in the cup, to Northern Conference high flyers Bucklands Beach.
This weekend’s game provides the ideal opportunity for both sides to find winning form.
Player to watch
Striker Krishaant Singh (22) left Waikato Unicol’s WaiBOP Premiership side to join Cambridge this season, where he’s featured in all eight rounds.
He’s scored nine goals, an excellent goals-to-games ratio, and he’s only one behind Golden Boot leader Joe Donoghue, who has 10 goals but hasn’t played since round 6.
Playing at Otumoetai, Singh has the chance to draw level or go past O’Donoghue in the scoring chart.
New entity Ngongotaha Lakes are in the bottom half of the table but have been steadily improving.
Their last three games have been against the competition’s top three sides, and they have put up strong opposition in each game.
They lost 5-3 to Taupo, drew 1-1 with Cambridge and then went down 2-1 to Waikato Unicol in their latest outing.
The side is better when Luke Barker (30) is playing. He missed four games due to a red card in the opening round, and his return to the starting line-up has delivered five goals.
Ngongotaha Lakes get the perfect chance to make a statement on Saturday with an emphatic win against Papamoa.
I’m picking a three-goal margin.
Games to be played on Saturday June 10, 2023
Claudelands Rovers v Waikato Unicol
Galloway Park, Hamilton, 3pm
Ngongotaha Lakes v Papamoa
Tamarahi Reserve, Ngongotaha, 3pm
Otumoetai v Cambridge
Fergusson Park, Otumoetai, 3pm
Te Awamutu v Taupo
The Stadium, Te Awamutu, 3pm
Jack Sharp is a long-time follower of club football in New Zealand and is a volunteer writer for Friends of Football.