By Luke Austin
The second half of the Central League season gets underway this Saturday at David Farrington Park with Miramar hosting Wellington Olympic.
Miramar’s recent struggles have seen them drop to 6th place and they risk falling further behind the top four unless they can avenge their 3-1 loss in the reverse fixture at Wakefield Park back in March.
Olympic have cruised through most of the season so far, with the depth and quality of their squad evident in the way they have been able to constantly rotate their starting line-up.
It will be interesting to see whether they begin to shift into a higher gear as the National League approaches.
The action continues with another O’Brien Shield defence for Waterside Karori.
They face tough opposition in the form of the Wellington Phoenix Reserves, who are playing their first game since their loss to Western Suburbs more than a month ago.
It will be quite the change of scenery for the several New Zealand U-20 representatives from the Phoenix Reserves as they go from playing in front of sold-out crowds in Argentina to the humble Karori Park.
With Karori in good form, a win or draw against the 2nd place Phoenix could really kickstart a strong second half of the season and propel them into contention for National League qualification.
The final Saturday game sees Whanganui Athletic travel to Petone Memorial Park for the second week in a row.
Petone needed a last-minute winner to beat Whanganui in the Chatham Cup last weekend and will hope for a more convincing win this time.
The Sunday games see Western Suburbs host North Wellington and Stop Out travel to Napier.
Wests suffered a reality check in round 9, losing their unbeaten status, going down 5-2 to Olympic.
They will be confident of returning to winning ways against a North Wellington side who continue to look anxiously over their shoulder at Whanganui who are only four points behind in last place.
Followers of the Central League were quick to write off Stop Out following their opening-round loss to Napier City Rovers, but the Lower Hutt-based side have improved since then to show they deserve their place in the division.
They are only two points behind Napier with a game in hand and could really shake things up with a result at Bluewater Stadium.
Game of the week
While the Miramar Rangers v Wellington Olympic is obviously worth a watch on Saturday (see live stream link below), my pick for the game of the week is Sunday’s meeting between Napier City Rovers and Stop Out.
The middle of the Central League table is so congested that a win for either side would be huge for their top-four prospects.
With each side having so much to play for, this is set to be a high-intensity and exciting clash.
Player to watch
It’s the news that no Central League defender wants to hear: Gianni Bouzoukis is back at Wellington Olympic.
Last season’s National League Golden Boot is back to add to the defending champions’ frightening arsenal of attacking talent.
The striker scored a hat-trick in the Chatham Cup last weekend in his first start for the Greeks since last year, and he is likely to feature against Miramar this weekend.
Do not be surprised if he finds the back of the net at David Farrington Park.
I think Karori can continue their impressive run of form and record an upset win against the Phoenix Reserves.
With the O’Brien Shield on the line and their home crowd cheering them on, the Wharfies will be pumped up to deliver a statement victory.
Games to be played on Saturday June 10, 2023
Miramar Rangers v Wellington Olympic
David Farrington Park, Miramar, 2.30pm
Waterside Karori v Wellington Phoenix Reserves
Karori Park, Karori, 2.30pm
Petone v Whanganui Athletic
Petone Memorial Park, Petone, 3.30pm
Games to be played on Sunday June 11, 2023
Napier City Rovers v Stop Out
Bluewater Stadium, Napier, 2pm
Western Suburbs v North Wellington
Endeavour Park, Porirua, 2pm
Luke Austin is a Wellington-based football fan and volunteer, who plays for Island Bay, and follows the Central League.