By Jonno Ross
Saturday’s game between title challengers East Coast Bays and Hibiscus Coast could have a big influence on end-of-season rankings in the Lotto NRFL Men’s Championship.
With Tauranga City not playing this weekend, the clash between leaders Bays and third-placed Hibiscus Coast will have an immediate impact on the table.
Meanwhile, at the other end of the table, Northern Rovers’ game against bottom-placed Waiheke United will help sort out which clubs face a battle to avoid relegation.
Game of the week
Hibiscus Coast have been one of the success stories of the season so far.
Promoted to the Championship after winning last year’s Lotto NRFL second division title, few would have predicted they would sit third in the competition after 10 rounds, and with a real shot at earning promotion to the Northern League.
And don’t rule out the prospect of Coast winning back-to-back titles.
Despite their lofty league position, Coast head into June in search of a form reversal.
They failed to win a match in May, relinquishing the form that saw them undefeated in the first seven rounds.
Coast will have used their King’s Birthday Weekend break from the league to take stock, and prepare for to find their second wind.
It’s been a real team effort this season with 11 players sharing the 17 goals, and a decent defence anchored by goalkeeper Josh Precious who has kept five clean sheets.
Coast will be tested by league leaders East Coast Bays who have been the most consistent side in the competition, reflected in their table position.
A win against Hibiscus Coast could see them slip five points clear of their nearest rivals, with second-placed Tauranga City out of action due to the rescheduling of their Chatham Cup tie against Manukau United.
Bays have been deadly this season.
They have put three or more goals past their opponents in six of their 10 games, running up 33 goals already.
And they’ve conceded goals in only four of their matches, with six clean sheets.
Game of the week? This has the potential to turn into the game of the season …
Player to watch
East Coast Bays needed a replacement this season for up-and-coming striker Keegan Kelly, their Golden Boot winner from last season who left for Western Springs over summer.
They’ve got one in Dylan Stansfield (28), an experienced striker with National League experience. He’s scored six goals in his seven Championship outings, including a last-start hat-trick against Mount Albert Ponsonby.
Stansfield appears to be coming into form at just the right time.
Waiheke United have had a tough season following their relegation from the Northern League, and they remain winless at the foot of the Championship ladder.
But I’m picking their fortunes will change this weekend and they’ll get their first win of 2023 against fellow strugglers Northern Rovers at McFetridge Park.
I’m tipping a 2-1 win for the Waiheke islanders.
Last time out, I predicted North Shore United would draw 2-2 with Northern Rovers. Shore won 2-1.
Games to be played on Saturday June 10, 2023
Fencibles United v Ellerslie
Riverhills Park, Pakuranga, 3pm
Hibiscus Coast v East Coast Bays
Stanmore Bay Park, Whangaparaoa, 3pm
Mt Albert Ponsonby v Tauranga City — POSTPONED
*Tauranga playing rescheduled Chatham Cup tie
Ngaruawahia United v Metro
Centennial Park, Ngaruawahia, 3pm
Northern Rovers v Waiheke United
McFetridge Park, Glenfield, 3pm
Onehunga Mangere United v North Shore United
Mangere Domain, Mangere, 3pm
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