Waikato Unicol steal march on rivals in Lotto NRFL Southern Conference

By Jack Sharp

Waikato Unicol’s chances of winning the Lotto NRFL Southern Conference got a boost last weekend, even though they didn’t play.

Their game was washed out but their nearest rivals, Cambridge, lost 4-1 at Taupo, a result that still keeps both those clubs in reach of Unicol.

However, Unicol now have a lead of two points and have a game in hand.

This weekend, Unicol should have a routine win at struggling Te Awamutu while their title rivals will have to be careful not to drop points.

Game of the week

Cambridge’s season is at the crossroads after a 4-1 loss at Taupo last weekend.

Trailing 1-0 at the break, Cambridge were in the game but a red card for player coach Jordan Shaw early in the second half tilted the game in Taupo’s favour.

At the end of the game, Cambridge’s Nathan Claridge copped a red as well, meaning he and Shaw won’t be available for this weekend’s match against Papamoa.

Cambridge should have been able to face Papamoa confident of a win to stay in touch with leaders Waikato Unicol and Taupo. Now, they can’t afford a slip-up.

Papamoa have been inconsistent this season, picking up useful wins against Te Awamutu, Claudelands Rovers and, last time out, at Ngongotaha Lakes.

But they’ve also flattered to deceive in other games, and they lost their first encounter with Cambridge 3-1.

It depends which Papamoa turns up as to whether Cambridge will be tested.

With plenty at stake, the game should be a cracker.

Player to watch

James Field has been an ever-present between the posts this season, anchoring an efficient Waikato Unicol defence that’s conceded only eight goals.

Field (26) is in his ninth season with Unicol and offers experience within a youthful squad.

He’s chalked up three clean sheets this season, and he can confidently look for his fourth on Saturday when the league leaders play bottom-of-the-table Te Awamutu.

Update: We’re now advised Field will miss this match as he’s in Australia.

Bold prediction

Claudelands Rovers have had a poor last month, losing three games (including a Chatham Cup loss) and drawing once.

Their last win was four weeks ago, a 7-0 romp against bottom-placed side Te Awamutu.

Before that, you have to go back to April to find a Rovers win in this competition.

I’m tipping Rovers to rediscover their mojo this weekend with a decent win at Otumoetai.

Let’s say 3-1 to Rovers.

Last week I said I wouldn’t be surprised if the Taupo/Cambridge and Ngongotaha Lakes/Claudelands Rovers games were draws. Taupo beat Cambridge 4-1, but I nailed the other result — a 2-2 deadlock.

… one more thing

Two fixtures have been reversed because of pitch conditions on the coast.

Papamoa now travel to Cambridge, and Otumoetai head to Claudelands Rovers in a switch of venues.


Games to be played on Saturday June 24, 2023

Cambridge v Papamoa
John Kerkhof Park, Cambridge, 3pm

Ngongotaha Lakes v Taupo
Tamarahi Reserve, Ngongotaha, 3pm

Claudelands Rovers v Otumoetai
Galloway Park, Hamilton, 3pm

Te Awamutu v Waikato Unicol
The Stadium, Te Awamutu, 3pm

Jack Sharp

Jack Sharp is a long-time follower of club football in New Zealand and is a volunteer writer for Friends of Football.

More football stories