Tension mounts for top three in Lotto NRFL Men’s Southern Conference

By Jack Sharp

The pressure goes on this weekend for the three clubs locked in the title race for the Lotto NRFL Southern Conference.

The top two — Waikato Unicol and Taupo — go head-to-head in a crucial fixture, while third-placed Cambridge can ill afford a slip-up when they meet Waipa derby rivals Te Awamutu.

Cambridge will face a Te Awamutu side containing a number of their former players, who made the switch last summer, and whose confidence will have been boosted by last weekend’s 1-1 draw with leaders Unicol.

Game of the week

How can you go past the top-of-the-table clash between Waikato Unicol and Taupo?

The sides meet at Hamilton’s Jansen Park knowing the winner will be top of the table on Saturday night, and a draw will probably see Cambridge leap-frog both of them and into top spot.

Taupo are the form team at present, with the return to their line-up of 16-goal striker Joe O’Donoghue.

They’re on an eight-game unbeaten run in the league; in fact, their last league loss was a 4-0 home drubbing by Waikato Unicol.

Despite leading the Conference from the start, there’s a question mark over leaders Unicol.

After having a week off (due to their postponed match at Otumoetai) they drew 1-1 last weekend with bottom-placed Te Awamutu.

Was it a one-game blip for Unicol? Will normal service resume against Taupo?

Whatever the reason, it does make you wonder about Te Awamutu … bottom of the league but they’ve held Unicol and previous sent Taupo reeling out of the Chatham Cup.

The Unicol-Taupo game should be a belter; all the tension and excitement you want from a title race.

Luke Brooke-Smith contests possession in his debut for home town club Cambridge. Photo: Emma Young.

Player to watch

It’s always good to see young players getting their chance to shine as they step up from youth to senior football.

One such player is Luke Brooke-Smith who came off the bench for his Cambridge debut against Papamoa last weekend, only 18 days after his 15th birthday.

To get him on the pitch, Cambridge needed dispensation from WaiBOP Football.

Brooke-Smith has come through the junior and youth ranks with Ricki Herbert’s RH3 Football Academy, and his progress will be followed with much interest.

Bold prediction

Momentum is so important in football, and Taupo are the side on a roll.

I’m picking they’ll overcome leaders Waikato Unicol and take the lead in the competition.

Unicol’s defence has been rock solid all year but I suspect Taupo will prise it open and put two or three goals past them.

Last week I predicted Claudelands Rovers would win at Otumoetai. Unfortunately, the game was postponed.

… one more thing

The Claudelands Rovers v Papamoa game was postponed, forcing Rovers to miss a game for the second week in a row.


Games to be played on Saturday July 1, 2023

Waikato Unicol v Taupo
Jansen Park, Hamilton, 3pm

Cambridge v Te Awamutu
John Kerkhof Park, Cambridge, 3pm

Ngongotaha Lakes v Otumoetai
Tamarahi Reserve, Ngongotaha, 3pm

Claudelands Rovers v Papamoa 
*Match postponed

Jack Sharp

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

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