By Jack Sharp
Every point will count as the leading three clubs go into the last third of Lotto NRFL Southern Conference.
Waikato Unicol, Cambridge and Taupo have all developed a tendency to drop points recently, and as the season heads to its conclusion, draws could prove costly, especially against lower-ranked teams.
All three go into their fixtures this weekend as theoretical favourites but form shows upsets might be on the cards.
Game of the week
Cambridge host Claudelands Rovers on Saturday, a Waikato derby in which both clubs are celebrating milestone birthdays (it’s Cambridge’s 75th jubilee and Rovers’ 100th anniversary season).
These clubs usually produce entertaining games, often with plenty of goals.
Cambridge’s form is difficult to read.
They tend to win easy against teams in the lower half of the competition. Recent examples include Papamoa (4-0), Te Awamutu (10-1) and last weekend’s Ngongotaha Lakes (6-0).
In the same period, they’ve lost to title rivals Waikato Unicol (3-1) and Taupo (4-1).
Last month, Cambridge picked up a useful signing in Nathan Monne (24) from Ngongotaha Lakes; he scored a double against his old club last time out.
Claudelands will turn up for this local derby, hungry to repeat the 4-1 win they inflicted on Cambridge in the opening game of the season, at the same John Kerkhof Park.
Rovers appear to have benefitted from a mid-season breather, forced by postponements, and their coach Paul Richardson returns to face his former club.
To keep on Waikato Unicol’s tail, Cambridge need to see off Rovers’ challenge.
Player to watch
Full back Blair Pennell (25) moved from Te Awamutu to Claudelands Rovers before the June 30 transfer deadline, re-uniting with coach Paul Richardson for whom he played at Cambridge.
Since his move, he’s scored in both games he’s played — against Taupo in his debut and then against his old club Te Awamutu last weekend.
Now, he gets a chance to score three games in a row, and against Cambridge, the club he left to join Te Awamutu.
Ngongotaha Lakes face league leaders Waikato Unicol in a game that, on paper, looks one sides.
Ngongotaha Lakes have won only one game in their last eight outings, and crumbled 6-0 to Cambridge last week.
But when Ngongotaha Lakes get it right, they can play a bit — an example being when they narrowly lost to Unicol 2-1 in late May.
Unicol have show a propensity for making hard work of what should be easy wins. They dropped points in a 1-1 draw with struggling Te Awamutu in late June and last weekend, they let Papamoa back into the game three times to get a 3-3 draw.
The league leaders should win but I won’t be surprised if they drop points or get home by a small margin.
Games to be played on Saturday July 15, 2023
Taupo v Papamoa
Crown Park, Taupo, 3pm
Te Awamutu v Otumoetai
The Stadium, Te Awamutu, 3pm
Cambridge v Claudelands Rovers
John Kerkhof Park, Cambridge, 3pm
Waikato Unicol v Ngongotaha Lakes
Jansen Park, Hamilton, 3pm
Jack Sharp is a long-time follower of club football in New Zealand and is a volunteer writer for Friends of Football.