Promotion-chasers go head-to-head in Lotto NRFL Men’s Championship

By Jonno Ross

The top four teams meet each other this weekend in a crucial round for the Lotto NRFL Men’s Championship.

Leaders East Coast Bays can pull clear of chasing Tauranga if they plunder the points in their trip to Mt Maunganui.

Second-placed Mount Albert Ponsonby host Ngaruawahia United with the Waikato side needing the win to stay in touch with the promotion-chasers.

If Ngaruawahia win by three or more goals, they can even leapfrog MAP on the table.

Game of the week

Tauranga City bounced back from their 2-0 defeat against Mount Albert Ponsonby last week, with an emphatic 8-0 drubbing of Metro.

City’s three-pronged strike force of Jonty Bidois, Colby Brennan and Luke Molloy rediscovered their goalscoring touch, and couldn’t have picked a better time.

Tauranga City’s Jonty Bidois (blue shirt) leads his side’s goalscoring this season with 10 goals. Photo: Jackie Tran Van / Phototek.

This weekend is a huge fixture for the third-placed Bay of Plenty club, who trail leaders East Coast Bays by seven points but with a game in hand.

Tauranga are two points off second spot, with two games in hand.

If City fail to pick up all three points in their clash with Bays this weekend, that means they will likely HAVE to win their remaining games to gain promotion to the Northern League.

As things stand, it’s in their own hands, and are still favoured to go up.

Leaders East Coast Bays will hail Moses Akimana as their saviour after last week’s lucky escape against Waiheke United.

Waiheke nearly snatched a valuable point before Akimana broke hearts with his 91st-minute winner to make it 3-2 — Bays’ 12th win of the season from 15 games.

Moses Akimana (left) was East Coast Bays’ saviour last week with his stoppage-time winner. Photo: Jackie Tran Van / Phototek.

East Coast Bays picked up the three points in the reverse fixture, in a hard-fought 1-0 victory.

If they manage to win, they’ll move 10 points clear of Tauranga, and if they win their four following fixtures, the league title will be theirs, and they’ll return to the Northern League for the first time since 2019.

A huge game for both teams and it’s undoubtedly the biggest game of the season so far. No pressure, boys!

Player to watch

Thomas Page (18) made his third appearance of the season for North Shore United last weekend, and was a key figure in his side’s 4-1 victory over Ellerslie.

Good things come in threes — 3 goals, 3 points, and won by 3 goals.

Page joined Shore a couple of days before the June 30 transfer deadline, having started the season with Birkenhead United’s U-23 squad.

The Ellerslie game was his first full 90 minutes for his new club and he struck his hat-trick with goals in the 12th, 60th and 75th minutes.

Page will look to back that performance up this weekend against a capitulating Metro side who have conceded 17 goals in their last three games.

Metro’s Hyunho Hong pins North Shore United’s Harrison Bolton-Roberts to the sideline in their April meeting, won 2-1 by North Shore. Photo: Jackie Tran Van / Phototek.

Bold prediction

I definitely can’t predict the games at the top of the league this weekend, and I want to get a prediction right at least once this season, so I’ll predict a 4-1 victory for North Shore United over Metro.

Last week, I predicted Mt Albert Ponsonby would beat Hibiscus Coast 3-0. Almost picked the right scoreline … MAP won 4-0.


Games to be played on Saturday July 29, 2023

Northern Rovers v Ellerslie
McFetridge Park, Glenfield, 3pm

North Shore United v Metro
Allen Hill Stadium, Devonport, 3pm

Tauranga City v East Coast Bays
Links Ave, Mt Maunganui, 3pm

Mount Albert Ponsonby v Ngaruawahia United
Anderson Park, Mt Albert, 3pm

Onehunga Mangere United v Fencibles United
Mangere Domain, Mangere, 3pm

Hibiscus Coast v Waiheke United
Stanmore Bay Park, Whangaparaoa, 3pm

Jonno Ross

Friends of Football writer Jonno Ross is a media writer for the NZ Football Foundation. A former New Zealand U-20 goalkeeper, he is the team manager for Mount Albert Ponsonby. He supports the All Whites, the Football Ferns, the Wellington Phoenix and Arsenal.

More football stories