Title and relegation likely to go to the wire in Lotto NRFL Northern Conference

By Jack Sharp

Chances are the title race and the relegation battle won’t be decided till the last round of games in the Lotto NRFL Men’s Northern Conference.

The fixture schedule has conjured a dramatic finale to the season at both ends of the table.

Unbeaten Franklin United finish their season with three home games but one will be the re-arranged match with challengers Bucklands Beach, in which the first effort to play it was thwarted by floodlights going off with 23 minutes left.

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The four candidates for relegation all have remaining fixtures in which they play at least one of the others.

Bucklands Beach … riding high in the Northern Conference. Photo: Shane Wenzlick / Phototek.

The title race

Here’s the fixtures run-in for the two title challengers:

  • Franklin United — West Auckland (h), Northland (h), Bucklands Beach (h).
  • Bucklands Beach — Oratia United (h), Central United (h), Beachlands Maraetai (a), Franklin United (a).

The relegation scrap

Four sides are at risk of the drop. Here are their final fixtures:

  • Albany United — Central United (h), Beachlands Maraetai (h), West Auckland (a)
  • Central United — Albany United (a), Bucklands Beach (a), Northland (a)
  • West Auckland — Franklin United (a), Oratia United (h), Albany United (h)
  • Northland — Franklin United (a), Central United (h)

Game of the week

Albany United’s game against Central United will play an important role in deciding who’s at risk of relegation.

The loser of this game will be sucked into the relegation battle with West Auckland and Northland.

If Albany lose, chances are they’ll end up risking the drop when they play their last game of the season against West Auckland on August 26.

If Central United lose, they’re unlikely to beat Bucklands Beach a week later, and they’ll face a do-or-die battle with Northlands on August 26.

A draw on Saturday will leave Albany and Central both flirting with relegation; the three points is what they need.

After a poor start to the season, Albany have steadily improved and they are looking to extend their unbeaten run to five games when they meet Central.

Central have lost their last three games and have won only once on the road this season, and that was nearly three months ago.

Albany’s Jack Beguely … averaging a goal a game this season. Photo: Shane Wenzlick / Phototek.

Player to watch

Albany United’s talisman is Jack Beguely (34) who co-leads the competition’s goalscoring table with Bucklands Beach’s Sander Waterland, both of whom have 12 goals.

Beguely’s hit-rate of a goal a game is impressive, and his self-discipline is reflected in records that show his last yellow card was five years ago when he was an East Coat Bays player.

His side needs the win against Central United, and chances are high that he’ll be a major factor.

Waitemata’s Phoenix Silver bursts through the Northland midfield in last month’s 1-0 win. Photo: Andrew Skinner / Phototek.

Bold prediction

After being part of the title race for half the season, the wheels have come off somewhat for Beachlands Maraetai, losing five of their last six games.

With nothing left to play for, and having had a bye last week, I suspect they’ll be vulnerable in their game against Waitemata, a side that almost nicked a result against leaders Franklin United last week, losing only to a stoppage-time goal.

I’ll tip a three-goal margin in Waitemata’s favour.

Last week, I said I wouldn’t be surprised if Northland and West Auckland both picked up points, and I predicted West Auckland would be off the bottom of the table by Saturday night. Northland beat Oratia United 1-0, while West Auckland beat Central United 2-0.


Games to be played on Saturday August 12, 2023

Bucklands Beach v Oratia United
Lloyd Elsmore Park, Pakuranga, 3pm

Franklin United v West Auckland
Bledisloe Park, Pukekohe, 3pm

Albany United v Central United
Rosedale Park, Albany, 3pm

Waitemata v Beachlands Maraetai
McLeod Park, Te Atatu South, 3pm

Northland — Bye

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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