Pressure goes on title contenders in mini-round of NRFL Men’s Championship

By Jonno Ross

Though only three games go ahead this week, they all involve contenders for the Lotto NRFL Men’s Championship.

Three of the top four sides are in action in a catch-up round pivotal to their seasons.

Such is the importance of Saturday’s games, I’ve opted out from choosing a game of the week … and I’ve picked all three as being worthy of attention from fans looking for some outstanding live football.

Games of the week

Leaders East Coast Bays face niggly opposition in Onehunga Mangere United, who are capable of picking up points from the big teams.

Onehunga drew against Ngaruawahia three weeks ago, and they snagged a 1-0 win back in May against Bays.

This is a huge game for East Coast Bays.

At one stage, they held a five-point advantage over second place, but now they sit only one point ahead of in-form Tauranga City.

Bays are not helped by a three-game suspension for Moses Akimana, who had started in all but one of his side’s games this season, who copped a red card after the final whistle against North Shore United last week.

East Coast Bays’ Dylan Stansfield puts a cross past Fencibles United’s Jaymis Grubjesic. Photo: Jackie Tran Van / Phototek.

Ngaruawahia United travel over the Bombays to face Fencibles on Saturday.

Complacency could be a risk for Ngaruawahia, having beaten Fencibles 7-1 in the reverse fixture.

The league’s leading goalscorer, Stjepan Kovacic, will fancy more goals against this opposition — last time out, he sealed a hat trick.

If Ngaruawahia lose, it could see them having to close a six-point margin for a promotion spot. However, a win by three goals or more would see them overtake Mt Albert Ponsonby in third, level on 35 points, but with a superior goal difference.

Tauranga City are poised nicely to win the league, perched in second, one point behind East Coast Bays, and having played the least games in the competition.

But first, they have to make the long trip to Whangaparaoa to face Hibiscus Coast.

The last time they met was on season opening day, and it was Coast who came away with a 2-0 win, thanks to a double from Emmanuel Darkwa. Those have been Darkwa’s only goals of the season to date.

Tauranga City will need to be ready from the get-go for a fierce competitive match — Hibiscus will give it everything; a win for them puts them back in with a sniff for promotion, whereas a loss will see them out of the hunt altogether.

This is their last chance.

If Tauranga win, they could potentially be the new league leaders, depending on East Coast Bays’ result. A loss would see them stay in second for another week.

These games would normally be ‘business as usual’ and a routine three points, but with the added pressure, anything could happen.

North Shore United and Mount Albert Ponsonby will no doubt be cheering for Hibiscus, Fencibles and Onehunga Mangere. Any upsets would put them right in the mix.

Jonty Bidois … leading goalscorer for Tauranga City this season. Photo: Jackie Tran Van / Phototek.

Players to watch

Watch for the league’s top goalscorers from the three title contenders.

Ngaruawahia’s Stjepan Kovacic (14 league goals), Tauranga City’s Jonty Bidois (12) and East Coast Bays’ Dylan Stansfield (10) can help fire their teams towards promotion with goals on Saturday.

Who’s going to step up and take charge?

Bold predictions

I think East Coast Bays will make the most of their second-to-last game at home and take revenge on Onehunga Mangere, who beat Bays 1-0 in the reverse fixture.

Let’s go with a 4-0 scoreline to the league leaders.

One more prediction — I sense an upset is on the cards. I just don’t know which game it will be … but pressure often tells so watch this space.

Last week, I predicted North Shore United would beat East Coast Bays 2-1. North Shore United got the double over Bays with a 1-0 victory — the only team to have beaten the league leaders twice this season. So far.


Games to be played on Saturday August 12, 2023

Fencibles United v Ngaruawahia United 
Riverhills Park, Pakuranga, 3pm

Hibiscus Coast v Tauranga City
Stanmore Bay Park, Whangaparaoa, 3pm

East Coast Bays v Onehunga Mangere United
Bay City Park, Browns Bay, 5.30pm

Jonno Ross

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

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