By Luke Austin
Results could see Wellington Olympic wrap up the Central League title this weekend while the race for the top four will go to the wire.
Round 16 gets underway this Saturday at Fraser Park with a big clash between the Phoenix Reserves and Napier City Rovers.
A draw or loss for the Phoenix would give Olympic the opportunity to be crowned champions with a victory later in the day.
Both the Phoenix and Napier had to settle for disappointing draws last time out.
The Phoenix blew a three-goal lead in the dying minutes against Stop Out, while Napier had to come back from a goal down against Whanganui.
Waterside Karori host Miramar Rangers where neutrals will hope for a repeat of the goalfest when these sides met in round 7 (Karori came away with a 4-3 win).
Both sides are tied on 18 points, and despite National League qualification being out of the picture, there will be plenty of pride on the line when they meet at Karori Park.
Petone and Wests’ important wins last week mean there are now three teams (Napier, Wests and Petone) fighting for two National League spots.
As things stand, only one point separates Napier in third and Petone in fifth.
Wests face a potentially difficult trip to Whanganui, who showed they are capable of taking points off the top sides last weekend.
Wests are currently in fourth but must play the Phoenix and Olympic in their final two games, so a win this Saturday against last-placed Whanganui will be essential.
Petone host North Wellington, hoping for a fourth win in their last five games.
North Wellington have had an eventful past few weeks, claiming the O’Brien shield with an excellent win over the Phoenix Reserves but losing it a week later after a heavy loss at home to Olympic.
They are currently three points ahead of Whanganui, and one more big win could guarantee their safety.
In the final game of the weekend, Olympic host Stop Out for their first defence of the O’Brien shield.
The game between the Phoenix Reserves and Napier will have finished before kick-off at Wakefield Park, meaning Olympic will know if they can secure the Central League title with a win.
Stop Out, who beat Olympic earlier in the season, will certainly not make it easy for the home side, and this game could go either way.
Game of the week
There’s plenty riding on Saturday’s game between the Phoenix Reserves and Napier City Rovers. The Phoenix need a win to keep their slim title hopes alive, and Napier know a loss or draw could see them drop out of the top four.
Head to Fraser Park at 1pm to get in on the action.
Player to watch
Former Wellington Olympic winger Connor Gaul (27) scored a late double to help Stop Out salvage a draw against the Phoenix Reserves.
He returns to Wakefield Park for the first time since leaving the Greeks in March, and will be keen to remind his former team of his talents as Stop Out look to do the double over Olympic this season.
Do not be surprised to see Petone inside the top four after this weekend’s games.
They should beat North Wellington at home and I’m predicting that one of Wests and Napier will drop points.
With an easier run-in of fixtures than both top-four rivals, this could be a pivotal weekend for Petone in their quest to qualify for the National League.
Games to be played on Saturday August 12, 2023
Wellington Phoenix Reserves v Napier City Rovers
Fraser Park, Lower Hutt, 1pm
Waterside Karori v Miramar Rangers
Kaorori Park, Wellington, 2.30pm
Whanganui Athletic v Western Suburbs
Wembley Park, Whanganui, 2.30pm
Petone v North Wellington
Petone Memorial Park, Petone, 3.30pm
Wellington Olympic v Stop Out
Wakefield Park, Island Bay, 3.45pm
Luke Austin is a Wellington-based football fan and volunteer, who plays for Island Bay, and follows the Central League.