Title race goes to the wire in final round of Lotto NRFL Men’s Championship

By Jonno Ross

Football’s always at its best when the outcome remains in the balance — and chances are we won’t know who has won this year’s Lotto NRFL Men’s Championship until the final whistle on the final day of competition.

Going into Round 22, the last day of battle, the title could go to Tauranga City or to East Coast Bays, both of whom are assured of promotion to next year’s Northern League.

Game of the week

Tauranga City’s title hopes depend on the result of their home game against third-placed Mount Albert Ponsonby.

A win will see Tauranga crowned champions of the NRFL Men’s Championship. A draw should also be enough, unless East Coast Bays manage to beat Hibiscus Coast by six or more goals.

If Tauranga City were to lose, they would have to rely on East Coast Bays dropping points.

Win, lose or draw, Tauranga have had one helluva season. Of 21 games played, they have only lost only three, and have drawn just twice.

The key to their success has come from their potent strike force of Jonty Bidois, Colby Brennan, and Liam Molloy — a staggering 34 goals between the trio.

The rest of the squad have pitched in as well — 28 goals have been shared amongst nine other players.

They have had a solid rearguard as well, conceding only 20 goals, and picking up eight clean sheets on the way.

Tauranga fell short of promotion last season, finishing third by three points.

Lessons have been learned, and now, with promotion in the bag, they have the chance to lift silverware — a fitting way to end what has been a near-perfect season.

Mount Albert Ponsonby are hurting after being in the promotion chase but bowing out last weekend, losing 1-0 to East Coast Bays in a tightly-contested battle.

Though it was out of their hands to get promoted, they would have liked to have won that one and taken it to the final day. It just wasn’t meant to be.

They will look back with regret on their form earlier in the season, when they went six games without a win.

MAP’s coaches Darren White and Sam Japser will want to end the season on a high note, and not make the lengthy road trip to be in vain. They aim to spoil a party.

It will be a tough ask. Last week, against East Coast Bays, five of their starting eleven were substituted due to injury, putting them in doubt for this weekend.

Tauranga City’s Colby Brennan leaps high against Waiheke United in mid-season. Photo: Jackie Tran Van / Phototek.

Player to watch

Tauranga City forward Jonty Bidois scored four goals last weekend in his sides’ 5-0 win against Onehunga Mangere United, sending him clear at the top of the scoring charts.

With 18 goals for the season. It looks like the Golden Boot will be his for 2023 – his closest challenger is Dylan Stansfield from East Coast Bays, with 12 goals to his name.

Bidois has scored 11 goals in his last ten appearances and will look to hit the 20 mark against Mount Albert Ponsonby this weekend.

Bold prediction

I’m picking Tauranga City will be the league champions come the full-time whistle on Saturday, with a 2-1 win over an injury-stricken Mount Albert Ponsonby.

Last week, I predicted Tauranga City would be top of the league by the end of play on Saturday with a 3-0 win.

They beat Onehunga Mangere 5-0 but didn’t go top of the league until Tuesday, after Northern Rovers forfeited their catchup game, resulting in a 3-0 loss.

READ MORE: Default gives Tauranga City edge in Lotto NRFL Men’s Championship title race >>>>

… and one more thing

A big thank you to those who have read and followed my previews each week.

Thanks for putting up with my bias towards my own club (Mount Albert Ponsonby). I’m sure most people would do the same.

A big apology to those clubs on the receiving end of my shocking ‘bold predictions’. I’m disappointed in myself; I don’t think I got one right all season!

Congratulations to Tauranga City and East Coast Bays on promotion to the Northern League for next season. Well deserved, indeed.

See you next season!


Games to be played on Saturday September 9, 2023

Metro v Ngaruawahia United
Phylis St Reserve, Mt Albert, 3pm

Waiheke United v Northern Rovers
Onetangi Sports Complex, Waiheke, 3pm

North Shore United v Onehunga Mangere United
Allen Hill Stadium, Devonport, 3pm

Tauranga City v Mount Albert Ponsonby
Links Ave, Mt Maunganui, 3pm

East Coast Bays v Hibiscus Coast
Bay City Park, Browns Bay, 3pm

Ellerslie v Fencibles United
Michaels Ave, Ellerslie, 5pm

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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