ROUND 1: The big question — who can topple Auckland City’s dominance?

posted in: Men's National League, News

As the 2023 Men’s National League kicks off, the big question is: can anyone challenge the dominance of reigning champions Auckland City?

Friends of Football’s writers have checked out the 10-team competition, looking for early clues.

The challengers

If Auckland City are assumed to be the title favourites, here’s where the likely challenges will come from:

Eastern Suburbs

Though Suburbs finished four points behind the Navy Blues in the Northern League, don’t overlook the fact that the LilyWhites also went unbeaten in their 22-game schedule.

The margins of error are small when a competition comes down to two main contenders, and Suburbs will have learned from the experience.

Christchurch United

The Chatham Cup winners are brimming with ambition and confidence, and will build on their experience last year, when they returned to the National League after an absence of 30 years.

They’ll need to hit the ground running as they face Eastern Suburbs in the season opener.

Wellington Olympic

Olympic pushed Auckland City close last season, losing in the grand final and then in the play-off for the OFC Champions League.

The Central League champions won’t be in awe of Auckland City and will look to avenge previous defeats.

Player to watch

Cashmere Technical striker Garbhan Coughlan is simply a goal machine and is set for another big National League campaign.

The Irish striker scored 28 goals in the Southern League this season, and scored nine in as many games in the National League last year.

He’s been tapping them in for fun for a while now, and will prove an almighty headache for the Auckland United defence first up.

— Harrison Ryburn

Bold predictions

Despite the number of promising young players in the Wellington Phoenix ranks, they’ll be in at the deep end in their season opener against defending champions Auckland City.

City’s experience and ability to wear down opponents will get them off to a winning start.

I’m picking Auckland City will finish strongly to win by at least a couple of goals.

— Jack Sharp.

Manurewa will be big underdogs this season, returning to the competition 40 years after winning the National League in 1983, and losing their last two Northern League games.

They possess some good talent though, and in front of a big home atmosphere to open up, I think they could gain a valuable first point against Wellington Olympic and hold the Central League winners to a creditable draw.

— Harrison Ryburn

Despite their recent successes, I’m picking Chatham Cup winners Christchurch United to go down against Eastern Suburbs.

Unlike other sides, Paul Ifill’s men haven’t had a break after the conclusion of the regional phase with Chatham Cup and English Cup finals on the weekends in between.

I think fatigue may set in for them, and Suburbs will clinch a 3-1 win.

— Logan Smith


Game to be played on Saturday September 23, 2023

Wellington Phoenix Reserves v Auckland City
Fraser Park, Lower Hutt, 4pm

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Games to be played on Sunday September 24, 2023

Manurewa v Wellington Olympic
Manurewa War Memorial Park, Manurewa, 2pm

Napier City Rovers v Petone
Bluewater Stadium, Napier, 2pm

Eastern Suburbs v Christchurch United
Madills Farm, St Heliers, 3pm

Cashmere Technical v Auckland United
English Park, Christchurch, 3pm

How they performed in the regions

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