The fickle finger of fixtures fate has given four teams a chance to put pressure on their rivals in the Men’s National League.
Four of the competition’s top five sides play in the only two games scheduled for Saturday.
By Saturday night, the teams that take advantage will add pressure on the chasers who play Sunday.
Wellington Olympic and Christchurch United have away fixtures but if they can win their third-round matches, they’ll take a three-point lead over Auckland City (for 24 hours at least) but create a six-point gap on the rest of the field.
It’s important to remember that by Sunday night, the league will have completed a third of its programme.
There’s little margin for error and Saturday’s games, in particular, could prove crucial in the final push for spots in the grand final.
In the Saturday lunchtime match, Cashmere Technical and Wellington Olympic meet as the two top-scoring sides in the competition.
A draw helps neither side so this could produce a high-scoring thriller.
Auckland United have home advantage against the in-form Christchurch United, and a win is essential if they want to threaten for a finals spot.
On Sunday, champions Auckland City travel to Napier City Rovers who will be smarting after their 7-1 drubbing by Wellington Olympic.
Rovers will be without Jonathan McNamara, after his red card last weekend.
Manurewa get the chance to earn their first league points when they host the Wellington Phoenix Reserves.
Petone face a steep task, travelling to Auckland to meet Eastern Suburbs at Madills Farm.
Though Suburbs have yet to win in the competition, their Northern League form suggests they’ll be too strong for the visitors.
Players to watch
Teenage goalkeeper Matt Foord gets a big test this weekend when he turns out for Cashmere Technical against a goal-happy Wellington Olympic.
Foord (17) started in four of the NZ U-17s’ five games at the OFC U-17 Championship this year, and is already on the radar of the U-20s.
He’s shown glimpses of his talent in the first two rounds of the National League, but faces a Wellington Olympic attack that has scored 12 goals in two games.
How he handles himself will be key to the Cashmere cause and a good marker of his early career development.
— Harrison Ryburn
Is there any penalty-taker in the country with a deadlier finish than Wellington Olympic’s Ben Mata?
The Olympic captain scored 11 goals in the Central League, mostly from the spot, and the defender has already scored penalties in both rounds of the National League.
Olympic’s forwards drive into the penalty area, inviting the sloppy challenge. The only question is how many more Mata will get in the remaining rounds.
— Jack Sharp
Despite consecutive losses, Manurewa performed well against two of the league’s toughest opponents in the opening rounds, in Northern League Champions Auckland City and Central League champions Wellington Olympic.
I’m backing Manurewa to secure their first National League points against the Phoenix Reserves this weekend.
— Joan Grey
Manurewa have got last year’s finalists Wellington Olympic and Auckland City out of the way already, and though they lost both matches, they certainly tested the National League heavyweights.
The Phoenix reserves have been no pushovers through the opening rounds but are yet to score a goal, and away at Manurewa War Memorial Park, I’m picking the hosts to edge out a tight affair for a first National League win since 1992.
— Harrison Ryburn
Cashmere Technical and Wellington Olympic are teams that possess great attacking talent and can score goals for fun, so the goals could really flow this weekend at Nga Puna Wai.
I’m picking a thrilling 5-4 win for Olympic in a game where the lead could swing back and forth.
— Logan Smith
Games to be played on Saturday October 7, 2023
Cashmere Technical v. Wellington Olympic
Nga Puna Wai, Wigram, Christchurch, 12pm
Auckland United v Christchurch United
Keith Hay Park, Mt Roskill, 3.30pm
Games to be played on Sunday October 8, 2023
Napier City Rovers v Auckland City
Bluewater Stadium, Napier, 2pm
Manurewa v Wellington Phoenix Reserves
Manurewa War Memorial Park, Manrewa, 3pm
Eastern Suburbs v Petone
Madills Farm, St Heliers, 3.30pm