The addition of the Wellington Phoenix Reserves to this year’s Women’s National League has added a new dimension to the competition, helping to showcase some of the country’s up-and-coming young players.
The Phoenix have been included in the league as part of its expansion from eight to 10 teams, and its transition to a fully club-based model by next year.
A condition of the Phoenix entry is that they become the only club not eligible to go into the grand final, regardless of where they finish in the league table.
Already, after two rounds, the Phoenix have demonstrated the pool of talent at their disposal and the inevitable team changes that will be necessary as players are required either by the A-League squad, or national age group teams.
In the opening round, in which the Phoenix beat Ellerslie 4-0, the Wellington side included players contracted to the club, and part of the A-League squad.
These included Football Ferns defender Mackenzie Barry, New Zealand U-20 fullback Zoe McMeeken, striker Emma Main and New Zealand U-19 winger Manaia Elliott.
In Round 2, a Phoenix side without these players lost 5-0 at home to Southern United.
The need to rotate their players makes the Phoenix something of a weekly wildcard, and their results could be erratic.
They face a difficult challenge in Round 3, hosting Eastern Suburbs on Saturday afternoon.
Defending champions Suburbs will show no mercy as they seek to maintain maximum points.
CF Waterside Karori are one of four unbeaten sides in the competition but face their toughest test when they host Lotto NRFL Women’s Premier League champions Auckland United.
The result will provide a useful marker for gauging the relative strength of Auckland’s contingent, and those further south.
Canterbury United Pride and Central Football are both without a point after two rounds but meet each other in the first game of the weekend.
Newcomers Ellerslie host CF Wellington United at their revamped Michaels Ave ground, with the Ponies still in search of their first-ever league point in the competition.
Game of the round could well be Sunday’s clash between Southern United and leaders Western Springs.
Players to watch
Western Springs striker Sofia Garcia has a good record against Sunday’s rivals Southern United, finding the net four times in their two fixtures last season.
Garcia already leads this year’s goalscoring table with five goals in two games.
— Logan Smith
Eastern Suburbs relied heavily on Golden Boot winner Tayla O’Brien last season as they took the national title.
This year, O’Brien is on the Suburbs roster as an assistant coach.
Last weekend, Nicole Cooper stepped up with a hat-trick in the Lilywhites’ 3-2 win against the much-fancied Auckland United line-up.
Have Suburbs found another goalscoring gem at this level?
Cooper is likely to get plenty of chances against the Wellington Phoenix on Saturday, if they haven’t tightened their rearguard after last weekend’s 5-0 loss to Southern United.
Main photo: Eastern Suburbs’ Nicole Cooper. Photo: Jackie Tran Van / Phototek.
— Jack Sharp
Western Springs have had a flying start in the Women’s National League, securing two consecutive wins, scoring 11 goals, and conceding zero.
This weekend, Springs travel more than 1400km for a tough challenge against Southern United, who are emerging as one of the strongest non-Auckland teams, following their dominant 5-0 victory over the Phoenix Reserves last weekend.
It could be tight, but if Springs can overcome the travel fatigue, I could see them getting a 2-1 edge.
— Joan Grey
While Auckland United came in as a competition favourite by winning the Lotto NRFL Women’s Premier League, defeat last weekend against Eastern Suburbs would have been a real blow.
And it won’t be easy for them this weekend away to Waterside Karori, winners of the Women’s Central League and unbeaten so far.
I think there could be a real shock on the cards here — perhaps a 3-1 win for Waterside Karori.
— Logan Smith
Games to be played on Saturday October 7, 2023
Central Football v Canterbury United Pride
Massey University, Palmerston North, 12pm
Wellington Phoenix v Eastern Suburbs
Fraser Park, Lower Hutt, 3.30pm
CF Waterside Karori v Auckland United
Martin Luckie Park, Berhampore, 4pm
Games to be played on Sunday October 8, 2023
Southern United v Western Springs
Logan Park, Dunedin, 12pm
Ellerslie v CF Wellington United
Michaels Ave, Ellerslie, 1.30pm