By Jack Sharp
One of the biggest crowds of the Men’s National League season could be drawn to Napier City Rovers’ fixture against Manurewa over Labour Weekend.
Rovers are looking to capitalise on having their 2pm Sunday game with Rewa during the National U-19 Tournaments being held on the pitches around Bluewater Stadium.
The club will offer free entry to the National League match, hoping for a big crowd boosted by the 1,300 teenage players and their families and supporters.
The match could also be a cracker.
After four rounds of the league, Rovers have dropped six points and now need to hit winning form to stand any chance of making the Grand Final.
They have one of the best fixture run-ins over the remaining rounds but can’t afford more slip-ups.
Manurewa won’t make it easy.
They won their first game in the competition last weekend, beating high-flying Christchurch United 2-1 away.
A couple of wins could lift Rewa into the top half of the table at season’s end, a satisfying outcome from their return to the national competition.
Main photo: Manurewa captain Agustin Contratti … led his side to their first win of the season last weekend. Photo: Jackie Van Tran / Phototek.
Much at stake in two Auckland matches
Two games in Auckland over the weekend may well have a major bearing on who makes the Grand Final.
On Saturday, third-placed Auckland United host second-placed Wellington Olympic.
The winner stays in contention for a final spot … the loser falls off the pace. A draw suits neither team.
On Sunday, Eastern Suburbs play Auckland City in the ‘gridlock derby’ — a nod to the city’s traffic congestion — at Madills Farm.
Suburbs’ hopes of making the final are shot, after a poor start, but they will see the game as a chance to redeem themselves, and at least take home the bragging rights.
Both teams went through the Northern League unbeaten. They met in last year’s Chatham Cup final, with City winning 1-0.
Sunday provides the Lilywhites with the chance to finally put one over their crosstown rivals.
Both Christchurch clubs play on Saturday, both with noon kick-off times, depriving neutral fans of being able to catch two games in one weekend.
Cashmere Technical host the Wellington Phoenix Reserves in a match that could have plenty of goals, based on their results so far.
Christchurch United meet Petone, still looking for their first-ever national league victory.
Players to watch
Versatile winger Codey Phoenix (18) has signed for Auckland United for the rest of the national league campaign.
He and full back Everton O’Leary have joined the Keith Hay Park club from Birkenhead United as U-20 players eligible to switch clubs for the national competition.
Phoenix, previously with East Coast Bays and Hibiscus Coast, is back in New Zealand after a six-week trial with English League One side Burton Albion.
Though they haven’t won a match yet, Petone have been resilient in defeat and no team will regard them as walkovers.
Defender Isaac Snell (27) has been a key member of the Petone defence since joining the club in 2018, after spells with Glenfield Rovers and Mosgiel.
Last week, before Petone’s 0-1 loss to Auckland United, Snell was given the honour of leading out his team as he notched up his 100th appearance for the club.
Auckland City have still to face their three nearest rivals — Wellington Olympic, Auckland United and Christchurch United — in their remaining fixtures.
But they could find Sunday’s match against Eastern Suburbs their toughest test.
Both unbeaten in the Northern League, they drew both their fixtures, 2-2 and 0-0.
This should be another close encounter; I’m picking a low-scoring draw.
Games to be played on Saturday October 21, 2023
Cashmere Technical v Wellington Phoenix Reserves
Nga Puna Wai, Christchurch, 12pm
Christchurch United v Petone
United Sports Centre, Christchurch, 12pm
Auckland United v Wellington Olympic
Keith Hay Park, Mt Roskill, 3pm
Games to be played on Sunday October 22, 2023
Napier City Rovers v Manurewa
Bluewater Stadium, Napier, 2pm
Eastern Suburbs v Auckland City
Madills Farm, St Heliers, 3pm