The three big guns all have home fixtures in this weekend’s Men’s National League and form suggests they should all win.
Auckland City and nearest rivals Wellington Olympic and Christchurch United are increasingly looking likely to cut clear of the rest, turning the race for Grand Final places into a three-way battle.
As an indication of the expected results, the TAB’s Friday odds had all three hot favourites to win — Auckland City ($1.40), Wellington Olympic ($1.06), Christchurch United ($1.25).
Defending champions Auckland City host Auckland United at Kiwitea St and will be emotionally charged to perform well on David Vlatkovich Memorial Day, when the ground’s grandstand will be named in honour of the late Central United stalwart.
Central League champions Wellington Olympic have the chance to turn the screws on their Grand Final rivals as they play the weekend’s first game, kicking off at 12-noon against winless Petone.
Their rivals play on Sunday.
The Olympic result could be a blowout as the side with the league’s best attack (20 goals scored) play the team with the equal worst defensive record (13 goals conceded).
Of the three competition leaders, Christchurch United probably face the most challenging game, with the visit of Napier City Rovers who haven’t done themselves justice lately.
Disrupted by suspensions and the unavailability of players, Rovers have been decent at best, and poor at their worst.
If they turn up with their best version, they will make it difficult for the Southern League title holders.
Wellington Phoenix Reserves host Eastern Suburbs with both sides playing for pride, and to help develop their younger players.
Nothing is riding on the result for either team.
Manurewa play at home against Cashmere Technical with both sides capable of a top-half finish, especially with a win on Sunday.
Players to watch
Argentinian forward Nicolás Bobadilla (24) has been in good form for Manurewa of late and netted in consecutive wins against Christchurch United and Napier City Rovers.
If they’re to make it three on the bounce against Cashmere Technical, they may just require his goalscoring and creative services again.
— Logan Smith
Watch Nicolás Bobadilla’s goal against Napier City Rovers:
Napier City Rovers will have three players available for their trip to Christchurch United after missing them in recent games.
Forward Jonny McNamara (29) is back after a three-game suspension.
Midfielder Cameron Emerson (27) missed Round 4 through suspension, and he and midfielder Ta Eh Doe (22) were unavailable for last weekend’s home loss to Manurewa.
— Jack Sharp
Auckland City remain with a perfect five wins from five games, but many who have watched their games will wonder quite how.
All their games have been competitive affairs including two where they have had to come from behind.
We know Auckland United had a penchant for beating Auckland City, doing so twice last year, so I’ll have them to pull off a shock 2-1 win at Kiwitea Street.
— Logan Smith
Despite losing their three opening games, Manurewa could be in the top half of the table by Sunday night.
The lost games were against strong opponents (Wellington Olympic, Auckland City, Wellington Phoenix) and Manurewa were not disgraced in any of them.
Since then, Rewa have won on the road against Christchurch United and Napier City Rovers.
It’s time to no longer see those as ‘upset’ results. This weekend, I think they’ll frank that form with a win against Cashmere Technical.
— Jack Sharp
Game to be played on Saturday October 28, 2023
Wellington Olympic v Petone
Martin Luckie Park, Berhampore, 12pm
Games to be played on Sunday October 29, 2023
Auckland City v Auckland United
Kiwitea St, Sandringham, 2pm
Christchurch United v Napier City Rovers
United Sports Centre, Christchurch, 2pm
Wellington Phoenix Reserves v Eastern Suburbs
Fraser Park, Lower Hutt, 2pm
Manurewa v Cashmere Technical
Manurewa War Memorial Park, Manurewa, 3pm