While the Grand Finalists are already known, there are still a few outstanding matters to be resolved in the final round of the Men’s National League.
Who will finish top of the table?
Sure, the top two will go to the Grand Final at Auckland’s Go Media Stadium Mt Smart on November 26, regardless of which order they finish.
But if Wellington Olympic can overhaul defending champions Auckland City, it would surely give them a psychological boost going into the final.
To do that, Olympic have to beat Wellington Phoenix Reserves on Sunday, and they’ll need Auckland City to draw or lose at home to Christchurch United.
Auckland City lost to Olympic last weekend and will face a strong challenge from the Canterbury side if Paul Ifill’s players decide to end their season with a flourish.
They won the Southern League and Chatham Cup double, and the chance to finish third in the National League would cap a great year.
Who will win the Golden Boot?
Until a fortnight ago, it looked likely that Olympic’s Gianni Bouzoukis was in line to win this year’s Golden Boot, which he shared last season with Cashmere Technical’s Garbhan Coughlan.
But his rival from last year has taken the lead with hat-tricks in his two outings.
Last year, the pair finished level on nine goals (the award is decided on league fixtures and excludes the Grand Final).
Going into Round 9, Coughlan has 10 goals, Bouzoukis 8 and their nearest rivals are Angus Kilkolly (Auckland City) and Luis Toomey (Eastern Suburbs), who have six apiece, and Deri Corfe (Napier City Rovers) with five.
Coughlan and Bouzoukis are the competition’s standout strikers — surely, they couldn’t share it a second year running?
Can Petone win a game?
Petone took many by surprise by qualifying for the National League, taking the Central League’s fourth spot in the competition.
Though they have battled hard and been competitive in most of their games, they still haven’t claimed a victory.
They get their last chance on Saturday when they host Manurewa, another team that upset predictions by qualifying for the league.
Manurewa took a while to find their feet but have three wins to show for their efforts.
They won’t roll over on Saturday but Petone have their chance.
Sunday’s clash between Eastern Suburbs and Cashmere Technical represents the end of a long, hard season for both clubs, but could also decide who takes third place in the National League.
Neither were really in the hunt for a Grand Final place, but have hit their straps in recent weeks and are finishing on a high.
The Lilywhites have won their last three, while Technical have won their last two.
The Southerners head north off the back of a memorable 4-2 win over rivals Christchurch United, but I’m picking Suburbs to pull away for victory by at least two goals on home turf at Madills Farm.
— Harrison Ryburn
Wellington Olympic kick off against the Phoenix an hour after Auckland City’s game starts against Christchurch United.
If Auckland City drop points at Kiwitea St, Olympic will have a second half in which to make sure of a win, and take top dog status on the table.
Olympic’s goalscoring record this season — averaging almost four goals a game — suggests they could take apart the Phoenix defence, which has conceded 20 goals already.
I’m tipping a big win to Olympic … and the chance for Gianni Bouzoukis to make a claim for the Golden Boot.
— Jack Sharp
Games to be played on Saturday November 18, 2023 (NZT)
Auckland United v Napier City Rovers
Keith Hay Park, Mt Roskill, 2pm
Petone v Manurewa
Petone Memorial Park, Lower Hutt, 3pm
Games to be played on Sunday November 19, 2023
Auckland City v Christchurch United
Kiwitea St, Sandringham, 2pm
Eastern Suburbs v Cashmere Technical
Madills Farm, St Heliers, Auckland, 2.30pm
Wellington Olympic v Wellington Phoenix Reserves
Martin Luckie Park, Berhampore, Wellington, 3pm