PREVIEW: Can Wellington Olympic topple Auckland City from their throne?

posted in: Men's National League, News

Wellington Olympic are poised to challenge Auckland City’s hard-earned reputation as the country’s best men’s team.

The clubs meet in Sunday’s Grand Final of the Men’s National League at Auckland’s Go Media Stadium Mt Smart, as the early game (1pm) in a double header with the women’s Grand Final.

Arguments could be built that either side goes into the Grand Final as favourites, an indication the game could turn either way, with extra time or even penalties a real possibility.

Main photo: Striker Hamish Watson, part of Olympic’s potent strikeforce. Photo: Shane Wenzlick / Phototek.

Olympic have the psychological advantage of having beaten City in their last encounter, the 3-1 win at Kiwitea St on November 12, when they ended the Navy Blues’ seven-year record of being unbeaten at home.

Olympic have gone 17 National League Championship round-robin matches unbeaten since losing to Auckland City in the opening round in 2022.

In that time, the Central League champions have forged a reputation for being the most attack-focussed side in the country.

In nine rounds this year, Olympic have scored 34 goals, an average of almost four a game.

That’s only three goals fewer than scored by their two nearest rivals — Auckland City and Christchurch United — combined.

Wellington Olympic’s Gianni Bouzoukis … flying high this year. Photo: Shane Wenzlick / Phototek.

Striker Gianni Bouzoukis has scored in his last six matches, finding the net 53 times under coach Rupert Kemeys in 54 matches since the start of last season.

He’s shared the men’s Golden Boot, with Cashmere Technical’s Garbhan Coughlan, for the second season in a row.

Bouzoukis and his teammates will certainly put Auckland City under pressure in the final.

But City’s strength is delivering results when they matter most.

The defending national champions are used to high-pressure games, having represented New Zealand at successive OFC Champions League tournaments, and going to the FIFA Club World Cup.

Experience and handling the nerves that come with the big fixtures will serve the club well.

Auckland City coach Albert Riera … has carefully managed his squad in a busy 2023.  Photo: Shane Wenzlick / Phototek.

Players to watch

Tor Davenport Petersen (25) is on 99 appearances for Wellington Olympic so he’ll rack up his century if selected for the Grand Final. By coincidence, goalkeeper Scott Basalaj played his 100th in last year’s Grand Final.

Captain Ben Mata (25) is the man to watch if a penalty is needed for Olympic. In his Olympic career, he has scored 31 in 34 attempts from the spot — an excellent return for a centre back.

Acknowledgement: Our thanks to Wellington Olympic’s stats supplier, Steven Robertson, for providing these insights.

Auckland City have played more top-level games this year than any other club, including FIFA Club World Cup, Northern League, National League and an OFC Champions League tournament.

The Grand Final will be City’s 46th match in 2023.

Head coach Albert Riera has needed to rotate and rest his squad, calling on key players at the right time.

Striker Emiliano Tade (35) has been used sparingly this year, but has been a strong weapon off the bench.

He’s started only three games but has been used as an impact player 11 times. If named on the bench against Olympic, watch for the skilful Argentinean if Auckland City are chasing a goal.

Auckland City striker Angus Kilkolly celebrates his goal from the spot in May’s OFC Champions League final. Photo: Shane Wenzlick / Phototek.

Expected to lead the line for City is striker Angus Kilkolly (27) who has overcome injury issues to become the side’s primary goal threat this year.

He scored eight times in as many games in this year’s National League, and his last (against Christchurch United last weekend) was his 50th for his club.

City will be without defender Christian Gray for the final, after his red card against Christchurch United in Round 9.

Final standings

Last four meetings

Sunday December 4, 2022

Grand Final
Men’s National League

Auckland City 3 (Liam Gillion 33′, Gerard Garriga 40′, Angus Kilkolly 88′)
Wellington Olympic 2 (Tor Davenport Petersen 77′, Ben Mata 90+1′ pen)

Saturday March 11,2023

OFC Champions League qualifier
First leg

Wellington Olympic 1 (Joel Stevens 37′)
Auckland City 1 (Christian Gray 79′)

Saturday March 18, 2023

OFC Champions League qualifier
Second leg

Auckland City 5 (Liam Gilliam 23′, Emiliano Tade 74′, 77′ pen, 87′ pen, Angus Kilkolly 85′)
Wellington Olympic 3 (Ben Mata 16′ pen, Hamish Watson 28′, 62′)

Sunday November 12, 2023 

Men’s National League
Round 8

Auckland City 1 (Dylan Manickum 79′)
Wellington Olympic 3 (own goals 64′, 74′, Gianni Bouzoukis 89)

Bold predictions

Friends of Football writers are split on who they think will be crowned national champions:

Olympic have set a relentless pace in recent weeks, smashing a total of twelve goals past Christchurch United, Auckland City and Wellington Phoenix Reserves in their last three games.

Not only do I think they’ll win the Grand Final, but they’ll do so comfortably, beating Auckland City by at least three goals.

— Logan Smith

This game is surely going to be full of action and a great game for neutrals. With Auckland City losing two games on the bounce at home. I see Olympic coming out on top.

I think the in-form Gianni Bouzoukis will add to his goal tally this season and bring it home to Wellington. I predict a 2-0 win to Olympic.

— Max Fletcher

Auckland City may have lost their last two games but can never be discounted when it comes to handling and negotiating the pressure that comes with grand finals.

Both defeats came at their home fortress, Kiwitea Street, and with a FIFA Club World Cup campaign on the horizon, they should be amped to bounce back with a second successive National League title.

Olympic hold the psychological advantage, having handed out one of those two defeats, and have been scoring goals for funt this season, but I’m picking the Navy Blues to come out on top again in another high-scoring final.

— Harrison Ryburn

When the chips are down, Auckland City deliver.

Forget the last two losses, the Navy Blues always go into big games with the right gameplan and they’ll be ready to cope with the anticipated onslaught from Olympic’s attackers.

The Aucklanders will get home by one goal, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s 1-0

— Jack Sharp


Game to be played on Sunday November 26, 2023

Men’s National League Grand Final

Auckland City v Wellington Olympic
Go Media Stadium, Auckland, 1pm

The men’s Grand Final will be followed at 4pm by the women’s final between Auckland United and Southern United.

PREVIEW: The game to decide who’ll be crowned national women’s champions >>>>


Wellington Olympic

Expected squad from:

1 Scott Basalaj (GK)
2 Jack Cailey
3 Joe Hopper
4 Dylan Wood
5 Justin Gulley
6 Tor Davenport Petersen
7 Kailan Gould
8 Joel Stevens
9 Hamish Watson
10 Gianni Bouzoukis
11 Nathaneal Hailemariam
12 Chris Kotrosos (GK)
13 Zach Hassall
14 Jack-Henry Sinclair
15 Ben Mata (captain)
16 Joshua Apaapa-Preston
17 Devon Thurston
18 Theo Ettema
19 Samuel Mitrakas
20 Tamupina Dimairo
22 Lukas Halikias
23 Gavin Hoy
24 Leo Gunn
25 Isa Prins
26 Hami Paranihi-Nuku
28 Gianluca Salas
31 Theo Jones
32 Oliver Davies
33 James Murdoch-Gibbs
34 William Vincent
40 Joshua Ingham (GK)
41 Jacob Daly (GK)
43 Brooklyn Browne (GK)


Head coach: Rupert Kemeys
Assistant coaches: Scoota Roche, Taylor Hall-Jones
Goalkeeper coach: Steve Dimakis
Team manager: Matt Kolic
Physio: Brogan Treanor
S&C coach: James Mac Aodagain
Gear manager: Dave Graham

Auckland City

Expected squad from:

1 Conor Tracey (GK)
2 Mario Ilich
3 Adam Mitchell
4 Christian Gray
5 Timothy Boulet
7 Cam Howieson (captain)
8 Gerard Garriga
9 Angus Kilkolly
10 Dylan Manickum
11 Ryan De Vries
12 Regont Murati
13 Nathan Lobo
14 Jordan Vale
15 Aidan Carey
16 Joe Lee
17 Oliver Colloty
18 Sebastian Ciganda (GK)
19 Liam Gillion
20 Emiliano Tade
21 Takuya Iwata
22 Tong Zhou
23 Alfie Rogers
24 Joe Wallis (GK)
25 Michael Den Heijer
26 Rayan Tayeb
27 Stipe Ukich
28 Adam Bell


Head coach: Albert Riera
Assistant coach: Ivan Vicelich
Goalkeeper coach: Enaut Zubikarai
Team manager: Keith Coton
Physio: Matt Payne
Trainer: Adria Casals
Technical analyst: Jarrod Wallace
Technical analyst: Adria Casals
Logistics: Keith Coton

Match officials

READ MORE: Grand Finals day — meet today’s match officials >>>>

Referee: NIck Waldron
Assistant referee: Edward Cook
Assistant referee: Gareth Shennan
Fourth official: Cory Mills

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