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

When the two teams step out on the Mt Smart pitch, the Grand Finalists for the Women’s National League will have taken very different routes to get there.

For Auckland United, it’s a 7km trip from their Keith Hay Park base in Auckland’s Mt Roskill.

For Southern United, the final means a round trip of almost 3,000kms.

The teams have had decidedly different preparations for reaching ‘the big dance’ — the chance to call themselves national champions.

Under new coach Ben Bate, Auckland United played 14 matches to win the Lotto NRFL Women’s Premier League, and a couple of tough fixtures in the Kate Sheppard Cup.

Main photo: Auckland United head coach Ben Bate. Photo: Shane Wenzlick / Phototek.

Special feature: Meet Ben Bate, the rising coach in women’s club football >>>>

Southern United’s Amy Hislop has been in top form, scoring seven goals in the nine-round competition. Photo credit: Joe Allison / Allison Images.

Southern United had three weeks to prepare for the Women’s National League, being a federation-backed composite team drawn from Dunedin City Royals, Otago University and a few others, and three players signed from Auckland club West Coast Rangers.

READ MORE: Tight team culture inspires success for ‘outsiders’ Southern United >>>>

Despite the lack of preparation, the South Islanders have been the surprise package of the national competition and must be rated a chance to win the trophy, and the right to represent New Zealand at next year’s OFC Women’s Champions League.

READ MORE: OFC Champions League spot goes on the line in women’s Grand Final >>>>

… one more thing

While the four Auckland clubs have had the least amount of distance to travel, it’s not been without its share of problems.

After their must-win game against Wellington United last weekend, the Auckland United team were stranded in Wellington, a victim of airport fog.

The squad finally got home on Monday night, after an unscheduled overnighter in the capital.

Chelsea Elliott (second from right) earns the gratitude of teammates after scoring her crucial goal in Round 9.

Players to watch

Auckland United’s Chelsea Elliott (28) won’t be phased by the big game pressure. She’s played at National League level before (for WaiBOP United and Northern Rovers), been in a Kate Sheppard Cup final (for Hamilton Wanderers and Northern Rovers) and won regional titles (with Northern Rovers and Auckland United).

A forward who converted to become a defender, Elliott’s versatility and experience will come to the fore in the final.

In Round 9, with her team holding onto a 2-1 lead in their must-win match against Wellington United, Elliott walloped a direct free kick into the net from more than 40 metres.

Click on the following link to see Elliott’s long-distance goal from last week:

Meanwhile, in the race to qualify for this year’s Women’s National League, Auckland club West Coast Rangers missed out (to newcomers Ellerslie) by a single league point in the Lotto NRFL Women’s Premier League.

Three of their players — Kendrah Smith (21), Shania McIntosh (23) and Marissa Porteous (19) — headed south and signed for Southern United.

Their gamble has paid off, with the trio destined to play in domestic women’s football’s game of the year.

Southern United’s Rose Morton (left) and Kendrah Smith. Photo credit: Joe Allison / Allison Images.

Bold predictions

Friends of Football writers share their predictions for the Grand Final …

On paper, Auckland United and Southern United can’t be separated. They finished tied at the top of the national league table, with an equal goal difference, and they drew 1-1 in their October encounter.

Both sides suffered a single national league loss, to defending champions Eastern Suburbs, in the early rounds.

The Auckland venue of Mt Smart Stadium may tilt the scales in Auckland United’s favour against the travelling Southerners. I’m leaning towards a 2-1 victory to Auckland United.

— Joan Grey

At the start of the season, who would’ve thought underdog Southern United would make it to the Grand Final for the first time in their history?

I think they’ll go all the way and win it, with players like Amy Hislop and Margarida Dias scoring 11 goals between them during the league.

I’ll be bold and say Southern will take the trophy home to Dunedin after a 3-1 win.

— Max Fletcher

It would be massive for either Auckland United or Southern United to lift their first National League title on Sunday, and this one looms as a blockbuster finale to the season.

They drew 1-1 when they met earlier in the regular season, and carry identical records into the final with just one defeat, a draw, and seven losses.

It’s a tough one to call, but I’m picking Southern to edge a very tight and cagey affair.

— Harrison Ryburn

This one could go either way; all down to which teams handles the occasion and takes their chances.

If the sides get through the first half-hour without incident, and the nerves have settled, we’ll be in for a cracker of a game.

Not sure who’ll win but I’ll boldly predict it will need extra time for the two Uniteds to be separated.

— Jack Sharp

Fixture

Game to be played on Sunday November 26, 2023

Women’s National League Grand Final

Auckland United v Southern United
Go Media Stadium, Auckland, 4pm

The women’s Grand Final follows the men’s final between Wellington Olympic and Auckland City (1pm).

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

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Squads

Expected squads (based on last four rounds)

Auckland United

1 Aimee Hall (GK)
2 Talisha Green (captain)
3 Jess Philpot
4 Greer MacIntosh
5 Chelsea Elliott
6 Yume Harashima
8 Danielle Canham
9 Bree Johnson
10 Shannon Henson
11 Rene Wasi
12 Pia Vlok
14 Alexis Cook
15 Kate McConnell
16 Suva Haering
17 Penny Brill
18 Riley Sheldon
19 Poppy O’Brien
20 Maisy Dewell

Staff

Head coach: Ben Bate
Assistant coach: Olivia Sprott
Goalkeeper coach: Gene Granger/Amberley Hollis
Physio: Kath Broad
Team manager: Leif Rennell

Southern United

1 Lauren Paterson (GK)
2 Rose Morton
3 Hannah Mackay-Wright
4 Freya Partridge-Moore
5 Toni Power
6 Tahlia Roome
7 Abby Rankin
8 Kendrah Smith
9 Jemma Wilson
10 Amy Hislop
11 Shania McIntosh
12 Marissa Porteous
13 Margarida Dias
14 Madeline McCormick
15 Bianca Park
16 Hayley Julian (GK)
17 Samantha Woolley
18 Raegan Potter
20 Katie Mawdesley
Amelia Simmers (GK)

Staff

Head coach: Graeme Small
Assistant coach: Kris Ridley
Goalkeeper coach: Tom Stevens
Physio: Jonas Hernandez / Helen Littleworth
Team manager: Kirsten Pram

Match officials

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

Referee: Anna-Marie Keighley
Assistant referee: Helosie Welch
Assistant referee: Courtney Bremner
Fourth official: Beth Rattray

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