PREVIEW: Tight team culture inspires success for ‘outsiders’ Southern United

By Logan Smith

Considered by many to be the competition’s outsiders, Southern United have defied expectations to be one game away from being crowned national women’s champions.

After an outstanding season, Southern United are bound for Auckland this weekend to take on Auckland United in the Women’s National League Grand Final.

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

With a squad comprised from local South Island League clubs Dunedin City Royals and Otago University, a few more local players and some brought in from Auckland side West Coast Rangers, they weren’t able to play together during the winter season, unlike their northern rivals.

Main photo: The Southern United squad and support staff. Photo credit: Joe Allison / Joe Allison images.

Ridley: ‘I don’t believe in luck’

Despite all the potential obstacles they faced, coach Kris Ridley is not surprised at the team’s success.

“We know what’s gone into that, being a regional team where we haven’t played 25+ games together and haven’t had a playing style that’s lasted all year, so it is an amazing achievement what we’ve all done,” he says.

“But I don’t believe in luck; we’ve earned every single win and every single point. Even though some other results went our way, if we didn’t win our games, then those wouldn’t matter.

“No other coaches in the league or other observers can see inside our camp. They can’t see the training sessions these girls turn up to and work hard every single training.

“I think they have the best training attitude, so we get a lot out of our trainings.

“Even from the first and second training sessions three weeks before the first game, the quality of training was beyond last year, but I’ve been so impressed with how much more each training we were going up a level and the high intensity.”

‘I like the girls to be a really tight group’

One of the keys to that commitment from the team for Southern United has been a strong team culture, something Ridley places at the forefront of his work.

“It’s my number one, before we put any gameplan or structure together on the field.

“I like the girls to be a really tight group and do anything for each other, and they’ve bought into that really early.

“If you’ve got girls prepared to do anything for each other off the field without kicking a ball, you’re halfway there when you get to gametime and trainings.

“They’ve trusted the coaching staff, including myself, and then we’ve trusted them and what they can do and tried to push for a little bit more each training out of them.”

Southern United … strong team culture. Photo credit: Joe Allison / Allison Images.

Ridley believes reaching the Grand Final will raise the profile of the region, and provide opportunities for players who deserve to compete at a higher level.

“As a region, it’s just great to have finally broken into the Grand Final. At the start, we just wanted to play some good football, exciting football, score some goals and make people proud but I think we’ve gone a bit above that with how well we’ve gelled together in such a short space of time.

“We can reward that now by going to the big dance, hopefully playing some even better football, and hopefully coming home with a trophy.”

Opening day loss inspired the team

For Ridley and the team, the belief in what they could achieve was boosted after an opening-round defeat to defending champions Eastern Suburbs.

“Even training leading into the first game, the girls were really confident, and to be that confident on day one against the previous champions and a very well-coached team was exceptional. To be able to come away with a 1-0 loss in that game, I was really happy with how the girls reacted in that game and then afterwards.

“As soon as we finished, we got together and decided that if we can perform like that now, having trained three weeks together and having the Auckland girls join us for that game, we’re going to be quite good moving forward and let’s try not to lose any more games.

“That was our discussion, and it’s come to fruition.”

How they got to the Grand Final

How Southern United clinched their place in the final with a Round 9 win against Ellerslie:

‘We have players that can play at a higher level’

Ridley wants to see his players reach their potential.

“Definitely, we’ve got girls who are capable of stepping up to the next level,” he says.

“We’ve got young girls that need to be given a chance, put into the environment they call elite.

“On a smaller scale, we’ve got girls in our team that never had the chance to play or trial at National League level. We’ve given them that chance and they’ve stepped up to become regulars in our team.

“I do feel like that we have players that can play at the level above; it’s just the old cliché of us being down south and people not coming down this far.

“Hopefully, us making the National League Grand Final can help them see what I see as a coach in the players we have.”

The big stage — Go Media Stadium Mt Smart —  awaits the club this Sunday, and Southern look forward to playing Auckland United again, after a 1-1 draw earlier in the season.

“I felt like we could have won that game,” Ridley says.

“We had quite a number of chances more than they did, which wasn’t good from our end because we didn’t execute well enough. They had opportunities themselves to win the game which they didn’t take either.

“We wanted to play them or Eastern Suburbs (in the final), because you’ve got to play the best and in this case they probably are because they finished top of the table.

“Time will tell on Sunday; we’ll see if we can turn it over and pull it in our favour.”

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


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? >>>>


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


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)


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

Logan Smith

Logan Smith is a passionate football fan and volunteer, based in Dunedin, covering the Southern League.

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