PREVIEW: Opening games to provide early clues to Northern League chances

posted in: News, Northern League

By Jonno Ross

A hectic summer of transfers — in which Northern League clubs have seen more than 150 players on the move — suggests the opening rounds will provide big clues as to who’ll gain the most benefit.

On paper, Birkenhead United’s squad has strengthened considerably, while Auckland United, Bay Olympic, West Coast Rangers and Western Springs have all brought in some promising newcomers.

READ MORE: Our round-up of new signings and summer departures >>>>

The first game of the season is a Friday night derby — known as the Dominion Road Derby — when Auckland United host defending champions Auckland City under the lights at Keith Hay Park.

City have the advantage of already having played Wellington Olympic in a two-legged OFC Men’s Champions League play-off, far better preparation than pre-season warm-ups with nothing riding on the result.

United’s head coach José Figueira will be keen to upset his former club, and he’ll have three young signings from the Wellington Phoenix (Charlie Beale, Ben Wallace and Josh Tollervey) to call upon.

PREVIEW: Friday’s Dominion Road Derby set to get Northern League underway >>>>

Auckland United coach José Figueira … faces his former club in the opening round. Photo: Shane Wenzlick / Phototek.

Game of the week

East Coast Bays are one of the fresh new faces in the Northern League this year, after gaining promotion from the Lotto NRFL Men’s Championship last season.

They went toe to toe with winners Tauranga City, who beat them to the title by just two points.

Bays will look to hit the ground running on their return to the Northern League — the last time they were battling it out with the big boys was back in 2019. No doubt that they will feel like they are back where they belong!

In saying that, they will need to fare better than they did five years ago. They were relegated after picking up only 14 points throughout the season.

Head coach Joe Hall and his boys will undoubtedly be itching to get into it.

Proven goalscorer Dylan Stansfield (right) and his Bays teammates return to the Northern League after five years in the second-tier of regional football. Photo: Jackie Tran Van / Phototek.

After bolstering their squad with a couple of key signings with Northern League experience, Ryusei Ishibashi (from Bay Olympic) and Malcolm Young (Eastern Suburbs), the boys from Bay City Park will aim to thrive rather than survive in the Northern League for 2024.

Manurewa will attract the interest of neutrals, especially in the opening rounds, as the side backs up from a successful 2023 during which the club returned to National League status.

Rewa struck a rocky patch between the end of last season and the start of pre-season with the departures of key personnel.

Last season’s head coach, Paul Marshall, is no longer at the club (he’s returned to Onehunga Mangere United) and he has been replaced by Brett McMurdoch.

Striker Monty Patterson, Nico Bobadilla, and Angus Contratti — all key contributors to Rewa’s success over the last couple of seasons‚ are among the players to move on.

Rewa have recruited to bolster their squad, and it will be interesting to see if the South Aucklanders can quickly gel and continue the progress made last year.

Read the match programme

East Coast Bays have produced a new-look match programme this season.

Read it here:

Player to watch

Striker Emiliano Tade will turn out for Western Springs this season after a move from Kiwitea Street. Photo: Shane Wenzlick / Phototek.

Emiliano Tade has joined Western Springs from Auckland City, and it’s safe to say any team he joins will be better for having him.

READ MORE: Auckland City striker Emiliano Tade signs for rivals Western Springs >>>>

Not only is he Auckland City’s top goalscorer of all time, but Tade (36) is the all-time leading goal scorer in New Zealand’s football championship. He’s also level with the record amount of appearances at the FIFA Club World Cup.

Tade isn’t just a player to watch for this weekend — he’s a player to watch whenever you can, and we are lucky to have someone with his CV playing in the Northern League.

Bold prediction

For my first bold prediction of the season, I’m tipping both promoted clubs will pick up three points.

Filled with anticipation for the new season, I’ll be bold and forecast a 3-2 win for East Coast Bays over Manurewa and a 2-0 win for Tauranga City against Melville United.

Player movement

We’ve been updating our list of transfers in/out of the Northern League clubs as Round 1 approaches.

READ MORE: Our round-up of new signings and summer departures >>>>


Games to be played on Friday March 22, 2024

PREVIEW: Friday’s Dominion Road Derby set to get Northern League underway >>>>

Auckland United v Auckland City
Keith Hay Park, Mt Roskill, 7.15pm

Games to be played on Saturday March 23, 2024

Bay Olympic v Eastern Suburbs
Olympic Park, New Lynn, 3pm

East Coast Bays v Manurewa
Bay City Park, Browns Bay, 3pm

West Coast Rangers v Hamilton Wanderers
Fred Taylor Park, Whenuapai, 3pm

Tauranga City v Melville United
Links Ave, Mt Maunganui, 3pm

Western Springs v Birkenhead United
Seddon Fields, Westmere, 5.30pm

Games to be played on Sunday Month XX, 2024

Jonno Ross

Friends of Football writer Jonno Ross is a former New Zealand U-20 goalkeeper who is the first team manager for Mount Albert Ponsonby. He supports the All Whites, the Football Ferns, the Wellington Phoenix and Arsenal.

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