PREVIEW: Women’s NRFL Premiership season ready to get underway

By Joan Grey

The 2024 Lotto NRFL Women’s Premiership kicks off on Friday night when West Coast Rangers host Western Springs in the opener at Fred Taylor Park in Whenuapai.

Eight teams will vie for the Women’s Premier League title over 14 rounds.

Joining the fray this season are Fencibles United, who secured promotion by winning last year’s Lotto NRFL Women’s Championship.

Looking a picture … Fencibles United’s renovated pitch at Riverhills Park. Photo credit: Fencibles United.

For their competition debut, Fencibles host Ellerslie at their revamped Riverhills Park on Sunday, while Eastern Suburbs travel to Hamilton Wanderers.

Due to Auckland United’s involvement in the OFC Champions League in the Solomon Islands, their opening clash with Hibiscus Coast is postponed.

READ MORE: Auckland United into Champions League final after snatching extra time winner >>>>

Game of the week

It’s The Battle of Panmure Bridge!

Sunday’s match against Ellerslie will serve as a litmus test for neighbouring newcomers Fencibles to prove their mettle in the top tier.

Fencibles conquered the Championship last year with 16 wins from 21 matches.

Can they continue their winning ways with a statement victory against the experienced Ellerslie side?

Ellerslie advanced to the Women’s National League last year and have retained many of their key players, including co-captains Cat Pretty and Leigh Atkin. But they will be without star striker and 2023 Women’s Premiership Golden Boot winner Britney Cunningham-Lee, who has signed for Franklin United this season.

Rosie Missen … has signed for league newcomers Fencibles United.

Player to watch

Former Newcastle United midfielder Rosie Missen has signed with Fencibles.

Missen (30) was slated to join Fencibles last season, but a pre-season ACL injury ruled her out.

Missen captained the Massey University team as a teenager, before embarking on a professional football career in the United Kingdom. She played for London club West Ham United, then moved to Newcastle United in 2021 to compete in the FA Women’s National League Division One North.

READ MORE: Former Newcastle United midfielder Rosie Missen joins Fencibles United >>>>

Bold prediction

Eastern Suburbs’ new head coach, former Football Fern Katie Duncan, has bolstered her squad with key signings, including Western Springs’ prolific goalscorer Sofia Garcia, the 2023 National League’s Golden Boot winner.

READ MORE: Golden Boot winner Sofia Garcia leaves Western Springs to join Auckland rivals >>>>

Eastern Suburbs Tayla O’Brien collects the 2022 Women’s National League Golden Boot from national coach Jitka Klimková. She’s back in the Suburbs squad this year. Photo: Shane Wenzlick / Phototek.

She’s also signed midfielder Sam Tawharu (also from Springs) and has Ferns striker Tayla O’Brien back in the squad, and as an assistant coach.

These experienced players are likely to be the deciding factor in the Tron on Sunday.

I’ll back a 2-0 win to Eastern Suburbs over Hamilton Wanderers.

Women’s Premiership Clubs 2024 — how they shape up

Auckland United

Auckland’s reigning Premiership and National League champions miss the start of their domestic season as they’re playing at the OFC Women’s Champions League tournament in the Solomon Islands.

The preparation for that tournament will have been the toughest pre-season programme of all the Premiership teams, and they should be frontrunners again.

Eastern Suburbs

Consistent trophy contenders year-on-year.

They were the 2023 Premier League runners-up and highest scorers in the league with an impressive 52 goals.

Suburbs, alongside Lynn-Avon United, hold the record for winning the Women’s Premiership the most times (nine) since the league’s inception in 1973.

New coach Katie Duncan, a 124-cap Football Fern, takes over from Steven Hoyle in the dugout.

READ MORE: Football Fern Katie Duncan to lead Eastern Suburbs’ women’s programme >>>>

Ellerslie will miss Britney Cunningham-Lee this season after her move to Franklin United. Photo: Jackie Tran Van / Phototek.


Finished fourth in the Premier League last year to qualify for the National League for the first time in the club’s history.

Ryan Shiffman continues to lead the squad in his seventh season in the role.

READ MORE: Ellerslie confirm coaches for women’s and men’s first teams >>>>

Fencibles United

Newly promoted after a 64-goal haul during their successful campaign in the 2023 Women’s Championship.

Maddi Ollington … will lead Hamilton Wanderers again.

Hamilton Wanderers

The only non-Auckland team to compete in this year’s Premier League, they finished sixth last year. Theyll be led again this season by captain Maddi Ollington, who has made 93 first team appearances.

Hibiscus Coast

Placed seventh last year in their Premier League debut season and demonstrated strength and potential. Their flourishing youth programme won them the National U-19 Tournament in Napier last year.

West Coast Rangers

Finished fifth in the 2023 Premier League with the second-best defensive record, conceding just 15 goals. They have re-signed goalkeeper and skipper Emily Couchman, an important part of their line-up.

Katie Rood … has played for some top clubs in Europe, including England’s Southampton FC. She’ll be in Western Springs colours in 2024.

Western Springs

Third place in the 2023 Premier League and they captured the 2023 Kate Sheppard Cup.

There’s been movement in the team following notable departures of Sofia Garcia and Sam Tawharu (both to Eastern Suburbs), cup final goalscorer Ela Jerez (Wellington Phoenix reserves), and goalkeeper Michaela Mitchell (Tasmania).

READ MORE: Cup-winning ‘keeper Michaela Mitchell leaves Springs for Tasmanian champs >>>>

Offsetting the departures is New Zealand Football Fern Katie Rood, an experienced striker with previous spells at European clubs Juventus, Bristol City, Southampton, and Hearts.

She’ll play in the green and white hoops while allowing her ACL injury to fully recover and has taken on the role of head of girls’ academy at Springs.

Springs have also announced the return of their Japanese imports, Arisa Takeda and Rina Hiranom.

READ MORE: Football Fern Katie Rood signs for Western Springs after year-long injury >>>>

How they finished last year


Game to be played on Friday March 22, 2024

West Coast Rangers v Western Springs
Fred Taylor Park, Whenuapai, 7.30pm

Games to be played on Sunday March 24, 2024

Hamilton Wanderers v Eastern Suburbs
Korikori Park, Hamilton, 1pm

Fencibles United v Ellerslie
Riverhills Park, Pakuranga, 1.30pm

Auckland United v Hibiscus Coast
Unable to be played due to United’s commitments at the OFC Women’s Champions League.

Joan Grey

Friends of Football writer Joan Grey loves playing and writing about football.

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