Season preview: How the Lotto NRFL Men’s Championship shapes up

By Jack Sharp

Coaching changes will have a major influence on this season’s Lotto NRFL Men’s Championship, with two-thirds of the clubs changing leadership in their dugouts.

While some clubs will benefit from the injection of new ideas and coaching styles, season success may well favour the clubs able to build on last year’s efforts and with returning staff.

Ngaruawahia United, Mount Albert Ponsonby, Hibiscus Coast and Ellerslie were top half teams last term, and are expected to be thereabouts again when the title and promotion to the Northern League is decided.

Having studied the prospects of each club, and drawn on the help of regular NRFL Championship writer Jonno Ross, we’ve analysed the teams and predicted where we think they’ll finish …

Ngaruawahia United (3rd in 2023)

A couple of highly-credentialled imports could help Ngaruawahia United go better than last season’s third placing.

United’s new captain will be defender Jordan Boon (23), who arrives from Manchester, England, where he played for Atherton Collieries in the Northern Premier League Premier Division, and has had spells in Sweden and Australia.

He came through the Bolton Wanderers academy and made his professional debut for Bolton in 2019, making appearances for the club in League One, the EFL Cup and the FA Youth Cup.

Winger Darius Palma (25) also arrives from the United Kingdom where he played for non-league clubs Stalybridge Celtic and Bury FC. His recent career was disrupted by a shoulder injury and a move to New Zealand could be the career restart he needs.

United have also signed useful midfielders in Harry Christensen-Rose and Levi Clark, both of whom were key players for last season’s Southern Conference title winners Waikato Unicol.


Jordan Boon (Atherton Collieries, England)
Darius Palma (Stalybridge Celtic, England)
Matthew Henry (Birkenhead United)
Harry Christenson-Rose (Waikato Unicol)
Levi Clark (Waikato Unicol)
Aidan Robson (Waikato Unicol)
Jake Brocklebank (Goulburn Valley Suns, Victoria)


Matthew Brown (Hamilton Wanderers)
Marko Memedovic (Hamilton Wanderers)
Daniel Ngungambili (Melville United)
Lemuel Le Hane (Melville United)
Tomas Gabriel Castro Pereyra (Manukau United)

Jonno Ross’ prediction finish: 5th
Jack Sharp’s predicted finish: 3rd

Fernando Orduna … key player for Mt Albert Ponsonby. Photo credit: Central United FC.

Mt Albert Ponsonby (4th in 2023)

Mount Albert Ponsonby had a terrible first half of last season but came home strongly, forcing themselves into the race for promotion.

Darren White (head coach) and Sam Jasper (assistant coach) will return for another Championship campaign in 2024.

READ MORE: White and Jasper to return for another crack at promotion to Northern League >>>>

Captain Lewis Black returns, to the delight of coach White.

“His level of commitment and work rate is non-comparable, making him one of the best midfielders in the league,” White says.

Another important cog in the MAP wheel is goalkeeper Fernando Orduna (34) who signed from Manukau United just before last year’s transfer deadline.

White on Fernando: “His understanding of the game, combined with his ability to pull off important saves in games is a huge asset for the team.”

MAP’s big summer signing has been Argentinian forward Gonzalo Freddi (31) from league rivals Northern Rovers. He’s played for Victorian National Premier League Division 2 clubs Dandenong and Murray United, scoring plenty of goals for both.


Gonzalo Freddi (Northern Rovers)
Adam Johnston (Bay Olympic)
Vicente Mena Valdés (West Coast Rangers)
Adebabay Tesfaw (Bay Olympic)
Scott Sellar (Mt Albert Ponsonby)


Marshall Gurney (Papakura City)
Max Sutton (Onehunga Mangere United)

Jonno Ross’ prediction finish: 1st
Jack Sharp’s predicted finish: 2nd

Harry Lissington will captain North Shore United for another season. Photo: Phototek.

North Shore United (5th in 2023)

Dave Fahy has stepped up from coaching last season’s U-23 team to lead the first team at Allen Hill Stadium.

Last year, United gave first team debuts to seven U-20 players — which they claim is more than any other club in the competition — and Fahy is expected to look for his youngsters to build on their respectable finish last term.

READ MORE: Dave Fahy to lead North Shore United’s next NRFL Championship campaign >>>>

Captain Harry Lissington (29)  in his 14th year of senior football at Shore and will provide the side’s leadership.

American full back Nick Dudek (30) has arrived from Australia, while Josh Wells and Jimmy Marshall have moved from Birkenhead United.

Biggest loss over the summer is Nick Petherick who arrived from Birkenhead United last season and became a regular goalscorer at this level. He and three teammates have joined league rivals Takapuna.


Josh Wells (Birkenhead United)
Jimmy Marshall (Birkenhead United)
Nick Dudek (Altonia North SC, Victoria)
Jordan Lamberton (Beachlands Maraetai)
Luka Langenbach (AUT)
Sam Vaughan (Northern Rovers)


Thomas Page (Tauranga City)
Nick Petherick (Takapuna)
Guy-Frank Essome Pinda (Takapuna)
Finn Dockerty (Takapuna)
Jack Bronson (Takapuna)
Jason Hicks (Northern Rovers)
Olusegun Rotimi (Manukau United)

Jonno Ross’ prediction finish: 7th
Jack Sharp’s predicted finish: 7th

Hibiscus Coast (6th in 2023)

After winning promotion to the Championship for last season, Coast looked capable of continuing their run up the pyramid.

However, a couple of coaching changes early last season unsettled the team before former Western Springs women’s coach Ryan Faithfull arrived to steady things.

The club’s technical director, Nathan Cranney, will lead the first team this season, with former Papua New Guinea international Maurie Wasi and age group international James Debenham as assistant coaches.

Tyler Aglovlasssitis returns as Coast’s U-23 development coach.

With a strong squad, and settled leadership, Coast could be back among the contenders.


Zach Newman (North Wellington)

Jonno Ross’ prediction finish: 9th
Jack Sharp’s predicted finish: 6th

Ellerslie’s Tom Durkin … one of the Ponies’ leading players in 2023 and returns for his third season at Michaels Ave. Photo: Shane Wenzlick / Phototek.

Ellerslie (7th in 2023)

With upgraded facilities at Michaels Ave Reserve, courtesy of the FIFA Women’s World Cup, the Ponies will count on experience in their new dressing room.

Ben Fletcher returns as coach and the club has recruited Solomon Islands legend Henry Fa’arodo to coach their reserves and U-17s, and to help develop the next crop of youngsters.

READ MORE: Solomon Islands legend Henry Fa’arodo joins Ellerslie in coaching role >>>>

The team will build around the experience of captain Seb Poelman (137 appearances), goalscorer Rowan Corbett (102 appearances) and vice captain Tom Durkin (38 appearances), who returns for his third season.


Kyryl Bolharyn (West Coast Rangers)
Finn Rathbone (Dunedin City Royals)
Stephan White (Auckland United)
Jono Ansley (returns after five-year break)

Jonno Ross’ prediction finish: 6th
Jack Sharp’s predicted finish: 4th

Fencibles United (8th in 2023)

Former Manurewa coach Rhys Ruka has arrived at Fencibles United, who go into the season with a new pitch at Riverhills Park, and a club with much success at youth level last year.

READ MORE: Fencibles United unveil Rhys Ruka as men’s head coach for Championship >>>>

Rhys Ruka … will coach Fencibles United in 2024.

Fencibles finished runners-up (to East Coast Bays) at the national U-17 youth tournament, hosted by Western Springs.

READ MORE: National U-17 men’s title goes to East Coast Bays >>>>

South African Liam April (19) was announced as a Manukau United player on that club’s social media but he’s since signed for Fencibles.

Former Eastern Suburbs and Manurewa striker Daniel Bunch (32), with a decent non-league pedigree with club’s in England’s northern leagues, has joined for the new campaign.


Daniel Bunch (Eastern Suburbs)
Liam April (FN Rangers St Agnes, South Africa)
Aston Burns (Eastern Suburbs)


Jaymis Grubjesic (Eastern Suburbs)

Jonno Ross’ prediction finish: 3rd
Jack Sharp’s predicted finish: 9th

Gonzalo Freddi … the Northern Rovers forward will be wearing Mt Albert Ponsonby colours this season. Photo: Phototek.

Northern Rovers (9th in 2023)

After being relegated from the Northern League in 2022, Rovers risked back-to-back relegations with a poor start to last season.

They managed to drag themselves clear of the relegation zone, and they’ll be glad to put the season behind them and start over.

They do so with former Glenfield Rovers coach Daniel Donegan as head coach. He coached Glenfield Rovers — who amalgamated with Forrest Hill-Milford United in 2020 to form Northern Rovers — for five seasons, from 2013 to 2017.

He replaces Paul Gothard, who was also Rovers’ director of football, who has taken up a coaching role with the Philippines national body.

READ MORE: Northern Rovers appoint Daniel Donegan as men’s head coach for next season >>>>

The club will also benefit from the appointment of highly experienced Chris Milicich who takes the director of football job after coaching Takapuna last season.

READ MORE: Chris Milicich joins Northern Rovers as club’s new director of football >>>>

Long-time coach Andrew Clay, who was Gothard’s assistant coach last season, has moved to Northern League club West Coast Rangers.

READ MORE: Andrew Clay leaves Northern Rovers to join local rivals West Coast Rangers >>>>

Rovers have lost forward Gonzalo Freddi to Mount Albert Ponsonby.


Jaydyn Englefield (Bay Olympic)
Jason Hicks (North Shore United)
Jack Beguely (Albany United)
Andrew O’Toole (Albany United)


James Green (West Cost Rangers)
Gonzalo Freddi (Mount Albert Ponsonby)
Sam Vaughan (North Shore United)

Jonno Ross’ prediction finish: 8th
Jack Sharp’s predicted finish: 5th

A return to Mangere Mountain for coach Paul Marshall. Photo: Shane Wenzlick / Phototek.

Onehunga Mangere United (10th in 2023)

Paul Marshall led Onehunga Mangere United to the ‘old’ NRFL Division Two title in 2021 and then left to coach at Northern League club Manurewa.

He left Rewa after taking them into the National League, and his return to Mangere Mountain will act as a reboot for a club that disappointed in 2023, finishing too close to the relegation zone for comfort.

READ MORE: Paul Marshall returns to Onehunga Mangere United as head coach >>>>

Last season’s men’s first-team coach, Tim Ragg, says at United as the club’s director of football.

Striker Maksim Manko has moved to Northern League club Manurewa.


Brooklyn Heath (Western Springs)
Kees Tweed (West Coast Rangers)
Joe Minto (South Auckland Rangers)
Kai Gillespie (South Auckland Rangers)
Alexander Smith (Metro)
Max Sutton (Mt Albert Ponsonby)
Will South (Beachlands Maraetai)


Maksim Manko (Manurewa)

Jonno Ross’ prediction finish: 11th
Jack Sharp’s predicted finish: 8th

Metro (11th in 2023)

Metro dodged relegation by the narrowest of margins in 2023, and it’s hard to see obvious reasons to predict a big improvement this season.

With the departure of coach Scott Mackay at the end of last season, the club have named Neil Sykes as their head coach for the next three years. His assistant will be Jack Smith.

READ MORE: Metro name Neil Sykes as men’s first team head coach for next three years >>>>


Sam Freeman (Whitchurch United, England)
Adam Creaney (Rugby Borough, England)
Marley Nightingale (Western Springs)
Mohammed Haj (West Auckland)
Haylen West (West Auckland)
Jordan Hearn (West Auckland)
Jean Ndunguka (West Auckland)
Matthew Hearn (West Auckland)
Joshua Peden (West Auckland)
Dylan Forrest (West Auckland)


Alexander Smith (Onehunga Mangere United)
Stewart Mackay (Te Atatu)
Hamid Yusuf (Te Atatu)
Matt Kelly (Te Atatu)
Marcel Stoddard (Bay Olympic)

Jonno Ross’ prediction finish: 12th
Jack Sharp’s predicted finish: 11th

New Takapuna coach Daniel Semp … ‘We’re trying to bring in a new aspect of being confident on the ball.’

Takapuna (relegated from Northern League)

Relegated to the Championship from the Northern League, Takapuna will have Daniel Semp (27) as their head coach for the new season.

READ MORE: Takapuna name Daniel Semp as head coach for next year’s Championship season >>>>

He replaces Chris Milicich (now director of football at Northern Rovers), and wants to implement a possession-based style of play he says was not often possible last year, due to his side’s position in the league.

Semp told the Rangitoto Observer: “We’re trying to bring in a new aspect of being confident on the ball, being able to
control the build-up and limit transitions.”

The club has brought in a clutch of new players, including former North Shore United and Birkenhead United striker Nick Petherick.

He scored eight goals for Shore last season, joining them mid-season. If he maintains that sort of form, he’ll be a contender for the Championship’s Golden Boot.

The biggest loss over summer is former Birkenhead United captain Sam Burfoot who moves on to Northern League outfit West Coast Rangers after a single season at Takapuna.


Nick Petherick (North Shore United)
Guy-Frank Essome Pinda (North Shore United)
Finn Dockerty (North Shore United)
Jack Bronson (North Shore United)
Aaron Bayliss (Hamilton Wanderers)
Brandon Gashema (Birkenhead United)
Jack Gillum (Birkenhead United)
Tomas Gabriel Castro Pereyra (Ngaruawahia United)


Nic Milicich (Bay Olympic)
Matthew Palmer (Bay Olympic)
Luca Taylor (Bay Olympic)
Chase Taylor (West Coast Rangers)
Sam Burfoot (West Coast Rangers)

Jonno Ross’ prediction finish: 2nd
Jack Sharp’s predicted finish: 1st

Manukau United (relegated from Northern League)

Manukau United have been unsettled for a couple of seasons, with player and coaching changes and a defence that seeped 64 goals last season, an average of almost three a game.

After announcing they were looking for an immediate return to the Northern League under head coach Tashreeq Davids, the club has named former Auckland United coach Gordon Paulsen as head coach for their season opener against Mount Albert Ponsonby.

READ MORE: Manukau United keen to bounce back in Lotto NRFL Men’s Championship >>>>

The club has brought in players from South Auckland neighbours Manurewa and Franklin United, but have lost a decent player in Japanese Kentaro Ozaki (to Manurewa).


Boon Ozawa (Manurewa)
Dylan Horgan (Manurewa)
Caylem Nelson (Ellerslie)
Mohammed Shah (Franklin United)
Dastgeer Lai-Sai (Franklin United)
Olusegun Rotimi (North Shore United)
Petram Hassanian (Auckland City)
Anthony Mira (Bucklands Beach)
Simione Nabenu (Papakura City)
Alexander Hale (Auckland United)
Roshan Kumar (Manurewa)


Kentaro Ozaki (Manurewa)
Emman Rahimi (Western Springs)
Ryuta Hamamatsu (Hamilton Wanderers)

Jonno Ross’ prediction finish: 4th
Jack Sharp’s predicted finish: 12th

Lotto NRFL Men’s Northern Conference winners for 2023, Franklin United step up to the Championship this year. Photo: Regan Dewar / Phototek.

Franklin United (promoted)

Franklin United take the step up to the Championship after winning the 2023 Lotto NRFL Northern Conference and then beating Southern Conference title winners Waikato Unicol in a sudden-death promotion play-off.

Going into the season, Franklin announced a fresh coaching duo to lead the side.

Paul Day, a former Manukau United and Manurewa player who joined Franklin for the 2023 season, could co-coach with Mike Day who has played for a number of South Auckland clubs, including Waiuku, Manukau United, Papakura City and Manurewa.

They were to take over first-team coaching duties from Mark Holt, who will co-coach United’s U-23 team with club president Shane Thomas.

However, on the eve of the season, Paul Day moved to Manurewa where he was listed as a player for their season opener.

READ MORE: Promoted Franklin United appoint new coaches for NRFL Championship season >>>>

A key player at Franklin has been Futsal White Stephen Ashby-Peckham (28), though his 2024 priority will no doubt be trying to win selection for the New Zealand side heading to its first FIFA Futsal World Cup in September.

Most of last year’s title-winning squad will return. On the evidence provided by last year’s promoted sides, Franklin will be doing well to secure a mid-table finish.


Keenan Peters (Ranui Swanson)
Zesheng Yang (Onehunga Mangere United)
Travis Dally-Braun (Hamilton Wanderers)
Krishi Triveni (Manurewa)
Hamish Rowe (Manurewa)


Mohammed Shah (Manukau United)
Dastgeer Lai-Sai (Manukau United)
Andrew O’Donoghue (Taupo)
Paul Day (Manurewa)

Jonno Ross’ prediction finish: 10th
Jack Sharp’s predicted finish: 10th

How they finished in 2023

Jack Sharp

Jack Sharp is a long-time follower of club football in New Zealand and is a volunteer writer for Friends of Football.

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, Auckland FC and Arsenal.

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