PREVIEW: Relegated sides need strong start to Lotto NRFL Championship

By Jonno Ross

Relegated Takapuna and Manukau United need to start their season well as they drop into the Lotto NRFL Men’s Championship.

Last year’s Championship was unkind to the two sides relegated from the Northern League, with Waiheke United finishing bottom and Northern Rovers struggling for their 9th place finish.

Takapuna have a fresh look, with new coach Daniel Semp (27) and a clutch of young signings, and they get the chance to start strongly with a home match against Onehunga Mangere United, coached by Paul Marshall.

READ MORE: Season preview — How the Lotto NRFL Men’s Championship shapes up >>>>

Newly-promoted Franklin United host Hibiscus Coast, a match that will provide clues whether they’ll handle the step up to this level.

Game of the week

Mt Albert Ponsonby head into their 2024 campaign with high hopes and expectations for a top two finish.

Last season, they finished 4th, 10 points off second place.

Head coach Darren White and his team will hope lessons have been learned from the previous season, where they went seven games in a row without winning, and picking up one point from an available 21.

The margins for error are so small in this league, and inconsistency can have brutal consequences for teams aiming for promotion.

Mt Albert Ponsonby’s head coach Darren White … his team needs to avoid the inconsistent form of last season. Photo: Shane Wenzlick / Phototek.

Player movement at MAP has been minimal over the summer in terms of departures — key players Marshall Gurney (to Papakura City), Ben Billings and Aaron Martin are no longer in the squad.

But White has recruited well, and his new signings will add weight to MAP’s promotion ambitions.

Manukau United had a torrid season in the Northern League last year, finishing bottom and the club drops into the Championship for the first time since 2017.

Coach Gordon Paulsen and his men have the clear objective of getting back to where they feel they belong, back in the Northern League.

Manukau will be without the services of Japanese danger man Kentaro Ozaki, who has joined Manurewa, and they’ve also lost experienced centre back Emman Rahimi to Western Springs.

Coming into the side to are Boon Ozawa and Dylan Horgan, both making the short trip from local rivals Manurewa.

This Saturday’s season opener is a chance for both teams to make an instant statement of their intentions in the league, and we just might be talking about these two come the end of the season. Watch this space.

Last year, Gonzalo Freddi was unveiled as a Northern Rovers player … now he’s made the switch to Mt Albert Ponsonby.

Player to watch

Gonzalo Freddi has made the move from Northern Rovers to join Mount Albert Ponsonby for the 2024 campaign.

The versatile Argentinian forward is always a threat going forward, and he can be a nightmare for defenders.

Bold prediction

I’m expecting Takapuna to hit the ground running in their bid to return to the Northern League.

They host Onehunga Mangere this weekend, and I predict an easy 3-0 victory.


Games to be played on Saturday March 23, 2024

Fencibles United v Ngaruawahia United
Riverhills Park, Pakuranga, 3pm

Mount Albert Ponsonby v Manukau United
Anderson Park, Mt Albert, 3pm

Northern Rovers v Ellerslie
McFetridge Park, Glenfield, 3pm

Metro v North Shore United
Phyllis St Reserve, Mt Albert, 3pm

Franklin United v Hibiscus Coast
Drury Sports Complex, Drury, 3pm

Takapuna v Onehunga Mangere United
Taharoto Park, Takapuna, 3pm

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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