PREVIEW: Dark horses could soon emerge in Lotto NRFL Men’s Championship

By Jonno Ross

First-round results suggest there could be a few bolters in this year’s Lotto NRFL Men’s Championship.

Few followers of the competition were suggesting teams such as Onehunga Mangere United, Northern Rovers or Metro — yes, Metro — could be among the season’s surprise packages.

But all three have had promising starts. One week wonders? Or will they kick on?

With two rounds of games over the long weekend, I think we could soon find out.

Teams to watch

Onehunga Mangere United

Few would have predicted a win for Onehunga Mangere last weekend.

They played against Takapuna — the team relegated from the Northern League last season, and the team tipped by many among the favourites to gain promotion from this season’s Championship.

It appears that Onehunga’s head coach Paul Marshall has recruited well since rejoining the Mountain Men from Manurewa.

Six of their seven new signings were in the starting line-up and they came away with a 3-1 victory, arguably the upset of the weekend.

Without talismanic striker Maksim Manko, who has joined Manurewa, Onehunga seemed set to struggle up front. On the evidence of round 1, it appears not.

On Friday, they head south to Ngaruawahia United before a trip north to Whangaparaoa on Monday to play Hibiscus Coast.

Jack Beguely … a proven goalscorer, he’s moved from Albany United to Northern Rovers. Photo: Shane Wenzlick / Phototek.

Northern Rovers

After a disappointing 2023 campaign in which Northern Rovers finished 9th, and with Paul Gothard leaving as head coach, Rovers came into the season as something of a mystery team.

But a useful win against Ellerslie last weekend suggests that Danny Donegan’s return to the McFetridge Park dugout might pay dividends.

He has secured three decent signings, at least, who look likely to make a difference.

Rovers now have proven scorers in striker Jaydyn Englefield (24), who has turned out for Metro and Bay Olympic in recent seasons, former international and Wellington Phoenix playmaker Jason Hicks (34) and Albany United’s former top scorer, Jack Beguely (35).

Hicks scored Rovers’ equaliser last week against Ellerslie before newcomer Tinotenda Mupemhen came off the bench to score goals in the 87th and 95th minutes.

Suddenly, it seems, Rovers look potent.

They face a tough opposition in Manukau United on Friday, before returning to McFetridge Park on Monday to play Fencibles United.


Metro haven’t exactly had the best time of it over the last three seasons, seemingly anchored in the bottom half of the table.

In three years, they have won only 14 games, so last week’s emphatic 3-0 win over North Shore United would have been particularly sweet.

Two new signings from England, Sam Freeman and Adam Crearney, both scored on their debuts, while another new arrival, Marley Nightingale, has made the switch from Western Springs.

A three-year contract for new coach Neil Sykes suggests Metro is looking for stability, and the mood around the club seems more positive than for a long while.

In Metro, we could be looking at the league’s dark horses.

If so, we’ll get more clues when they host Franklin United on Friday, before heading over the bridge to play Takapuna on Monday.

Dylan Horgan has joined Manukau United from Manurewa … he scored a late double for United in their season opener. Photo: Shane Wenzlick / Phototek.

Players to watch

With a double round over Easter, here are a few players to watch for:

  • Aidance Prince, from Onehunga Mangere United, scored twice last weekend to help his team secure three points against Takapuna.
  • Dylan Horgan, from Manukau United, played a crucial role in his team’s comeback against Mt Albert Ponsonby. He scored in the 84th minute, and the 95th minute, to earn his team a point after being three goals down.
  • Tinotenda Mupemhena, from Northern Rovers, scored two late goals off the bench to steal the points against Ellerslie in their 3-1 victory.

Bold prediction

I can’t help but fear the worst for newly-promoted Franklin United.

They are up against a Metro side on Friday, who will be confident after last week’s win, before facing Ellerslie at home on Monday.

By the time all the fixtures have wrapped up on Monday evening, I think Franklin will be rooted to the bottom of the table with no points to their name.

I’m hoping for the best for them, of course, but expecting the worst.

Last week I predicted Takapuna would beat Onehunga Mangere 3-0. Instead, the Mountain Men came away with a 3-1 victory.


Games to be played on Friday March 22, 2024

Hibiscus Coast v Takapuna
Stanmore Bay Park, Whangaparaoa, 3pm

Metro v Franklin United
Phyllis St, Mt Albert, 3pm

Ellerslie v North Shore United
Michaels Ave, Ellerslie, 3pm

Ngaruawahia United v Onehunga Mangere United
Centennial Park, Ngaruawahia, 3pm

Manukau United v Northern Rovers
Walter Massey Park, Mangere East, 4pm

Fencibles United v Mt Albert Ponsonby
Riverhills Park, Pakuranga, 5pm

Games to be played on Monday April 1, 2024

Mt Albert Ponsonby v Ngaruawahia United
Anderson Park, Mt Albert, 3pm

Northern Rovers v Fencibles United
McFetridge Park, Glenfield, 3pm

North Shore United v Manukau United
Allen Hill Stadium, Devonport, 3pm

Franklin United v Ellerslie
Bledisloe Park, Pukekohe, 3pm

Takapuna v Metro
Taharoto Park, Takapuna, 3pm

Hibiscus Coast v Onehunga Mangere United
Stanmore Bay Park, Whangaparaoa, 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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