Season preview: No shortage of contenders for Northern Conference title

By Jack Sharp

Experience and stability are likely keys to sorting out this year’s contenders for the Lotto NRFL Northern Conference title.

The teams who finished in the top half of the competition last year have managed to keep their key players over the summer, giving them the chance to build on solid seasons last season.

With last season’s champions, Franklin United, promoted to the Lotto NRFL Men’s Championship, the four teams that finished closest to them look capable of challenging for the 2024 crown.

Here’s how the clubs shape up this year (in order of how they finished last season):

Bucklands Beach’s Sander Waterland (right) … likely to be among the competition’s top scorers again. Photo: Shane Wenzlick / Phototek.

Bucklands Beach

Runners-up from 2023, Bucklands Beach should be strong again, though they’ve lost goalkeeper Anthony Mira (to Manukau United).

Their goals will likely come again from last season’s top scorer Sander Waterland (35), and forward Sean Latimer (30).

Oratia United

Oratia United got off to a poor start last season but will benefit from having proven goalscorers Mark Withers (33) and Andy Kapteyn (31) back again.

They get the chance for a flying start to the season, hosting Waitemata in a local derby at Parrs Park on Friday.

Teenager Ryan Matanyayire has joined from West Auckland, while former Ferrymead Bays (Christchurch) player Robert Ward will play in ‘Tia colours.


Waitemata, with Hamish Mackay back as head coach, have lost Scott Sellar (to Mt Albert Ponsonby) and Matt Sedon (to Sydney club Queens Park), but have brought in Shayen Kesha (West Auckland) and a newcomer from England, Adam Hargood (Tadley Calleva FC).

Sam Sedon will captain the side in their opener at Oratia United, marking his 200th appearance in the first team.

Beachlands Maraetai

Beachlands Maraetai were the epitome of a midtable side last term but they may get pulled lower, having lost a few players.

These include Aaron Parry (to Bay Olympic), Jordan Lamberton (North Shore United) and Will South (Onehunga Mangere United).

Northland’s senior men’s squads for 2024. Photo credit: Northland FC.


Northland are never short of up-and-coming local players and by comparison to the rest of their rivals, they’ll have a young look to their squad.

After flirting with relegation last season, Northland should be capable of improvement under head coach Michal Walesiak.

Albany United

Albany United dodged the relegation bullet with a late revival last year.

They’ll find it difficult to repeat, having lost some of their best players during the off-season.

Talismanic goalscorer Jack Beguely and on-field leader Andrew O’Toole have moved to Northern Rovers, while Martin Laulhe Centurion has joined the competition’s new side, Te Atatu.

Te Atatu

Te Atatu earned promotion by winning the 2023 NRF League One, after coming out on top of a two-club race with South Auckland Rangers.

The side scored 57 goals in their 15 outings — an average of almost four a game — and they return with their regulars from the title-winning campaign.

They have experience in droves with former Bay Olympic coach Liam Mulrooney (46), captain Marc Porter (34), Jared Colligan (35) and long-time Te Atatu clubman Rhys Caples (25).

Caples will miss the start of the programme, having broken his collar bone in a pre-season match.

With the addition of Centurion (from Albany), they’re a chance for back-to-back titles if they can stay injury-free.

Shortly before playing their opener against Beachlands Maraetai, Te Atatu revealed more new signings in goalkeeper Petr Jakoubek, Panel Vrana and Adam Foley (all from Uni-Mount Bohemian) and Stewart Mackay, Hamid Yusuf and Matt Kelly (all from Metro).

Waiheke United

After successive relegations (from the Northern League, and then from the Lotto NRFL Men’s Championship), the Waiheke Islanders need to halt the slide.

They’ll need to do it without teenagers Bert de Raat, who has joined new Southern League club Universities of Canterbury, and Tom Bonfield (now with Victoria University).

Veteran Emiliano Candia (38) is back for another season while former leading goalscorer Niko Vanina (31) is back after half a season with Birkenhead United.

It’s hard to tell what lies ahead for Waiheke United until their opening games reveal their line-up but more likely to be bottom half, than top.


Any of four or five sides could win the competition but I’ll tip Bucklands Beach to finish off what they started last year.

Albany United look the most likely contenders for relegation.

And I fancy Te Atatu to finish in the top three, showing last season’s form was no fluke (they lost only one league game all year).

What’s at stake

The winner of the Northern Conference will meet the winner of the Lotto NRFL Southern Conference in an end-of-season play-off to decide which club is promoted to the Lotto NRFL Men’s Championship.

As two clubs will drop down to the Conference from the Championship, it is expected that the bottom two teams will be relegated to NRF League One.

The winner of League One is automatically eligible to be promoted into the Northern Conference.

READ MORE: Late changes to promotion/relegation rules disrupt start to season >>>>

How they finished last year


Game to be played on Friday March 29, 2024

Oratia United v Waitemata
Parrs Park, Oratia, 3pm

Match programme:

Games to be played on Saturday March 30, 2024

Te Atatu v Beachlands Maraetai
Te Atatu Peninusla Park, Te Atatu, 3pm

Northland v Albany United
Baysport Waipapa, Kerikeri, 3pm

Waiheke United v Bucklands Beach
Onetangi Sports Complex, Waiheke, 3pm

Jack Sharp

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

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