PREVIEW: Surprises at both ends of the Lotto NRFL Men’s Championship table

By Jonno Ross

The Lotto NRFL Men’s Championship has been full of surprises in its opening three rounds.

Last year’s strugglers Metro and Onehunga Mangere United are off to good starts, while North Shore United are languishing at the foot of the table, with three losses and are yet to find the net.

It could get worse for Shore in Round 4 with a trip to second-placed Fencibles United to play at the renovated Riverhills Park.

Shore have yet to find the successor to teenager Nick Petherick who was their main attacking threat last season but who is now at Takapuna.

North Shore United captain Harry Lissington … tough start to the new season. Photo: Jackie Tran Van / Phototek.

The Shore defence is led by captain Harry Lissington (29), in his 14th season with the club. He played his 150th first team game last weekend.

Two other sides are also without their first wins — Mt Albert Ponsonby and promoted side Franklin United.

Game of the week

Few would have predicted before the start of the season that Round 4’s big game would be a top-of-the-table affair involving Metro and Onehunga Mangere United, two teams that struggled last year.

Metro hit the ground running in their two opening fixtures, with 3-0 wins against North Shore United and newcomers Franklin United. They suffered their first defeat of the season on Easter Monday, losing their first away game 2-1 at Takapuna.

New signing Matt Hearn (23), who joined from West Auckland in the off-season, has scored four goals in his first three games for his new club.

Matt Hearn has moved from West Auckland to enjoy a storming start for his new club Metro. Photo: Shane Wenzlick / Phototek.

Metro celebrate their 125th birthday over the weekend, and if Hearn can keep his goalscoring run going, he could give supporters plenty to cheer with a big crowd expected for the Onehunga Mangere game.

READ MORE: Auckland’s Metro FC ready to kick off their 125th birthday celebrations >>>>

Under coach Paul Marshall, who returned to Onehunga Mangere United from Manurea last last year, the Mountain Men have had a perfect start with three wins.

Their opening fixtures weren’t soft either. They’ve had to beat Takapuna, who were in the Northern League last term, and Ngaruawahia United who finished third in 2023.

On Easter Monday, they rolled Hibiscus Coast 4-1, gaining revenge on a team that got the better of them twice last year.

Early signs are that Onehunga don’t need to rely on one or two goalscorers. The goals are coming from all over the pitch, with five different names on the scoresheet so far.

Winning breeds confidence and Onehunga Mangere’s confidence should be sky-high leading into this week’s fixture.

Depending on other results, either of these teams could be top of the table come Saturday night.

Darius Palma … the English winger scored a hat-trick in Ngaruawahia’s 4-1 win against Mt Albert Ponsonby.

Player to watch

Darius Palma (25) was essential to his Ngaruawahia United’s side’s first win of the season on Easter Monday.

He scored a hat-trick in his side’s 4-1 hammering of Mount Albert Ponsonby, and will no doubt be looking at Saturday’s game against the struggling Hibiscus Coast as the perfect opportunity to add to his tally.

Winger Palma is an English import whose last club was Stalybridge Celtic, who play in the Northern Premier League Division One West. His last UK season was disrupted by a shoulder injury, and joining Ngaruawahia could be the boost he needs to rebuild his career.

Bold prediction

The Metro supporters gathering for their club’s 125th anniversary deserve a match fitting for the occasion and I’m tipping the clash with Onehunga Mangere United will do exactly that.

I predict Metro and Onehunga Mangere will share the spoils in an exciting 2-2 draw at Phyllis Street Reserve.

Last week, I predicted Franklin United would be bottom of the league by the end of the round on Easter Monday. They now sit in 11th position on the table, one spot off the bottom, with goal difference separating themselves from the wooden spoon.


Games to be played on Saturday April 6, 2024

Fencibles United v North Shore United
Riverhills Park, Pakuranga, 3pm

Mt Albert Ponsonby v Northern Rovers
Anderson Park, Mt Albert, 3pm

Metro v Onehunga Mangere United
Phyllis St, Mt Albert, 3pm

Manukau United v Franklin United
Walter Massey Park, Mangere East, 3pm

Ngaruawahia United v Hibiscus Coast
Centennial Park, Ngaruawahia, 3pm

Ellerslie v Takapuna
Michaels Ave, Ellerslie, 6pm


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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