PREVIEW: Southern Conference leaders lose striker to four-game suspension

By Jack Sharp

Early leaders Cambridge will be without Golden Boot striker Josh Clarkin for four games after he copped a ban for his round 2 red card against Taupo.

Clarkin (23) ran away with the goalscoring table in last season’s Lotto NRFL Southern Conference, and he was expected to create a formidable attacking partnership with summer signing Bailey Webster (from Waikato Unicol).

However, that’s come unstuck — for a month, anyway — with Clarkin’s 58th-minute dismissal for a second yellow card in Cambridge’s 4-3 win at Taupo.

Cambridge host Claudelands Rovers on Saturday in a game that’s likely to have an edge to it.

Rovers are coached by former Cambridge coach Paul Richardson, and Clarkin’s striker partner from 2023, Krishaant Singh now leads the line for the Hamilton outfit.

Cambridge and Taupo (blue strip) had a close tussle in round 2, with the Reds winning 4-3 at Crown Park. Photo credit: Rachel Lilburn.

Game of the week

Unbeaten sides Otumoetai and Waikato Unicol go head to head at the university grounds in Hamilton.

Otumoetai have so far played Te Awamutu and Claudelands Rovers — sides that are at the bottom end of the table, and without wins — so this weekend’s game will provide a guide as to whether they’ll be among the title contenders this season.

Defending champions Waikato Unicol have been through big changes over summer with the exodus of many players, and changes in the coaches’ dugout.

But results speak for themselves, and Unicol have started well with a 4-3 win at Papamoa (after trailing 0-3) and a 2-2 draw last week with Te Awamutu.

If Unicol can beat Otumoetai, they’ll deserve to be considered challengers for top spot again.

Player to watch

Andrew Cooper has been a mainstay of Bay of Plenty football for most of the last decade, scoring goals aplenty for clubs including Tauranga Blue Rovers, Whakatane Town, Tauranga City and, more recently, Papamoa.

His ball control and movement have helped him perform on the futsal courts too.

Now almost 34, he hasn’t lost his touch.

He scored against Waikato Unicol in Papamoa’s season opener and then followed up with a first half hat-trick in his side’s 6-2 win against Ngongotaha Lakes in round 2.

While I think Papamoa might find it tough against Taupo on Saturday, Cooper will be the home team’s main threat.

Cambridge outnumber Taupo in front of their own goal during last weekend’s match. Photo credit: Rachel Lilburn.

Bold prediction

Taupo head to Papamoa on Saturday for a mid-table clash that both need to win to stay in touch with the league’s leading teams.

Of the two, I fancy Taupo to win, and they could win well.

For their game against Cambridge — which they lost 4-3 — they were without captain and main goalscorer Joe O’Donoghue, Ahmad Zammit, Dylan Crighton, Andrew O’Donoghue and player-coach Raymond How.

Word was a wedding had disrupted squad selections, and they still pushed Cambridge hard, though the visitors played the last third of the game with 10 men after the red card of Josh Clarkin.

I’ll pick Taupo by a margin of two goals or better.


Games to be played on Saturday April 13, 2024

Cambridge v Claudelands Rovers
John Kerkhof Park, Cambridge, 3pm

Papamoa v Taupo
Gordon Spratt Reserve, Papamoa, 3pm

Te Awamutu v Ngongotaha Lakes
The Stadium, Te Awamutu, 3pm

Waikato Unicol v Otumoetai
Waikato University, Hamilton, 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. You can show your appreciation for his work by buying him a coffee.

More football stories