PREVIEW: Goal-hungry Fencibles United off to a flyer in Men’s Championship

By Jonno Ross

Fencibles United have become the early pacesetter in the Lotto NRFL Men’s Championship, following the summer arrival of new coach Rhys Ruka.

Ruka, who previously helped coach Manurewa out of this competition and into the Northern League, has his new side motoring, with an impressive goals for/against tally of 19-2 after five rounds.

Head coach Rhys Ruka … a winning start for Fencibles United in 2024.

They host Takapuna this weekend, while Manukau United — the only other undefeated team in the Championship — face a tough challenge when second-placed Onehunga Mangere United travel to Walter Massey Park.

Game of the week

Ellerslie face Hibiscus Coast at Michaels Ave on Saturday, after their statement win last weekend against previously-undefeated league leaders Onehunga Mangere United.

The 4-0 hammering boosted them to 4th on the table, just four points off the top.

Inconsistency proved to be Ellerslie’s downfall last season — not once in the 2023 season did they manage to win three games in a row … the best they did was four games undefeated with two wins and two draws.

The Ponies will hope last weekend’s result will kick-start a run of good results, so they compete near the top of the table, and rid themselves of the midtable team reputation they’ve been stuck with in recent seasons.

Labelled by his club as a ‘midfield maestro’, and Ellerslie’s man of the match last week, Shukrullah Rezaie has started to build some goalscoring form. He scored a brace last week, making it three goals for the season.

If they beat Hibiscus Coast, Ellerslie will be three points better off than they were at the end of round six in 2023, and depending on other results, a win could even take them into second place.

Conor Felstead.

Like Ellerslie, Coast have had a mixed start. In their opening five games, they’ve picked up two wins, two draws and one defeat.

The comparison between this season and last season is rather interesting.

Last season, after five rounds, Coast were flying — five wins from five saw them sitting on top of the league. In fact, they went eight games undefeated to open their campaign, and from that point onwards until the end of the season, inconsistent results saw them slip down the ladder to an eventual 6th-placed finish.

Hibiscus have the chance this weekend to go three games undefeated, and to get some momentum going.

But last year, Ellerslie were their bogey team – at Michaels Ave, Coast lost 2-1, and in their home fixture, they lost 2-0.

Conor Felstead, the Hibiscus number 9, is his side’s top scorer, with two goals to his credit.

A win would see Hibiscus Coast move past Ellerslie and finish the round as high as 3rd, depending on other results.

Player to watch

Daniel Bunch showed no mercy against Franklin United last weekend with four goals.

He scored a hat trick in the space of eight minutes — impressive, but it has been bettered in this competition.

Tauranga City’s Jonty Bidois scored three in 5 minutes against Mt Albert Ponsonby in the last game of the 2023 season.

Bunch (32) has been a decent signing for Fencibles United. He moved from Eastern Suburbs during summer after previously playing for Manurewa, Uni-Mount Bohemian and North Shore United.

Bold prediction

I think by the end of this weekend, there won’t be any undefeated teams left in the competition. I predict Fencibles will lose to Takapuna, and Onehunga Mangere will hand Manukau United their first loss of the season.

Last week, I predicted Onehunga Mangere would drop points for the first time this season. That turned out to be the case — they lost 4-0 away to Ellerslie.


Games to be played on Saturday April 20, 2024

Fencibles United v Takapuna
Riverhills Park, Pakuranga, 3pm

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

Northern Rovers v North Shore United
McFetridge Park, Glenfield, 3pm

Manukau United v Onehunga Mangere United
Walter Massey Park, Manukau, 3pm

Ngaruawahia United v Metro
Centennial Park, Ngaruawahia, 3pm

Ellerslie v Hibiscus Coast
Michaels Ave, Elllerslie, 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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