PREVIEW: Leading pair remain unbeaten in Lotto NRFL Southern Conference

By Jack Sharp

Cambridge and Otumoetai lead the way as the only unbeaten sides remaining in the Lotto NRFL Men’s Southern Conference.

Cambridge host third-placed Papamoa in round 4 in a game that could be a close affair.

Both sides won by narrow margins in the previous round, with Cambridge getting home 4-3 in their Waikato derby with Claudelands Rovers. Papamoa came from behind to beat Taupo 2-1.

Cambridge will be without last season’s Golden Boot winner, Josh Clarkin, who is suspended but will have plenty of firepower with new season signings Jack Connor and Bailey Webster showing strong form.

Otumoetai travel to Ngongotaha Lakes.

Game of the week

Claudelands Rovers sit second-bottom on the eight-team table, winless and having conceded 10 goals in their three outings.

Kieran Dolan … has joined the Rovers coaching staff.

Considering Rovers were one of the two clubs (the other was Cambridge) to drop from the ‘old’ NRFL Second Division into the Southern Conference last year, one might expect them to be riding higher on the ladder.

On Saturday, they host neighbours Waikato Unicol, who were last season’s champions.

At first look, you might expect a routine win for Unicol.

But Rovers are still in the process of settling in a refreshed squad, and head coach Paul Richardson has brought in Kieran Dolan as an assistant coach. Dolan led the Unicol U-23 side through an unbeaten season in 2023 to take their divisional title.

The Rovers squad includes former Unicol players Ernest Pidoke, Sam McFarlane and Thomas O’Leary, all of whom get the chance to show their former club what they’re capable of.

Rovers went down 4-3 to leaders Cambridge last weekend, while Waikato Unicol were bowled 4-1 at home by Otumoetai.

Unicol are still sorting themselves out after a summer exodus of players and coaches.

Tracy Wrigley has been head coach since the start of the season but last season’s title-winning coach, Scott Parsonage, turned up in the dugout as an assistant last weekend.

This game will provide clues as to the prospects of both sides this season.

Otumoetai’s Jack Boland … has scored five goals in three rounds. Photo: Andrew Skinner / Phototek.

Player to watch

Otumoetai are enjoying a strong start to the season, nicely placed in second spot and still unbeaten after three rounds.

The Bay of Plenty side have scored 12 goals, with five of them coming from Jack Boland, who struck a hat-trick last weekend against defending champions Waikato Unicol.

Boland (28) has split his football career between Otumoetai and the South Island, and is clearly enjoying a good run of form.

This weekend, Otumoetai head to Ngongotaha Lakes, a side that shares the leakiest defence stats in the competition.

It’ll be no surprise if Boland adds to his tally.

Bold prediction

Claudelands Rovers surely can’t continue much longer without a win.

I’m picking they’ll break their duck on Saturday and take maximum points against last season’s champions, Waikato Unicol.

Last week, I predicted Taupo would beat Papamoa by a margin of two goals or better. Taupo, without leading goalscorer Joe O’Donoghue, gave up a 1-0 lead to lose 2-1.


Games to be played on Saturday April 20, 2024

Taupo v Te Awamutu
Crown Park, Taupo, 3pm

Cambridge v Papamoa
John Kerkhof Park, Cambridge, 3pm

Ngongotaha Lakes v Otumoetai
Tamarahi Reserve, Ngongotaha, 3pm

Claudelands Rovers v Waikato Unicol
Galloway Park, 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.

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