PREVIEW: Top sides to meet in Friday night NRFL Men’s Championship clash

By Jonno Ross

A top-of-the-table clash between unbeaten Fencibles United and Onehunga Mangere United gets Round 7 underway in the Lotto NRFL Men’s Championship.

The floodlit game on Friday night pits rival coaches Rhys Ruka (Fencibles United) and Paul Marshall (Onehunga Mangere United) against each other, little more than a year after the pair were both with Manurewa.

Ruka has a promising young squad at Fencibles and they have a four point drop on Onehunga, though the Mountain Men have a game in hand.

Since Marshall’s return to Onehunga Mangere United, the side have rediscovered their mojo after a disappointing 2023.

The competition’s only other unbeaten side, Manukau United, travel to Hibiscus Coast, while Metro and Franklin United both have home advantage this week as they look for ways to climb the table.

Onehunga Mangere United head coach Paul Marshall. Photo: Shane Wenzlick / Phototek.

Game of the week

Takapuna host Mount Albert Ponsonby on Saturday afternoon.

Two of the league’s supposed pre-season ‘favourites’ have struggled to find form over the first six rounds and both sides need a win to reboot their season. A loss for either side will leave them languishing in the bottom cluster.

Last week, Takapuna suffered their third defeat of the season, against the high-flying Fencibles United, and their back-to-back defeats dropped them down to 10th.

It seems Takapuna are having difficulty in the attacking third of the pitch.

After six games, they’ve scored only six goals — a conversion rate that needs to see some improvement and catch up with the leading group.

Takapuna’s Sean Willcox. Photo: Andrew Cornega / Phototek.

Sean Willcox and Joa Moreira will both look to add to their goalscoring tally of two goals each, and will fancy themselves this weekend against a team who are yet to keep a clean sheet in 2024.

Mount Albert Ponsonby got their second win of the season in Round 5, against the bottom-of-the-table Franklin United, winning 6-2.

Unlike Takapuna, scoring goals isn’t an issue for MAP. They have scored 14 goals in their opening six games — the third best in the league. Only Fencibles and Ngaruawahia United have scored more.

It’s the back end of the pitch that has been MAP’s downfall. Conceding 15 goals in six games tells its own story and is a statistic that coach Darren White and his men will want to turn around.

Mt Albert know from experience that consistency is key to success; getting back-to-back wins for the first time this season will be a start.

Player to watch

Ngaruawahia United’s Levi Clark.

Attacking midfielder Levi Clark opened his account for the season in style last week, scoring a first-half hat trick in Ngaruawahia United’s 5-1 demolition of Metro.

Clark (23) has been around the Waikato clubs, since his junior and youth team days with Cambridge. He’s played for Melville United, Claudelands Rovers and for last year’s Lotto NRFL Southern Conference winners Waikato Unicol.

Normally it’s Darius Palma or Reuben Henderson in the spotlight for the Waikato side, so the ‘Green Machine’ will no doubt be excited at the prospect of having another lethal finisher in their ranks.

Bold prediction

For those who don’t know, I’m the team manager for Mount Albert Ponsonby so it’s always difficult to be impartial when weighing their chances.

All the same, I’m tipping our boys to beat Takapuna 2-0 at Taharoto Park.

A clean sheet is very much needed for Mount Albert, and I think this is the week it happens.

Golden Boot

7 — Darius Palma (Ngaruawahia United)
6 — Daniel Bunch (Fencibles United)
5 — Aston Burns (Fencibles United), Kodie Nicol (Fencibles United), Sam Tutton (Mt Albert Ponsonby)
4 — Aidan Price (Onehunga Mangere United), Dylan Horgan (Manukau United), Rowan Corbett (Ellerslie)


Games to be played on Friday April 26, 2024

Onehunga Mangere United v Fencibles United
Mangere Centre Park, Mangere, 7.30pm

Games to be played on Saturday April 27, 2024

North Shore United v Ngaruawahia United
Allen Hill Stadium, Devonport, 3pm

Takapuna v Mt Albert Ponsonby
Taharoto Park, Takapuna, 3pm

Hibiscus Coast v Manukau United
Stanmore Bay, Whangaparaoa, 3pm

Metro v Ellerslie
Phyllis St Reserve, Mt Albert, 3pm

Franklin United v Northern Rovers
Bledisloe Park, Pukekohe, 5pm

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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