PREVIEW: Unbeaten Waitemata to face nearest rivals in Northern Conference

By Jack Sharp

After a week off, the Lotto NRFL Northern Conference resumes with the prospect of having a new league leader by Saturday night.

If unbeaten Waitemata slip up, they could surrender the top spot to either this week’s opponents, Northland, or to third-placed Waiheke United.

It seems strange the conference has played only four rounds, due to starting later than other competitions and then losing last weekend to the Chatham Cup (though all the Conference sides received byes).

And next weekend, it’s the Chatham Cup again.

Game of the week

The big game of the round is the top-of-the-table clash between unbeaten leaders Waitemata and Northland.

Waitemata’s form so far has been impeccable, with wins against Oratia United (5-2), Bucklands Beach (2-1), Te Atatu (2-1) and Albany United (2-1).

At no stage this season have they fallen behind, so if Northland can get in front, it’ll create unfamiliar pressure for the west Aucklanders.

Northland, who’ll relish playing in front of their home fans at Trigg Arena, lost their season opener to Albany United, an apparent blip in an otherwise solid start to their campaign.

They went unbeaten through April, beating Beachlands Maraetai (4-1), Oratia United (4-1) and then outscoring Te Atatu (3-2).

In the lead-up to Saturday’s game, Northland head coach Michal Walesiak told his club’s social media followers his side had prepared with three good training sessions and “there’s a good vibe in the camp.”

Walesiak said Northland wouldn’t underestimate Waitemata who had a team of experienced players, with a few new faces.

It promises to be a tight affair.

Player to watch

Ethan Lythe-Brown.

Oratia United’s season has got off to a rocky start, and they’re the only side in the Northern Conference without a win.

In four games, they’ve conceded 17 goals.

They’ll be glad for the return of centre back Ethan Lythe-Brown (24) who made his first appearance of the season in the last round, his side’s 3-0 loss to Waiheke United.

It was Lythe-Brown’s 100th first team appearance for ‘Tia, an impressive feat given the relatively short season schedules and his youth.

Oratia will need him and his fellow defenders to band together to hold out Bucklands Beach this weekend, where Josh Smith and Sander Waterland are starting to find their shooting boots.

Bold prediction

Te Atatu have to catch the Hauraki Gulf ferry twice in a week, having drawn Waiheke United in the first round of the Chatham Cup in a week’s time.

First, they have to visit Waiheke for the round five league fixture on Saturday.

After a couple of seasons sliding down the northern pyramid, Waiheke United seem to be on the up, with the tightest defence in the competition.

I’m picking Te Atatu will catch the ferry home with their fourth loss of the season, and a feeling of dread for the cup fixture a week later.

In the last round, I predicted Albany United would push leaders Waitemata close, and could possibly nick a point. Waitemata won 2-1.

Golden Boot

4 — Adam Hargood (Waitemata)
3 — Andy Kapteyn (Oratia United), Ethan Carter (Northland), Fumiya Ito (Northland), Josh Smith (Bucklands Beach), Mark Giles (Beachlands Maraetai), Ramon Lindner (Waiheke United), Sander Waterland (Bucklands Beach), Shane Tanner (Waitemata)


Games to be played on Saturday May 4, 2024

Northland v Waitemata
Trigg Arena, Whangarei, 3pm

Waiheke United v Te Atatu
Onetangi Sports Complex, Waiheke, 3pm

Bucklands Beach v Oratia United
Lloyd Elsmore Park, Pakuranga, 3pm

Albany United v Beachlands Maraetai
Rosedale Park, Albany, 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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