PREVIEW: Cambridge race seven points clear in NRFL Southern Conference

By Jack Sharp

Can anyone haul back table-topping Cambridge in the Lotto NRFL Southern Conference?

After six rounds, it appears not, with the Reds already seven points clear and hot favourites to take the title and a spot in the end-of-season promotion play-offs.

The Conference badly needs a couple of teams, at least, to emerge from the pack and mount a challenge.

Last year’s champions, Waikato Unicol, are building after a summer exodus of players and a lacklustre start to the season.

They meet Cambridge this weekend, and with former Cambridge Player of the Year Scott Parsonage back in the Unicol dugout, the ‘Varsity side might provide some opposition.

Taupo’s Liam Petersen tackles Chima Robert from Waikato Unicol in their recent Southern Conference game. Photo: Rachel Lilburn.

Match of the week

Otumoetai and Papamoa play their derby game on Saturday, with both sides mixing their form.

Both have won three games from the six rounds; Otumoetai are higher on the table only because they’ve picked up a couple of draws.

Last season, they met three times, all of which were humdingers in terms of goals and entertainment.

Otumoetai beat Papamoa 4-3 at Gordon Spratt Reserve when they last met, in August.

Jack Boland grabbed a hat-trick for Otumoetai that day.

Earlier in the season, the teams drew 2-2, with Boland scoring twice, and Otumoetai won the third encounter 3-1, with Boland again on the scoresheet.

So, what odds another entertaining match, with four goals at least … and Boland adding to the nine goals he’s scored already this season?

Player to watch

Bailey Webster.

Cambridge’s Bailey Webster leads the Golden Boot with 11 goals from six rounds, and he also scored four in his side’s 8-5 (yes, eight goals to five) win in the Chatham Cup against Papakura City last weekend.

This weekend, Webster (28) plays against Waikato Unicol, the club he helped win the Southern Conference title last season.

When he switched clubs, it looked like he would form an outstanding strike partnership with last season’s Golden Boot winner, Josh Clarkin.

Clarkin copped a four-week suspension which kept the pair apart till the Cup win, when Clarkin got on the scoresheet too.

Maybe, they’ll show what they can deliver as a pairing when they take on Unicol.

Bold prediction

Though they are bottom and without a win, Te Awamutu have been difficult to roll some weeks. Last weekend, they lost 2-1 to Waikato Unicol in the Chatham Cup, another example of close but no cigar.

They host Claudelands Rovers this week and if Te Awamutu can contain main threats Krishaant Singh and Henry Stephen, this could be the week they break their duck.

In the last round, I predicted there’d be plenty of goals when Cambridge met Otumoetai, and I tipped a 3-2 win for the Reds. Cambridge won 6-1.

Golden Boot

11 — Bailey Webster (Cambridge)
9 — Jack Boland (Otumoetai)
7 — Krishaant Singh (Claudelands Rovers)
5 — Andrew Cooper (Papamoa), Henry Stephen (Claudelands Rovers), Jack Connor (Cambridge), Kjay Morehu (Waikato Unicol)
4 — Dylan Foster (Taupo), Joe O’Donoghue (Taupo), Steffano Riley (Ngongotaha Lakes)


Games to be played on Saturday May 18, 2024

Te Awamutu v Claudelands Rovers
The Stadium, Te Awamutu, 3pm

Otumoetai v Papamoa
Fergusson Park, Otumoetai 3pm

Waikato Unicol v Cambridge
Waikato University, Hamilton, 3pm

Ngongotaha Lakes v Taupo
Tamrahi Reserve, Ngongotaha, 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