[This was written a couple of weeks ago for the WaiBOP match-day programme for their double header at Rotorua International Stadium tomorrow. Due to space restrictions they won’t be using it, so I’m posting it here instead]
Being a fanatic supporter of Waikato/Bay of Plenty sports teams is never supposed to be easy, it’s a test of character, whatever the code. Football in particular, although women’s football has in recent times been a happy respite from this golden rule. WaiBOP’s National Women’s League side have been beaten finalists two out of the past three years and so we have come to expect big things from these ladies.
This season is especially exciting because for the first time since the league’s inception, Northern and Southern conferences have been dispensed with. In previous years, teams from Taupo North only met their Southern counterparts if they were fortunate enough to make it to the semi-final stage. This year we enjoy a full round-robin, and get a great handle on where the cream of the women’s football crop really resides in New Zealand.
Unfortunately for WaiBOP, this has not come at a great time. The Football Ferns high activity on the international scene means goal machine Helen Collins is not in the squad and her ten goals in six games last season will be very difficult to replace. Even more so when you take Sarah McLaughlin (long term injury), and Olivia Chance (overseas) out of the attack, and those are just the missing strikers. Add to that the losses of Issy Coombes (with the Under 17s) and goalkeeper Naomi Beth Carter (overseas) as well and you can start to appreciate the scale of the mountain to climb.
It’s not all bad though. Young Bay of Plenty playmaker Chelsea Elliott has been coming on in leaps and bounds, and number ten Jackie Pretswell has been looking incisive in attack as well. They have also shown some impressive gutsy determination as a team, coming back from 2-0 down in their round one match against Central to snatch a point in injury time via goals from Kylie Jens and Olivia Williams.
Unfortunately they let themselves down a bit in round two, succumbing to a 2-7 hiding in Cambridge at the hands of Capital Football. Nothing wrong with the two goals side of the equation against one of the best teams in the competition, but they gave away far too much possession in midfield and the all-Claudelands defence looked staggeringly out of sorts. The encouraging thing was that with all those attacking players missing, they are still finding the back of the net, and if they can sort their defence out, two goals should be enough to beat most teams in this league.
They sort of proved that in round 3 against Auckland in Pakuranga. They created few chances but the opportunities were there and they were a little unlucky to be kept goalless this time, however the good news was that the defence was somewhat improved. Only one goal conceded, although they were perhaps flattered a little bit by a wasteful Auckland first half where the home side missed several golden opportunities.
All they have to do now is take the positives from rounds one and two and combine them with the better defensive record of round three – and hey-presto! Of course, it’s not that simple, but by the time you read this, they will have already played Football South down in Dunedin on November 3rd, and hopefully have a win on the board against an opposition side that should be beatable… Taking on Mainland today will be another very tough test though. Tipped by many as title favourites and led by tough Football Ferns Annalie Longo and Meikayla Moore, and talented age-group internationals such as Laura Merrin, Lily Alfield and Emily Jensen, they are a very formidable squad. Then next Sunday the 17th they play the Under 17 Selection, 1pm at St Peter’s School in Cambridge. Another eminently winnable fixture that will be a great one to get along to and support your team. Go WaiBOP!
Categories: NZ Women's National League
A grassroots sports photography enthusiast based in Auckland, New Zealand, and a fan of the most magnificent football club on earth - A.S. Roma.