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Riders on the storm

Ngaruawahia United Reserves 5, Huntly Thistle 1
Ngaruawahia United 3, Team Taranaki 2
Centennial Park, Ngaruawahia, March 15 2014

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“Batten down the hatches” they all cried as Tropical Cyclone Lusi approached. “It’s going to be a rough couple of days. Expect power outages. Expect fallen trees. Floods. DEATH! MAYHEM! THE END IS NIGH!!!” I don’t know quite why I fell for it, but fall for it I did. I was planning to make this my annual ‘State of the Nation’ pitch report weekend, where I drive around Auckland’s football grounds to assess their readiness for the season ahead. It seemed there would be no point doing that in torrential rain though, so instead I decided to brave the gale force winds and head down State Highway 1 to check out some interesting looking games in Ngaruawahia.

As it turned out, it was really just a typical winterish day in the upper North Island. I’ve watched football at Centennial Park in far worse and I probably could have done the pitch report. Pity too. I’ve had a really great title saved up for months… ‘State of the Nation III – Return of the Dead Rye’. See what I did there? So sad that such clever wit will never see the light of day… Oh, wait! It just did! Every cloud has, you know…

So to Ngara it was, and a lovely afternoon in the drizzle it was too, along with the now very familiar friendly faces and great conversation on the sidelines that make this amongst my favourite places to hang out. Especially today with these two pre-season friendlies that both held considerable curiosity to me for quite different reasons.

If you’ve read the ‘about’ section of this blog, you’ll know that Huntly Thistle is the one football club that I have actually played for, so I guess you could say it’s special to me in some ways, even though I don’t particularly have many fond memories of it. One could read something into the fact that today was the first time I have seen them play since this photo was taken:

Middle of the back row.

Middle of the back row.

But really, it’s because their seniors have been operating at a pretty low level as far as I can tell, certainly below the WaiBOP Federation leagues in the past few years. It’s no surprise therefore that the reserve side of their closest neighbours, Ngaruawahia United, should be capable of giving them a reasonably comprehensive whooping – and in this case even the ‘1’ in the 5-1 score line was entirely self-inflicted by the home side, a back-pass that the keeper made a Minties ad out of. It was still an interesting watch though, and I’m sure the visitors would have enjoyed the chance to test themselves against more accomplished opposition. They will also take well-earned satisfaction out of their vastly improved second half, in which they only conceded one goal.

But on to the main attraction. Who would prevail? The small town or the big province? Such are the vaguaries of New Zealand’s football system that the relative strength of the leagues these two sides operate in betray the fact that the small town should have been favourites to win this over the side with the vastly larger catchment area. Ngaruawahia’s first team are newly promoted into the NRFL Premier League this season while Team Taranaki, a squad put together from the crème della crème of the Taranaki province’s playing stocks from a range of clubs, contest Central Football’s premier federation league.

Having said all that though, after surviving a brave trip up State Highway 3 by bus given the weather forecast, the visitors showed they hadn’t risked their hides in vain by giving their more illustrious opponents a real scare!

After two first half goals by Reid Drake, brother of talented young WaiBOP United reserve goalie Danyon, it looked like this was going to be a walk in the park for the Waikato outfit. This impression was far from dispelled when Federico Marquez, back from ASB Premiership duty at Canterbury United, slotted Ngaruawahia’s third soon after the break. But Taranaki fought back hard and two relatively quick fire goals set the game alight and made it anyone’s to snatch! After a pulsating finish where either side could have grabbed the moral victory however, 3-2 was indeed the final score.

I understand Team Taranaki also play Melville United tomorrow in what will no-doubt be an even more interesting match-up. If you’re in the Tron, it will be well worth a peep! Do it!

Categories: NZ Northern Men's Premier

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Enzo Giordani

A grassroots sports photography enthusiast based in Auckland, New Zealand, and a fan of the most magnificent football club on earth - A.S. Roma.

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