From the Lights in the North to a resurgent South, the National Women’s League’s back with a second round. We’ll see each team play each other two times not one, revenge and redemption added into the fun. With new names and identity, coaches and squads, will favourites prevail or can someone beat the odds? Will Southern repeat last year’s reinvention, can Central overcome the challenge of distance? Auckland Football have announced a squad that is “stacked”, can they win it all again and go back to back? Northern’s rebranded-new talent, new kits-will their up-and-coming squad play as sweet as their gifs? Capital will be seeking to be victorious, I say to set up this rhyme with Sarah Gregorius. WaiBOP bring young talent and attacking guile, can they give Enzo a reason to smile? And last but not least, the Canterbury Pride, who always seem ahead by at least two strides. With Annalie Longo leading the way, can their off-pitch professionalism translate in their play? So many questions, so much to look forward to, so get along to the games, see what your Fed can do. But for the final few days before it’s all on, here are our predictions which may well be wrong.
2017 finish: Fourth
2018 Squad: Anna Leat, Hannah MacKay-Wright, Samantha Tawharu, Saskia Vosper, Rose Luxton, Arabella Maynard, Aneka Mittendorff, Jane Barnett, Malia Steinmetz, Nicole Stratford, Claudia Bunge, Dayna Stevens, Maggie Jenkins, Kate Loye, Helena Kelderman, Liz Savage, Ava Pritchard, Lily Alfeld, (five more to be added).
Coach: Gemma Lewis
Helena’s prediction: Third. They should benefit from the young talent that has been gaining NRFL experience in the region this year, but will have had less preparation time than federations like Mainland. They may also lose some of their younger squad to U17 National Team commitments. But then again, they have the best coach in the land in Gemma Lewis… basically I have no idea.
Ella’s prediction: Third. They’ve scored a coup in Gemma Lewis, they’ve some of NZ Football’s top up and coming talent coming through … I just wonder how the Football Ferns qualifiers and the under 17s World Cup will affect their campaign come crunch time in November. Think they’ll be pipped at the post for the final.
Enzo’s prediction: First. They finished lower than their talent suggested last year and with the recruitment of Gemma Lewis, the mastermind of Auckland’s winning 2017 campaign, the only way is up. Knowing the players they have at their disposal this year they will be super formidable.
Helena’s favourite player: This is such a mean question, I play with so many of these players. I refuse to answer. I love them all. Swans up.
Ella’s favourite player: Jane Barnett. Did you see her goals in the Kate Sheppard Cup final? Lethal finisher.
Enzo’s favourite player: Emily Couchman because instead of rightly complaining about my horrible photos of her she turned them into an Instagram sensation.
If Northern was an animal from Sub Saharan Africa, which would it be?
Helena: Gazelle, because Enzo got in too quick with zebra and because Northern have a lot of pace.
Ella: Peregrine Falcon. Fast and brutal, which sums up the host of attacking options we think Northern will have available to them.
Enzo: Zebra – fast and stripy.
2017 finish: First
2018 Squad: Nadia Olla, Corina Brown, Stephanie Cleave [Skilton], Lizzie Anton, Rebekah Van Dort, Bianca Stiles, Sarah Morton, Bernadette Goulding, Leah Mettam, Genevieve Ryan, Sam Muirhead, Margot Ramsay, Lucy Carter, Jenna Dodd, Nicole Mettam, Grace Jale, Paige Satchell, Tessa Leong, Jade Parris, Britney Cunningham-Lee, Kathryn Gow, Kim Nottingham, Jade Morrissey.
Coach: Tracy Wrigley
Helena’s prediction: Second. This is based purely off their squad, which looks extremely strong. They have a large number of full and age-group Ferns and a myriad of threats going forward. I think they’ll be very hard to deal with.
Ella’s prediction: Fifth. Like Enzo says, they’re hot or they’re not, and while their squad is stacked they might suffer come the international fixtures towards the crunch end of the campaign.
Enzo’s prediction: Fifth. Auckland are one of those federations that are either hot or they are not and it’s hard to predict which it will be because they always have a talented side, as you would expect. This year I’m gambling on not even though I am fully expecting to wind up with egg on my face.
Helena’s favourite player: Corina Brown. I honestly think she is the best goalkeeper in the Northern League and it’s awesome to see her included. Jade Parris gets a mention too, for being unstoppable in the NRFL this year.
Ella’s favourite player: Paige Satchell. That pace. Also a shout out to Kim Nottingham, as her surname is Nottingham.
Enzo’s favourite player: I would normally say Paige Satchell without hesitation but I am still working though my feelings about her playing for the enemy against my beloved WaiBOP. Perhaps after a bit more counselling… For now I will revert to Nadia Olla, because she’s Italian.
If Auckland was an animal from Sub Saharan Africa, which would it be?
Helena: Antelope. Like the Northern Lights gazelles, but slightly different. Also, fast.
Ella: Crocodile. Floating juuuuuusssst beneath the top four surface… But with a proper bite on them too.
Enzo: White Rhino. An aggressive beast that takes over all the surrounding territory and doesn’t let the younger animals buy houses there.
2017 finish: Sixth
2018 Squad: Georgia Candy, Toni Power, Kate Williams, Olivia Hooper, Chloe Henderson, Jayden Watts, Emma Cawte, Stella Neems, Helen Talbot, Ella Golding, Lilly Muspratt, Kelli Brown, Tiana Hill, Richlyn Tuhoro, Grace Cox, Grace Wisnewski, Kim Maguire, Ashley Weld, Chelsea Elliot, Rylee Godbold.
Coach: Michael Mayne
Helena’s prediction: Sixth. I really want WaiBOP to prove me wrong here, because they have some very strong players in the region, but I am not sure they will be up there with the likes of Mainland and Auckland this year.
Ella’s prediction: Seventh (Soz Enzo). With the sad relegation of Claudelands from the NRFL and the difficulties in confirming home grounds and so on, I’m picking that perhaps this isn’t going to be the region’s year. Still capable of pulling some results though.
Enzo’s prediction: Second. Because I am an eternal optimist and also quite mad.
Helena’s favourite player: Tiana Hill. She was an incredible captain for Claudelands over a tough season and I look forward to seeing what can do with the U20 World Cup experience.
Ella’s favourite player: Grace Cox. To my knowledge she hasn’t begun a lawsuit against us for using her throw in photo to announce The Return Fixture, and she’s a solid fullback.
Enzo’s favourite player: Tiana Hill because she’s an absolute beast on both attack and defence. Couldn’t have been more thrilled with her call-up to the under 20 World Cup.
If WaiBOP was an animal from Sub Saharan Africa, which would it be?
Helena: Fennec Fox. A smaller-seeming federation that may well be easy to underestimate, but certainly capable of some good results.
Ella: Saharan Silver Ant. A little federation that seems to be everywhere at the same time, and able to withstand intense pressure.
Enzo: Lemur. Everyone underestimates the Lemur. Never underestimate the Lemur. It WILL hurt you…
2017 finish: Seventh
2018 Squad: Aimee Atkins, Mackenzie Barry, Jenna Barry, Mikaela Boxall, Kate Watson, Charlotte Lancaster, Sophie Crewe, Aoife Gallagher – Forbes, Tyler Wood, Casey Ralph, Torijan Lyne-Lewis, Amy Simmers, Maggie Pedersen, Jana Niedermayr, Carina Flannagan, Jessica Mason, Florence MacIntyre, Rose Morton, Freya Partridge-Moore, Charlotte Hunt, Nicole Vunipola, Anna Robson, Lydia Bamford, Jendi Frank.
Coach: Donald Piper
Helena’s prediction: Seventh. This is a federation with a lot of challenges outside their own control, most obviously their geographic spread. Again, I would dearly love to be proved wrong on this one, and actually I think I could be, given their squad.
Ella’s prediction: Sixth. They’ll be tough to beat for sure, but will that translate into wins?
Enzo’s prediction: Seventh. Sorry Central, someone has to be seventh and I hope it’s not you. Please prove me wrong!
Helena’s favourite player: Mikaela Boxall. I’ve only ever faced her on a futsal court, and I was thoroughly in awe. I imagine she’s pretty exciting in the 11-a-side format, too.
Ella’s favourite player: Mikaela Boxall. Played her in preseason (can confirm Helena that she’s both exciting and terrifying to play in 11-a-side). Great striker. Great futsal player too. What’s not to love?
Enzo’s favourite player: Rose Morton. It’s been great watching her develop in the national set-up. Quality player.
If Central was an animal from Sub Saharan Africa, which would it be?
Helena: Sand Viper. Sand vipers are incredibly well camouflaged, to the point that most people would miss them. That’s not advisable. This is a powerful snake, when it has its moments.
Ella: Death Stalker. A scorpion species. And I reckon Central will prove to be a bit of a sting in the tail of the bigger federations…
Enzo: Western Green Mamba. Obviously there’s the green thing but also I see them as an underrated predator lying in the tall grass waiting for their moment to strike…
2017 finish: Third
2018 Squad: Anna Green, Caelin Patterson, Emma Main, Kennedy Bryant, Sarah Gregorius, Anna McPhie, Courtney Norman, Dani Turton, Kelsi Rutene, Meisha Boone, Molly Woodhead, Katie Barrott, Zoe Barrott, Asha Strom, Charlotte Wilford Carroll, Dani Ohlsson, Jemma Robertson, Ronisa Lipi, Rosie Wild, Sarah Alder, Maya Hahn, Tessa McPherson, Tory Schiltgen.
Coach: Emma Evans
Helena’s prediction: Fourth. I think there will be a great battle between them and NFF for third, though. I almost had to flip a coin. Emma Evans has, by all accounts, developed a great culture in the team, which will prove all important with two rounds. I’m not sure they can beat Mainland, Auckland or Northern yet, but they’ll be in the mix for sure.
Ella’s prediction: Second. I want to say first, because like any football fan I am a bit biased, but I think the strength of the other squads might edge them. The return of Anna Green from the NWSL in England will be a great boost to the squad. Also, despite my naturally contrarian instinct, just this once I want Enzo to be proved right and finish higher than his silly prediction.
Enzo’s prediction: Fourth. They will probably finish higher than this but I don’t want to admit that to Ella.
Helena’s favourite player: Sarah Gregorius, because see Enzo’s answer.
Ella’s favourite player: I was going to say Greggo, then I saw Enzo and Helena had both picked her and that’s a little excessive (plus would all but confirm the existence of the Sarah Gregorius Fan Club, and the first rule is you do not talk about the S- ANYWAY). And then I remembered she scored four against my Vic Uni side last year (not that I’m holding a grudge or anything)… So I’m going to say Rosie Wild, who I used to play with, who has gone from strength to strength since first making the Capital squad last year and was part of Wellington United’s W-League and Kelly Cup double-winning squad.
Enzo’s favourite player: Sarah Gregorius. Because she’s Sarah FUCKING Gregorius. Unionist. Legend. Kicker of asses.
If Capital was an animal from Sub Saharan Africa, which would it be?
Helena: Macaw, because, like Capital, macaws are bright yellow and quite impressive.
Ella: Elephant. Because *insert something witty about Enzo not forgetting a single slight against his beloved WaiBOP – see below*
Enzo: Cheetah, because that’s what they were against WaiBOP in the 2016 semi-final when Leanna Ryan was cynically felled on her way to a certain goal in a Russian backed plot that led to a penalty shootout win for Capital and the Trump Presidency [Ella – And Brexit and Italy’s failure to qualify for the 2018 Men’s World Cup and, and, and?]
2017 finish: Second
2018 Squad: Vic Esson, Marisa van der Meer, Rebecca Lake, Arna Roberts, Annie Gilchrist, Chloe Jones, Gabbie Rennie, Tahlia Herman-Watt, Jayda Stewart, Annalie Longo, Macey Fraser, Amelia Abbott, Whitney Hepburn, Jazmine Donald, Monique Barker, Mel Cameron, Cody Taylor, Rebecca Gillett, Ellena Firth, Kate Taylor, Lily Bray, Una Foyle, Blair Currie
Coach: Alana Gunn
Helena’s prediction: First. I interviewed Alana Gunn about three months ago and by that time, Mainland had already been training a prospective squad and playing games against 15th grade boys to prepare for the women’s league. Their federation has incredible footballers, and are always a step ahead of the pack in every aspect of the game: on and off pitch. I just can’t see anyone beating them this year.
Ella’s prediction: First. Attention to detail wins championships and CUP’s is bordering on forensic. You just can’t compare a side that has been training and preparing together since the start of the winter season with sides that were formed towards the end of the season. And they’ll be looking to avenge last year’s grand final defeat to Auckland.
Enzo’s prediction: Third. They are very strong as always and in possession of some exciting young talent. They are strong, no question about it, I just think Northern will be a little bit stronger.
Helena’s favourite player: I agree with Enzo that Annalie Longo is the best player in the league but I am going to say Macey Fraser. She’s very young but a fantastic technician, which is something we will see more in this new generation of players. She’ll create incredible moments for sure.
Ella’s favourite player: Annalie Longo. Pure class.
Enzo’s favourite player: Annalie Longo. Full stop. Best player in the league, no question.
If Canterbury was an animal from Sub Saharan Africa, which would it be?
Helena: Leopard. Enzo stole my initial idea, the giraffe. But they say leopards don’t change their spots and Mainland are consistently one of the best two sides, year in, year out. I don’t see that changing. Also, leopards are really fast and efficient and cool.
Ella: Lion. The clue is in the name. And look at their crest.
Enzo: Giraffe. Head and shoulders above the rest off the pitch as well as on it.
2017 finish: Third
2018 Squad: Jordan Woodward, Jade Middleditch, Kelsey Kennard, Mikaela Hunt, Zoe Thomas, Coral Seath, Lara Wall, Tahlia Roome, Lena De Ronde, Kirsty Hayr, Shontelle Smith, Chelsea Whittaker, Renee Bacon, Britney-Lee Nicholson, Emily Morison, Ruby Anderson, Nieve Collin, Amy Hislop, Olivia De Ronde, Samantha Baldwin.
Coach: Ignacio Sande
Helena’s prediction: Fifth. Having lost some big players, I think South will struggle to match last year’s incredible performance. I put them this far back because I also think the loss of their coach and the impacts of the discussion that went with that change will affect them. However, over half the team is from Dunedin Tech and they just ripped the Kate Sheppard Cup out of Auckland in what was a ruthless clinic of a final, so who knows?
Ella’s prediction: Fourth. While they’ve lost key players from last season and Terry Parle, I think they’ll be buoyed by Dunedin Tech’s cup win and prove greater than the sum of their parts. Positivity is infectious.
Enzo’s prediction: Sixth. An unknown quantity following the departure of Terry Parle, the most successful coach in Southern United history, from the coaching reigns. I fear it will herald a reversion to the norm. But will it though, after Dunedin Technical’s heroics?
Helena’s favourite player: Shontelle Smith. She was dominant and totally classy against Forrest Hill in the Cup final, and seems like a player that can command and change a game.
Ella’s favourite player: Lara Wall. Seen her play a couple of times now for Dunedin Tech courtesy of the Kate Sheppard Cup and her close control and weaving runs out wide have caught my eye. Looking forward to more of the same for Southern.
Enzo’s favourite player: Shontelle Smith. Was immense in the Kate Sheppard Cup final. Can’t wait to see more of that in the Spring!
If Southern was an animal from Sub Saharan Africa, which would it be?
Helena: Hyrax. Because even if you’re not from the South, you still find yourself supporting them because they’re just that likeable.
Ella: Monitor Lizard. Because the federation includes Dunedin, and the city and animal’s hibernation periods overlap.
Enzo: Human. As Johnny Clegg points out, we are all Scatterlings of Africa. And when Southern were on fire last year, we were all Southern United. Here’s hoping for a repeat!
A lover of the game since the age of 4. Living and playing for club and school in Auckland and loving every second on the pitch (apart from the end of a losing match).