The Ultra Football Central League and W-League are back this weekend, with a full season of intrigue and excitement lying ahead.
The season may have been delayed two months due to Covid-19 restrictions, but both competitions are set to run in their entirety with the extension of the end of the winter season.
In the Central League, defending champions Western Suburbs have maintained their typically youthful look, with only four players in their squad of 22 born in the 20th century. Their leading scorer last season, Ryan Feutz, returns after contributing 14 goals last campaign. They take on North Wellington in their season-opener on Sunday.
Last year’s runners-up, Napier City Rovers, won’t have the services of their leading scorer, Martin Bueno, this year, but have kept a talented squad on hand. Their season starts in Wellington on Saturday afternoon against Wellington Olympic.
Olympic will look to improve on their fifth-placed finish in 2019 after a strong off-season of recruitment. Their signing coup of Team Wellington’s Jack Henry-Sinclair bolsters an attack already featuring Tom Jackson, who scored 17 goals last season, while Tor Davenport-Petersen makes the move across town from Waterside Karori after netting 14 times for them in 2019.
Miramar Rangers will be without last year’s Golden Boot Angus Kilkolly, but have added significant firepower in the form of well-performed ISPS Handa Premiership strikers Joao Moreira (currently with Team Wellington, formerly of Auckland City) and Sam Mason-Smith (Team Wellington and Hawke’s Bay United). They open their campaign against newly-promoted Petone.
North Wellington look likely to feature at the pointy end of the table again with a balanced squad as young gun Jesse Randall returns to lead the line following his 15 goals in a strong 2019 return.
Lower Hutt City remain an intriguing prospect with the Wellington Phoenix academy currently on a hiatus, but most of the academy players remain, including New Zealand age-group representatives Henry Hamilton, Oskar van Hattum and Alex Paulsen. Round one sees them take on Waterside Karori.
Stop Out will aim to bounce back from their disappointed 2019 season which saw them finish in seventh. Nati Hailemariam has moved across from Western Suburbs to bolster their attacking threat. They kick things off this year against Wairarapa United.
Waterside Karori proved a solid outfit in 2019 with their 8th-placed finish and will look to build on that, while Wairarapa must surely be improved after gaining just three points in 2019 and staying up only due to goal difference over Wellington United.
Newcomers Petone have recruited a few players from their fellow Central League opposition to work with the base of players which helped earned them promotion.
In the W-League, 2019 champions Wellington United have further strengthened an already strong squad with the additions of the Barrett sisters, Zoe and Katie, and Futsal Super League player Courtney Stone. They kickoff the season with a blockbuster clash against Wairarapa United, who they beat to the title last season on goal difference.
Wairarapa look to have a settled squad, while also adding former Upper Hutt player Kennedy Bryant to their ranks.
Palmerston North Marist finished third last season, and should once again pose a good challenge for the top two. Leading scorers Charlotte Lancaster and Mikaela Boxall return as they start their season on the road to Waterside Karori.
Karori performed well to finish fourth in 2019, led by 15 goals from American star Kaley Ward. She’s back in white and black this season and should continue to pose plenty of problems for opposition defences.
Seatoun and Petone both ended up in the second half of the table last season and start the season taking on each other at Seatoun Park.
The final match of the round sees newly-promoted North Wellington taking on Western Suburbs, who welcome back Maya Hahn from overseas and NZ age-group star Macey Fraser.
Central League round one fixtures
Stop Out SC v Wairarapa United, Hutt Park 1, 2.30pm
Petone v Miramar Rangers, Petone Memorial Park, 3pm
Lower Hutt City v Integration Works Waterside Karori, Fraser Park Turf, 3.30pm
Wellington Olympic v Thirsty Whale Napier City Rovers, Wakefield Park 2, 3.45pm
Advance Electrical Western Suburbs - New World Newlands North Wellington FC, Endeavour Park, 2.30pm
W-League fixtures (all Saturday)
Ray White Waterside Karori v RICOH PN Marist, Karori 1, 12pm
Seatoun v Powerex Petone, Seatoun Park, 12.30pm
The Innkeeper North Wellington v Western Suburbs KPMG, Alex Moore Artificial, 12.30pm
Wellington United Diamonds v TUMU ITM Wairarapa United, Newtown Park, 12.30pm
Article added: Friday 12 June 2020