The governing body of football in the Waikato-Bay of Plenty region has moved to clarify its position in the controversial northern league qualification saga.
The controversy arose when it became apparent WaiBOP’s champion club would not be found in time to take its place in the playoff against Auckland’s league winner for promotion to the Northern Regional Football League, the top competition in the upper part of the country.
Taupo are favourites to take the Loaded WaiBOP Premiership title with a three point lead over Papamoa, but the Gordon Spratt Reserve-based outfit is still backing its chances with both clubs having four matches to play. Waikato Unicol also remain in the title picture, sitting just one point behind Papamoa with three matches remaining.
A number of postponements throughout the season due to weather, Chatham Cup fixtures, and teams having players involved in school competitions has caused a backlog of fixtures, meaning the champion will not be decided by the cutoff date of this Sunday.
WaiBOP says it took pains to inform the clubs of the deadline, and the clubs have had enough opportunities to get the matches played in time.
“In July, WaiBOP made initial contact with potential NRFL play-off contenders from the region,” the federation says in a statement on its website.
“On July 31 one club, Papamoa FC, indicated they wished to contest the NRFL play-offs, should they qualify.
“On August 2 Papamoa was advised that the date they needed to confirm their intention to compete in the play-offs, to Lotto NRFL administration, was August 13. Papamoa asked for an extension of this date to August 17, which was granted.”
“Papamoa was also advised that they had to be the clear winner of the Loaded WaiBOP Premiership should they wish to participate in a Lotto NRFL play-off.”
The club met the August 17 deadline, confirming their intention to take their place in the play-offs should they win the title, and their desire to compete in the 2019 Northern League if successful.
They were then told, on August 20, the key date by which the Premiership winner had to be found was September 16, the federation says.
“WaiBOP Football believes all appropriate stakeholders have been kept up to date with the process, dates and eligibility requirements for entry into the 2019 Lotto NRFL, and that this has been done in a timely manner.
“We appreciate the 2018 Loaded WaiBOP Premiership season will run longer than scheduled, due to weather interruptions, extended ISPS Handa Chatham Cup runs and other circumstances.
“We also believe opportunities have existed to fulfil all the necessary fixtures to have found the Loaded WaiBOP Premiership champions by the required date.”
Taupo will be favoured to add to their points tally this Saturday when they take on cellar-dwellers Hamilton Wanderers, while Papamoa face a tougher task to keep pace with them as they travel to Southey Field to take on the Tauranga Boys College First XI which finished sixth in the national secondary schools tournament and has been a frontrunner in the premiership much of the season.
Otumoetai FC’s season has bloomed in the second half after withering early on, and they will look to round it off in style with an away win over Waikato Unicol, and severely dent the Hamilton students’ remaining title hopes in the process.
Tauranga Blue Rovers have completed their disappointing season and currently sit third from bottom, three points above Tokoroa.
They will be desperately hoping the south Waikato club lose at least one of their remaining two matches, otherwise they face relegation to the Championship division of the WaiBOP league.