Two of the sides from last year’s playoffs, Auckland and Southern United, have signalled their intentions to be among the front-runners again by notching big wins on the opening day of a historic National Women’s League season this afternoon.
Reigning champions Auckland began their title defence in ideal fashion with a 4-0 triumph over WaiBOP in Hamilton while Southern United went two better, hitting Central for six in Dunedin.
The winning pair have now laid down an early marker for the Canterbury United Pride – who have made the final in each of the past five seasons – to match tomorrow when they host Capital, another side with designs on pushing for the title.
They will do well to come close to the net-bulging exploits of Southern, who went on a first-half rampage against Central at a sun-drenched Forrester Park. Traditionally among the competition’s strugglers, Southern defied the expectations of most last season to make the playoffs for the first ever time and showed they are capable of repeating that feat with a dominant display against a side looking to shake off the wooden spoon.
With over half of the Southern squad in the Dunedin Technical team that made light of their underdog status to claim the Football Foundation Kate Sheppard Cup a week earlier, the hosts took plenty of momentum into the game and Central did not manage to combat the front-foot nature of their display.
The quality of the finishing at times was breath-taking, particularly a long-range effort from Shontelle Smith that is sure to be an early contender for goal of the season.
It didn’t take long for Southern to get ahead when an inch-perfect through ball from Mikaela Hunt was prodded home by Renee Bacon early on but the spectacular strikes then began, Sophie Crewe equalising for Central with an unstoppable volley from just outside the box a few minutes later.
But any hopes Central had of going on to at least secure a point were soon put to bed as Southern struck three times in quick succession before half an hour was up. Smith, who received the Maia Jackman Trophy as player of the Kate Sheppard Cup final, put her side back in front with an outstanding free kick before Britney-Lee Nicholson made it 3-1 with a side-foot from close range.
The moment of the match then arrived when a free kick was played short to Smith and she rifled an unbelievable shot into the top corner from over 30 yards.
At 4-1 down, it was effectively game over for Central but Southern added another couple of goals in the second half for good measure, Amy Hislop dinking in a fifth just after the break before a cruel deflection after a weaving run from Tahlia Roome made it six.
“It was a great start for us – the way the team trained during the week and performed today was great,” says Southern coach Ignacio Sande of his first match in charge.
“We are trying to play good football, to keep the ball and score more goals. We know there are going to be tough moments throughout the season but we are definitely going to try to play that way. There are things to improve and we have to focus on that now during the week, there is still plenty of room for improvement.”
Central counterpart Matt Kilsby was disappointed with the margin of the loss but felt the experience will be beneficial to the youngest squad in the league.
“We knew it was going to be tough to come down here but the scoreline did run away and I think we’ll be the first to put our hands up on that one,” he says.
“But giving ten players a National Women’s League debut was really exciting for us and we know that, as a federation, we’ll keep working. We know we’re going to get better and, with the league being longer this season, we’re looking forward to that second round.”
It was a similar story in Hamilton where another youthful line-up was looking to upset the defending champions. Michael Mayne’s WaiBOP competed well in the first half to keep a star-studded Auckland scoreless at the break but Jade Parris then met a cross from Football Ferns fullback Sarah Morton to put the visitors in front on an immaculate Gower Park surface.
The class of Auckland then began to tell with Sam Muirhead lifting an effort over WaiBOP goalkeeper Georgia Candy mid-way through the second half before a Lucy Carter penalty made it 3-0. Parris slotted into the bottom corner for her second soon after to get Tracy Wrigley’s reign off to a winning start.
“We’re really delighted, not only with the result but also because we didn’t know what to expect with a such a short lead-in to the season,” Wrigley says.
“The group have been fantastic and before the game I commented on the fact they’ve been fizzing at training and working at a good level and we saw the outcome today. We were unlucky not to score a couple of goals in the first half but we played out a really positive display so we’re happy with that.”
With Northern sitting out the weekend with the bye, the opening round of the National Women’s League will be completed tomorrow when Canterbury United Pride host Capital in Christchurch.
National Women’s League Round One
Auckland 4 (Jade Parris 52’, 75’, Sam Muirhead 68’, Lucy Carter pen 71’)
Southern United 6 (Chelsea Whittaker 8’, Shontelle Smith 20’, 28’, Britney-Lee Nicholson 24’, Amy Hislop 50’, own goal 69’)
Central 1 (Sophie Crewe 12’)
Canterbury United Pride vs Capital
English Park, Christchurch
Sunday 16 September, 1pm
BYE – Northern