The National Women’s League kicks off this weekend with the seven federations of New Zealand fighting it out to be crowned champions.
Check out the squad lists and get the lowdown on each team’s prospects with the official preview below.
Position last season: Fourth
Titles: Three (2011, 2012, 2015)
Coach: Gemma Lewis
Football Ferns: Jane Barnett, Anna Leat, Kate Loye, Maggie Jenkins, Liz Savage, Malia Steinmetz
Key player: Kate Loye
Young player to watch: Maggie Jenkins
Squad: Lily Alfeld, Jane Barnett, Claudia Bunge, Maggie Jenkins, Helena Kelderman, Anna Leat, Kate Loye, Rose Luxton, Hannah Mackay-Wright, Arabella Maynard, Aneka Mittendorff, Ava Pritchard, Liz Savage, Malia Steinmetz, Dayna Stevens, Nicole Stratford, Samantha Tawharu, Saskia Vosper
Prospects: Northern have been one of the most feared sides in the competition in recent years but have narrowly missed out on turning that reputation into trophies for the past two campaigns. They will be more relieved than most that the league has now been expanded to two rounds after missing out on the playoffs by the slimmest of margins in consecutive seasons. Now playing under the moniker of the ‘Northern Lights’, they have been able to name arguably the strongest squad in the league and also now possess last year’s title-winning coach after Gemma Lewis headed across the bridge. They are rivalled only by Auckland in international experience and also have a bunch of the country’s brightest prospects, including Anna Leat, Sam Tawharu, Aneka Mittendorff, Malia Steinmetz, Claudia Bunge and Maggie Jenkins – all part of the New Zealand squad that competed at the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup recently. Given that level of talent, anything less than a place in the final would be seen as a disappointment.
Position last season: Champions
Titles: Seven (2002, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2017)
Coach: Tracy Wrigley
Football Ferns: Liz Anton, Grace Jale, Sarah Morton, Nadia Olla, Paige Satchell, Stephanie Skilton
Key player: Stephanie Skilton
Young player to watch: Paige Satchell
Squad: Liz Anton, Corina Brown, Lucy Carter, Britney Cunningham-Lee, Jenna Dodd, Bernadette Goulding, Kathryn Gow, Grace Jale, Tessa Leong, Leah Mettam, Nicole Mettam, Jade Morrissey, Sarah Morton, Sam Muirhead, Kim Nottingham, Nadia Olla, Jade Parris, Margot Ramsay, Genevieve Ryan, Paige Satchell, Stephanie Skilton, Bianca Stiles, Rebekah Van Dort
Prospects: Previously the sleeping giants of the competition, the glory days finally returned to Auckland last season as they won their first title in nearly a decade. The coach who inspired that long-awaited success is now in charge of neighbours Northern though, leaving Tracy Wrigley with the task of making it back-to-back titles. She appears to have a squad capable of doing so with six players having been involved in the Football Ferns set up and a raft of hugely promising youngsters coming through. The experience of Stephanie Skilton and Rebekah Van Dort will be crucial to a youthful squad while the goal threat will be provided by Jade Parris – golden boot winner in the NRFL Women’s Premier League – and Paige Satchell, who appears to have overcome her injury woes after a strong showing at the U-20 World Cup. Having not been in this position for so long, it will be interesting to see how Auckland deal with their title defence but they will certainly feel they have the goods to at least make the final.
Position last season: Sixth
Coach: Michael Mayne
Football Ferns: None
Key player: Tiana Hill
Young player to watch: Kelli Brown
Squad: Kelli Brown, Georgia Candy, Emma Cawte, Grace Cox, Chelsea Elliot, Rylee Godbold, Ella Golding, Chloe Henderson, Tiana Hill, Olivia Hooper, Kim Maguire, Lilly Muspratt, Stella Neems, Toni Power, Helen Talbot, Richlyn Tuhoro, Jayden Watts, Ashley Weld, Kate Williams, Grace Wisnewski
Prospects: After a satisfying campaign that brought a place in the playoffs in 2016, WaiBOP fell from grace somewhat last season and avoided the wooden spoon only due to the poor form of Central. While a spot in the final may be a step too far given the strength of some of the other squads, new coach Michael Mayne will be eyeing a finish much higher up the table and has turned to youth to bring about that resurgence. His young charges will be thrown in at the deep end with WaiBOP’s opening fixtures coming against all three sides who qualified for last year’s playoffs – Auckland, Canterbury and Southern. Mayne will at least therefore get an early indication of where his side stands and, if they can emerge with their confidence intact, the Labour weekend double header against Central looms as an ideal opportunity to build some momentum and launch an assault on the upper half of the table. In a squad light on experience, the exuberance and burgeoning talent of Kelli Brown, Georgia Candy, Tiana Hill and Grace Wisnewski will be vital.
Position last season: Seventh
Coach: Matt Kilsby
Football Ferns: None
Key player: Mikaela Boxall
Young player to watch: Rose Morton
Squad: Aimee Atkins, Lydia Bamford, Jenna Barry, Mackenzie Barry, Mikaela Boxall, Sophie Crewe, Carina Flannagan, Jendi Frank, Aoife Gallagher-Forbes, Charlotte Hunt, Charlotte Lancaster, Torijan Lyne-Lewis, Florence MacIntyre, Jessica Mason, Rose Morton, Jana Niedermayr, Freya Partridge-Moore, Maggie Pedersen, Casey Ralph, Anna Robson, Amelia Simmers, Nicole Vunipola, Kate Watson, Tyler Wood
Prospects: With much of their talent having left the region and playing for other sides, Central have little choice but to place their faith in what they hope is a talented batch of youngsters. Indeed, the squad could well be one of the youngest ever assembled at this level with the average age being just a touch over 17. Only five players are not still at school and there will be many debutants in their opening match against Southern this weekend. While they are hardly wily veterans themselves, the likes of skipper Mikaela Boxall and Torijan Lyne-Lewis – both internationals in the small-sided game with the Futsal Ferns – will need to lead by example while the remaining jewel in the crown is Rose Morton, a member of the New Zealand squad at the U-20 World Cup. Aoife Gallagher-Forbes, Jenna Barry and Mackenzie Barry have also been around the National Women’s League for a number of years but mid-table appears to be the most realistic goal for Central to aim for and they will be desperate to shake off the wooden spoon.
Position last season: Fifth
Titles: Two (2004, 2010)
Coach: Emma Evans
Football Ferns: Anna Green, Sarah Gregorius
Key player: Anna Green
Young player to watch: Maya Hahn
Squad: Sarah Alder, Katie Barrott, Zoe Barrott, Meisha Boone, Kennedy Bryant, Anna Green, Sarah Gregorius, Maya Hahn, Ronisa Lipi, Emma Main, Tessa McPherson, Anna McPhie, Courtney Norman, Danielle Ohlsson, Caelin Patterson, Jemma Robertson, Kelsi Rutene, Tory Schiltgen, Asha Strom, Danielle Turton, Rosie Wild, Charlotte Wilford-Carroll, Molly Woodhead
Prospects: While Auckland, Northern and Canterbury are favourites to fight it out for berths in the final, Capital appear to be the side best placed to pose a threat to that and emerge as dark horses for the title. After finishing runners-up in 2016, last year’s fifth-place finish will have come as a disappointment, although they were only one point off the playoffs. Emma Evans is carving out a reputation as one of the most promising female coaches in the country and she has no shortage of talent to work with. The return of Anna Green has stolen the headlines and there is no doubt she possesses the finest left foot in the league while the qualities of Sarah Gregorius are also well known. But Evans will be just as excited about the potential of Maya Hahn, Anna McPhie, Emma Main and several other youngsters. If she can help bring their raw talent to full fruition and the likes of Green and Gregorius are at their best then Capital could well go all the way.
Canterbury United Pride
Position last season: Runners-up
Titles: Three (2013, 2014, 2016)
Coach: Alana Gunn
Football Ferns: Victoria Esson, Annalie Longo
Key player: Annalie Longo
Young player to watch: Macey Fraser
Squad: Amelia Abbott, Monique Barker, Lily Bray, Melanie Cameron, Blair Currie, Jasmine Donald, Victoria Esson, Ellena Firth, Una Foyle, Macey Fraser, Annabel Gilchrist, Rebecca Gillett, Whitney Hepburn, Tahlia Herman-Watt, Chloe Jones, Rebecca Lake, Annalie Longo, Gabrielle Rennie, Arna Roberts, Jayda Stewart, Cody Taylor, Kate Taylor, Marisa Van Der Meer
Prospects: Canterbury have been the side to beat in recent years, winning three of the past five titles. They have slipped up only in 2015 and 2017 but still made the final on both occasions so have been by far the most consistent team in the competition over a long period of time. That record commands respect and they appear to again have the quality to be regarded amongst the favourites. Football Ferns custodian Victoria Esson provides one of the safest pair of hands in the country while there are few finer playmakers around than Annalie Longo. When that experience is combined with some top young prospects in the form of Lily Bray, Rebecca Lake, Gabrielle Rennie and Jayda Stewart, coach Alana Gunn seems to have every chance of success in her first year in charge. The Pride are renowned for their professional approach off the field and that attention to detail could prove the difference in what is shaping as a hotly-contested title race.
Position last season: Third
Coach: Ignacio Sande
Football Ferns: None
Key player: Shontelle Smith
Young player to watch: Mikaela Hunt
Squad: Renee Bacon, Samantha Baldwin, Georgia Brown, Lena De Ronde, Olivia De Ronde, Mikayla Gray, Kirsty Hayr, Amy Hislop, Mikaela Hunt, Kelsey Kennard, Jade Middleditch, Emily Morison, Britney-Lee Nicholson, Tahlia Roome, Coral Seath, Shontelle Smith, Zoe Thomas, Lara Wall, Chelsea Whittaker, Jordan Woodward
Prospects: Like Capital, Southern will fancy themselves as dark horses for a place in the final, particularly after Dunedin Technical made light of their underdog status to claim the Football Foundation Kate Sheppard Cup for the first ever time last weekend. Around half of the Southern squad is made up of Technical players, which has proved both a blessing and a curse for new coach Ignacio Sande. The upshot is that many of his players will be used to each other’s games but the downside is that their focus hasn’t been on the national league until now, disrupting his pre-season plans significantly. He will be relieved to have an appealing fixture first up with a home clash against Central and the southerners will need to claim all three points as they then have a very testing trip up to Northern. Southern were the surprise package of the previous campaign, making the playoffs for the first ever time, but their form tailed off towards the end with a pair of defeats and keeping pace with the more fancied sides across a double round robin is likely to prove challenging.