Anticipation around the upcoming New Zealand Stirling Sports Premiership has taken another step towards fever pitch after the staging of the official launch in Auckland yesterday.
Representing their teams at the launch were several current or former All Whites including Clayton Lewis (Auckland City), Joel Stevens (Team Wellington) and Jake Butler (Waitakere United), as well as former Fulham and Crystal Palace player Derek Tieku (Eastern Suburbs), one of the league’s most intriguing new imports.
Tieku has already donned an Eastern Suburbs shirt in the domestic winter league but is now preparing himself for the higher level of football displayed in the Premiership.
“I’m feeling excited about it,” he said.
“I’m told it’s a much tougher challenge and a more professional level of football than you get in the winter. There’s a lot of hard work going on behind the scenes at Eastern Suburbs and you can tell from the way everyone is working around the club that we’ll be well prepared,” he added.
The Eastern Suburbs side will be a challenge for other contenders in this year’s campaign, with New Zealand All White Luke Adams joining Tieku in the Auckland based side. Adams proved his place in high level football during New Zealand’s successful OFC Nations Cup campaign in June.
There was a noticeable buzz of excitement in the air as the season draws ever closer to its October 16 kick off, where Butler and Lewis will come head to head in the opening match between Waitakere United and Auckland City.
“It was great to catch up with some of the players and now it’s starting to sink in that the season is coming shortly,” Butler said.
“We’re all looking forward to it and it’s really exciting because this competition just gets better and better every year. We have some new teams involved this season and, from what we’re hearing, there’s some exciting new players to come in,” he added.
Butler’s opening match will be no easy feat, with former La Liga goalkeeper Enaut Zubikarai and Wellington Phoenix star Albert Riera joining Lewis at Auckland City this season in the battle for the championship.
Outside of Auckland, confidence levels are just as high with Hawke’s Bay United captain Finlay Milne keen to progress from regular playoff qualifiers to finally lifting the highly-sought-after trophy.
“We’ve been in those playoff spots for the last few years now and I think if we can get there again then anything can happen,” he said.
“I think we’ve got a lot more belief now we have that experience of guys who have been in these positions and know how to handle those bigger games,” he added.
Canterbury United defender Tom Schwarz is determined for his team to go least one better this year, after being knocked out by Auckland City in the semi-finals in the previous campaign.
“I think we showed what we can do a bit last season and teams will be more worried about us this year,” he said.
“We’ve still got the core of that squad and are looking to improve,” he added.
Team Wellington will also be a worthy contender in the Premiership, especially with the return of nine-cap All White Cameron Howieson.
With all clubs busy in regards to recruitment, the outcome of this campaign is going to be difficult to predict and thrilling to follow.
The 2016/17 Premiership kicks off with Auckland City facing Waitakere United on 16 October.