October 7, 2002
New Women's League in New Zealand offers skill the chance to shine
by Jeremy Ruane
Saturday, October 12, 2002, marks the first day of a new chapter in the history of women’s soccer in New Zealand - the start of the inauguralNational Women's Soccer League. An eight-team round-robin competition, it replaces the National Women's Soccer Tournament as the showpiece representative soccer tournament for NZ women. The National Tournament had run over the course of a week in a centrallocation each year since its inception in 1976, and was as much a test ofplayers's stamina and endurance as of their footballing prowess.
But after the twenty-sixth running of the Tournament in Auckland last year, New Zealand Soccer made the decision to replace the competition with a National League, making soccer the only major sport in the country to boast nationwide league competitions for men, women and youth.
While the men's competition is club-based, both the women's and youthcompetitions are representative contest, featuring teams from each of the seven Federations which make up soccer in New Zealand. The eighth entry in the women's league will be New Zealand's Under-17 Wome'’s team, a National Development squad which will be kicking off its preparations for the 2004 FIFA Under-19 Wome's World Championships by participating in the new competition.
The National Wome's Soccer League will be played on a round-robin basis over six weekends, with a double-round of action scheduled for Labour Weekend. Each of the teams involved has been preparing for battle over recent weeks, but it is expected that the inaugural winners of the competition will be one of the traditional giants of the women's game in this country.
These are Auckland, Wellington and Canterbury, or, to give them their respective Federation titles: Soccer2, Capital Soccer and Mainland Soccer.
In the interests of conveying the message to the general public as opposed to solely the soccer public of New Zealand, those who oversee the operation of the seven Federations will doubtless baulk at the idea that this writer will refer to the Federation teams by their most easily identifiable geographic location in this and subsequent articles relating to the National Women's Soccer League.
Wellington (Capital Soccer), as the final winners of the National Women's Soccer Tournament, will go into the new league with the burden of being the team all the others want to beat. But the gold-and-blacks will be sporting a new-look combination this year, with just nine of last year’s squad having been selected by player-coach Wendi Henderson. The experience of the 44-times-capped New Zealand women’s international will be vital to the cause of the Wellingtonians, as will the precocious talents of captain and fellow SWANZ star Nicky Smith, defender Nicola Morrison, and up-and-coming youngsters Emily McColl, Emma Humphries and Angela Goodridge.
The Canterbury (Mainland Soccer) squad, under the watchful eye of former New Zealand international Ali Grant, have been preparing throughout the season by playing in a local boys league, so should be a tough nut for the opposition to crack. Their strength comes from a core group of New Zealand internationals - Jane Simpson, Zarnia Cogle, Kelly Jarden and the New Zealand Women's Player of the Year, Rachel Oliver. Ally this to the talents of Stephanie White and goalkeeper Ingrid Bain, and it is hard not to see the Cantabrians beingright in the mix come the end of the league in mid-November.
Auckland (Soccer2) are also expected to feature strongly in title contention, especially as they have the pick of the two clubs which have contested the last two Uncle Toby's Women's Knockout Cup Finals, Ellerslieand this year's winners, Lynn-Avon United. Former New Zealand international Sue Taylor has picked the cream of the crop of both teams’s squads as she looks to bring the national symbol of supremacy in representative women's soccer to the city which featured in twenty-one of the twenty-six National Women's Soccer Tournament finals.
Experience, pace, power and youth are the stand-out features of a squad which combines the talents of 41-times-capped New Zealand international, Amanda Crawford, captain Terry McCahill and Chinese Women's Super League professional, Maia Jackman, with the likes of Pip Meo, Hayley Moorwood, Rachel Doody, Melanie Gooch and Amber Hearn.
North Harbour (United Soccer 1) are the team which could well be the dark-horses of the competition. In Sarah Gibbs, they boast a midfielderwhose game has come on leaps and bounds this season, while goalkeeper Rachel Howard is one of the best shot-stoppers in the game. Coach Billy Harris also has the pace of Zoe Thompson, Liz O'Meara and thewily Gillian Thurlow at his disposal in attack, while defensively, Rebecca Simpson is one of the best man-to-man markers in the Northern Premier Women's League.
Of the remaining contenders, Otago-Southland (Southern Soccer) will be heavily reliant on the talents of former Auckland Under-17 reps Tess Murphy and Nicola Woodward, former New Zealand international Zoe Miller, and outstanding goalkeeper Penny Stickney. Tireless midfield general Gail Hall, and the lethal strike-force of Tina Stevenson and Jo Evans - New Zealand internationals both - offer Central Soccer (embracing the area from Taranaki to Hawkes Bay and all points in between) their best hope of a successful run in the inaugural National Women's Soccer League.
Waikato-Bay of Plenty (Force 3 have a very youthful look about their squad, with captain Cheryl Carter, Rikki Williams, former international Kelly Mawston, Jo Chambers and Natalie Maurice players upon whom they will be heavily reliant in the coming weeks. National Women's coach Sandy Davie has called upon a large pool of talent for the Under-17 Development squad, with Kirsty Yallop, Sara Clapham, Emily McColl, Emma Humphries, Rebecca Tegg, Kimberley Lewis and Jamie Hacket among the names to look out for in the build-up to the 2004 FIFA Under-19 Women's World Championships.
Full details of the competition draw can be found at www.nzsoccerscoreboard.com, while the match-ups over the opening weekend of action (2pm kick-off unless otherwise stated) are:
October 12 McLennan Park, Papakura
Auckland v. Wellington
Palmerston North, 1pm
Central Soccer v. Canterbury
McLennan Park, Papakura
North Harbour v. NZ U-17s
The Caledonian, Timaru