With the FIFA Women’s World Cup heading to Australia and New Zealand in 2023 women’s football has never been under a brighter spotlight than right now in the Oceania region.
In the Bay of Plenty, women’s football is also enjoying its time in the sun.
The WaiBop W-League got underway last weekend with eight teams from across the region hoping to win the league and, potentially, promotion to the Northern Regional Premier League.
For Barry Gardiner, director of football at Tauranga City AFC, securing that promotion would not only be good for his club but for the region.
“We want a team from our area in the NRFL,” says Barry. “Especially for the younger players coming through, so they don’t need to travel to Hamilton to play that level.
“That is the big drive for me, for the region.”
Tauranga are not the only team looking for a title win. Papamoa FC finished second last season and are hoping to go one better this time around.
“We have a squad that finished second last year and the hope is that this year we take out the title,” says Papamoa team manager Alan Smith. “We have some big opposition but we have got very much the same squad as we had a year ago which is helpful.”
Otumoetai are looking to turn some positive performances from into results in 2021.
“We have a much stronger team than years gone by, has definitely gotten stronger,” says Otumoetai FC president Paul Thomas. “We have got a few young players through our Otumoetai College and under-19, under 17 teams.
“However our expectation is to just do better than we have done in the previous years.”
Unfortunately for Otumoetai, Papamoa look like title contenders once again and ran out comfortable 6-0 winners in their opening weekend clash on a hot and humid afternoon at Wharepai Domain.
A brace from Monique Lowry and a goal apiece from Laura Pedersen, Briana Osborne, Jasmine Quilligan and Gemma Martin did the damage in a game in which Laura and Briana were making their 100th appearance for the club.
Tauranga also won their opening game in emphatic fashion, smashing Whakatane Town for six in a 6-2 win with hat-tricks each for Abi Collins and Keri-Ann Jones.
Waikato Unicol Women defeated Melville 5-2 whilst reigning champions Waiariki were beaten by league newcomers Claudelands Rovers 4-0, suggesting a wide open title race could be on the cards.
But whilst silverware is the main goal, making sure the women’s game continues to flourish in the Bay of Plenty is at the forefront of everyone’s collective mind.
“What is important for women’s football now is that the World Cup is coming here,” says Alan. “I think that has given an impetus to young people wanting to play. Our squads at younger age groups appear to be growing.”
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