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Napier City Rovers Look to Bounce Back in National League After Disappointing Loss

Disappointed Napier City Rovers players Kaeden Atkins (left) and Danny Wilson walk off Bluewater Stadium flanked by victorious Manurewa AFC players after a 1-0 loss on October 22. Photo / Neil Reid

Back-to-back away trips to Christchurch await Napier City Rovers as they look to rise again in the National League table after letting a golden chance slip last weekend.

The Bill Robertson-coached team sits in seventh spot on the points table after five rounds.

That’s one place higher than where they finished in the 2022 league. But the side could have been as high as fourth on the points table had they been able to topple Manurewa AFC at Bluewater Stadium on Sunday, a match went they went on to lose 1-0.

In the process, Manurewa leap-frogged them on the points table.

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Defender Kaeden Atkins – who notched up his 100th league appearance for the club in the showdown – said the result was a bitter one to swallow given what was on the line and chances created.

Manurewa AFC goalkeeper Regan Diver secures a through ball amid a challenge by Napier City Rovers defender George Andrew. Photo / Neil Reid

“It’s definitely one of the worst ones [feelings this year] . . . we should have got more from the game.

“It’s horrible when it’s like that; it’s rough.

“But the good thing with football is that we’ve always got another game for next week.”

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Chatham Cup and Southern League champions Christchurch United await this Sunday in Christchurch.

Napier City Rovers forward Deri Corfe lays prone on Bluewater Stadium after a physical challenge in his side’s 1-0 National League loss to Manurewa AFC. Photo / Neil Reid

Seven days later, Napier City Rovers return to the southern city to face Cashmere Technical.

Christchurch United – owned by Russian multi-millionaire Slava Meyn and coached by former Wellington Phoenix star Paul Ifill – is currently third on the points table.

“They’re both going to be big challenges,” Aitkins said.

“But hopefully we can get something out of each game.”

With the match being played on turf, veteran defender Fergus Neil will be unavailable for the Christchurch United clash.

But the side will be welcoming back goal-scorer Jonny McNamara after a three-week suspension and midfield duo of Cameron Emerson and Ta Eh Doe.

Emerson has been missing from the line-up for two weeks; firstly, through suspension and then was unavailable last weekend. Doe was also unavailable last weekend.

Napier City Rovers players Liam Schofield (left to right), Oscar Mason, Jim Hoyle and Deri Corfe react after Manurewa AFC score. Photo / Neil Reid

The return of that trio is good news for Napier City Rovers after they have lost the services of outstanding playmaker Christian Leopard after he suffered a serious knee injury in the opening minute on Sunday.

McNamara, Emerson and Doe earlier missed the previous gutsy 1-0 win over the Wellington Phoenix Reserves, a match that tested the depth of the squad.

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“It will definitely be good having everyone back but it’s been good having players that can step in and perform,” Aitkins said.

“It’s good knowing you’ve got players that can do a job.”

Despite going down on Sunday, Aitkins said he was still backing his team to secure a mid-table finish in the 2023 National League.

Napier City Rovers’ defence was rarely threatened by shots on target against Manurewa in a highly physical clash, with Manurewa reduced to 10 men with Mohammed Muzakkir-Nabeel sent off in the 68th minute.

Napier City Rovers midfielder Sam Lack was laid out in a challenge by Manurewa’s Mohammed Muzakkir-Nabeel. Photo / Neil Reid

The sole goal of the game came just two minutes later via Nicolas Bobadilla.

While Aitkins was unable to celebrate a win last Sunday, the 22-year-old self-employed builder was rightly recognised post-match for making his 100th league match for his beloved club.

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He has been a member of the first-team squad since his late teens; including in 2018 when the side won the Central League and the following year when they triumphed in the Chatham Cup.

His father Wayne Atkins is also a former Napier City Rovers player.

“It’s an honour to play 100 games for the club,” Kaeden Atkins said.

Kaeden Atkins (right) celebrates Rovers’ National League-opening 3-0 win over Petone FC with teammates Cameron Emerson (left), and Christian Leopard. Photo / Neil Reid

“Obviously it means I’ve been consistent enough over the years to stay with the team. It’s pretty cool.

“For as long as I am in Hawke’s Bay, I’m always going to play for Rovers.”

Aitkins has turned in plenty of strong showings on defence for Napier City Rovers throughout this year’s Central and National Leagues.

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Others who have consistently done the hard yacks at the back this year have been long-time teammates captain Jim Hoyle, Neil and Liam Schofield (before his switch to midfield), and new recruits this year Jack Albertini and George Andrew.

Hoyle has been one of his side’s best all year, with the English-born player being invaluable both for his staunch defence and “follow-me” leadership style.

“He leads by example,” Aitkins said of his captain.

Defender Kaeden Aitkins has had a strong season for Napier City Rovers throughout 2023. Photo / Neil Reid

“He puts in the challenges and as soon as you see him doing that sort of thing, it kind of makes everyone want to follow.”

Of Napier City Rovers’ four remaining National League matches, just one more is due to be played at Bluewater Stadium – the November 11 clash against Eastern Suburbs.

It’s a match a growing number of the side’s fans are hoping won’t be Deri Corfe’s final home game for the club.

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The 25-year-old – who spent six years in the Manchester City youth structure – arrived in New Zealand after professional football stints in America and Scotland.

Corfe has been brilliant for his current club and was the second-highest scorer in the Central League. He’s also scored five goals in the National League to date.

Former Manchester City youth academy player Deri Corfe has been a standout for Napier City Rovers in 2023. Photo / Neil Reid

The forward is yet to decide where he will be playing next year, with Atkins saying he and his teammates would love to have the popular Corfe stay in Napier.

“He’s technically one of the best players we’ve had,” Aitkins said. “He’s one of the best lads we’ve had.

“He’s real good around the team on and off the pitch. Yeah . . . he’s a good bloke to have around.

“I’d love to see him stick around longer. Hopefully, we can see that happen.”

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Neil Reid is a Napier-based senior reporter who covers general news, features and sport. He joined the Herald in 2014 and has 30 years of newsroom experience.

2023-10-24 23:36:14
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