Red Sox v Rovers
Coach Grant Hastings doesn't hesitate when asked what the baby of his team, Fane Morgan, brings to the equation.
"He's the most exciting prospect from Hawke's Bay since Andy Bevin and Dakota Lucas," says the Bluewater Napier City Rovers coach before his Central League troops kick off at 2pm today against Stewart's Powerbase Red Sox Manawatu in their first Chatham Cup soccer match of the season at Memorial Park, Palmerston North.
Hastings feels the teenage striker has all the attributes of a young talent - bright, has power and pace and is showing incremental improvements and grasping the intricacies of the beautiful game every time he takes the field at the elite level.
The Hastings Boys' High School pupil played for Western Rangers Premiers last winter but things took the turn for better in summer as he joined the Hawke's Bay United Academy youth squad.
"Jarrod Smith [Bay United premiership striker] got an achilles injury so Grant Hastings called me for the Napier City Rovers team," the sixth-former says before making his debut against Federation League campaigners Red Sox today.
Frankly, Morgan had hesitated a little before accepting Hastings' offer to compete in the premier winter league for the defending champions.
"I was going to Havelock North [Wanderers in the ComputerCare Pacific Premiership] because Chris Greatholder was playing for them," says the teenager of the Bay United coach who also lives in the area.
Hastings sees Morgan's acquisition as testimony to how a soccer club can build a rapport with high schools.
"People were saying relations with Hastings Boys' High were not allowing kids to play so we're certainly bridging that gap," he says of an impasse schools have had with some clubs over releasing players when they have crucial matches to play on Saturdays.
Morgan, who started playing from the age of 3 with Rangers, went through the Bay and Central age-group teams with all the promise of a talented player.
However, he weathered the disappointment of missing out on selection for the New Zealand under-17 team last year in Wellington after Central Football coach Brett Angel nominated him.
But all wasn't lost as Morgan learned how players at the trials developed differently.
"They play football with a lot more speed," says the youngster whose father Che Morgan didn't play football but followed relatives who were soccer savvy.
Today's cup game, he reckons, "will be a big step".
Regan Cameron is out with a calf injury today but Aaron Jones returns as centreback with midfielder Rudi Bauerfeind following red-card suspensions.
Sox coach Aaron Clegg said anything could happen in today's match.
"They are used to playing at a quicker pace than us in a higher league but they are not setting the league on fire and they are certainly not the team of last year," Clegg says.
If Red Sox were playing the defending champions of last winter, he says, they would have been serious underdogs.
"We don't fancy our chances but we're eager to compare ourselves with the Rovers to see how good we are."
Red Sox and Palmerston North Marist, who play fed side Taradale today in Napier are eyeing a Central League promotion next year to fly the Manawatu flag.
For the Chatham Cup (NZ knockout) soccer match kicking off at 2pm at Memorial Park, Palmerston North, today:
NAPIER CITY ROVERS: Bill Robertson (c), Matthew Gould (GK), Scott Henderson, Ezequiel Dondiz, Fane
Morgan, Harley Rodeka, Jared Bloor, Josh Stevenson, Danny Wilson, Patrick Pilz, Sam Lawson, Jonty Underhill (RGK).
Coach: Grant Hastings.
RED SOX MANAWATU: Ben Wilkes (GK), Hamish McKay, Abe Macpherson, Dalin Wilson, Josh Davis, Matt Bruin,
James Kelly, Michael Sheridan (c), Josh Chettleburgh, Jono Steele, Jacob Tipene, Caleb Gaylard, Jerram Tuck,
Coach: Aaron Clegg.