Promotion is never a given, it is earned and, no, the opportunity doesn't just knock on the door - it is taken on the foundation of self-belief that one has the willpower to rise.

That is why Havelock North Wanderers and Waterside Karori are kicking off at 1.30pm at Guthrie Park in the village today to see who will have the upper hand to gain promotion to the elite winter Lotto Central League soccer next season.

The bar has been raised and it will go higher for the Wanderers if they lose today because the away leg in Wellington will mean aggregate goals will make the task harder against the Capital Football League champions.

Simply psyching up for the games won't be enough because it's about how each side has prepared that will ultimately be imperative in deciding who will enter an exclusive group of teams, after last-placed Palmerston North Marist were relegated this winter.

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"We've been working for this all season really," says player/coach Chris Greatholder who has had the help of Bruce Barclay as assistant to become the Lotto Federation League champions this season.

"I think the manner in which we won the league has been really pleasing," says Greatholder after Bjorn Christensen captained the Blue and Gold brigade to glory with just two losses and 12 points clear of runners-up New Plymouth Rangers and a goal difference of 48 compared with the latter's 13.

When Greatholder and Barclay watched their predominantly youthful troops train at night this past couple of weeks they quietly expressed a sense of satisfaction.

They want more hunger, especially after the disappointment of their final game after Red Sox Manawatu defaulted to deprive them of the opportunity to polish their systems.

However, their last outing, the 5-2 victory away against Gisborne Thistle, gave a snapshot of where the hosts are and their ability to score more goals in clinical situations.

"It's the behaviour of players that I'm really looking at now and there's nothing to say that we aren't going to perform well."

Greatholder says they have had their shares of ups and downs in the season where they have been tested but the troops bounced back to answer a few questions.

"I can't wait from a personal point of view because the squad are fizzing.

"It's a good test - two cup finals, as it were, so it'll be wonderful to see how it all works out because in the first leg you're only halfway through the contest.

"Because it's an aggregate thing, at halftime you're only a quarter of the way through the tie so you have kind of manage your emotions and your discipline at the end of the first leg, knowing after 90 minutes you have to go back to do it all again."

He feels the punishing travelling schedule in winters will put Havelock North in good stead for the second leg away from home.

"If we don't take a lead down there then I know we have a lot of goals in us and a lot of good characters as well so we're going to go pretty close."

He doesn't expect rain to be a factor and has seen Karori play to exploit some of their areas but feels they have similar matches although they are coming better prepared from a tougher league.

"We might be slight underdogs, I don't know.

"They certainly think they are favourites for it and I think most people think so, too, but we have other ideas."

Goalkeeper Shaun Peta is the most experienced player in his first season with the Wanderers after helping Maycenvale United gain promotion several years ago before switching back to powerhouses Napier City Rovers for a memorable Chatham Cup season.

However, the Tumu Timbers production planner from Hastings is just as much in the dark as his team-mates on what Waterside Karori are about.

"They are definitely an unknown quantity so we don't know what they're going to be like," says Peta.

The 28-year-old says it's vital to play the ball up quite a bit and break them down.

"Realistically if we're going to make the playoffs we have to score goals," he says, emphasising switching off even for a few seconds will come back to haunt them. "That's all it takes."

While all the buck stops with him, Peta says it's a going to take a collective effort to savour glory but feels if rain sets in then it'll be a leveller.

He suspects the standard of the Capital Football League is higher.

Waterside Karori coach Martin Pereyra Garcia, a former Island Bays mentor, doesn't consider his side as favourites and believes it's something quite difficult to ascertain.

"I don't think so. It'll be hard to tell. You know, people were saying the same thing last year and we ended up losing to Team Taranaki," says Garcia as they reload after missing out on the promotion playoffs to Ian McGrath's men who drew 2-2 with Conroy Removals Napier City Rovers in their last Central League game here last month.

"At the end of the day Team Taranaki were better than us because they got promoted and didn't," he says.

Considering they only had five players returning from last winter, he is delighted Karori have again made clinched their second Capital league crown, something he believes is no mean feat, as well as a chance to exorcise their demons.

"We have had some time to adjust because 90 per cent of the players coming into the squad are under-17 and under-19 players so we have big mix of youth and senior players," he says.

The five experienced heads are co-skippers Leonardo Villa and John Sutherland, former Thirsty Whale Hawke's Bay United striker Facundo Barbero, of Argentina, Jack Haggerty and Ethan Cain.

It pleases Garcia that Karori lost players who went on their big OEs, to study in other major cities and one to cricket but not to other soccer clubs in the capital.

With the likes of Villa, Barbero and Haggerty Karori have persisted with a possession-based game to move the ball across the field to create gaps to enable them to dominate.

"We try to be patient and we don't play long balls. We keep the ball on the ground most of the time," he says of Karori who also have lost only two games this winter.

Garcia says they know nothing about the villagers and on sounding out a couple of friends they have received "mixed information".

"I wasn't able to see them play but I know they sent somebody to record on of our games."

However, as far as he is concerned it's about his troops focusing on what they have to do for about 100 minutes, something they didn't do so well last season.

"In the first 60 minutes we played really well and then in the last half hour everything went down the drain."

Rain will make them feel at home and he hastens to add in their last promotion game against Team Taranaki last year it poured down and they won 1-0 but it always comes down to who will adapt to the conditions early.

While artificial surfaces in Wellington suit their style of play better, Garcia says their home ground, a grass pitch on Karori Park, will be the venue to foster a sense of parochialism for the club faithful.


HAVELOCK NORTH WANDERERS: 1 Shaun Peta (GK), 2 Chris Greatholder, 3 Andrew Bowden, 4 Liam Carrington, 5 Campbell Whitworth, 6 Tyler Anstis, 7 James Barclay, 8 Ethan Dent (vc), 9 Jared Bloor, 10 Ben Foxall, 11 Bjorn Christensen (c), 12 Sam Waddington, 13 Shannon Fowler, 14 Kenneth Willox, 15 Stefan Kitching-Nicholson, 16 Jackson Ralph, 17 Liam Shackleton, 18 Frederic Haidekker (RGK).

Coach: Chris Greatholder.
Ast coach: Bruce Barclay.
Manager: Tony Simons.

WATERSIDE KARORI: 1 Sam Martin (GK), 2 Tom Withnall, 3 Dominic McCann, 4 Ethan Cain, 5 Guillermo Migueles, 6 Caleb Hilbron, 7 Leonardo Villa (co-c), 8 John Sutherland (co-c), 9 Facundo Barbero, 10 Jack Haggerty, 11 Luc Saker, 12 William Stuart, 13 Lewis Francis, 14 Tor Davenport Peterson, 15 James Knott, 16 Isaac Harper, 17 Patrick Tobin, 18 Olivier Cassidy, 19 Brennan Patchell, 20 Sam Adams, 21 Oliver Fletcher, 22 Connor Stairs, 23 Cole Hosking-Berge, 24 Jackson Straugheir, Gabe Cooper (RGK).

Coach: Martin Pereyra-Garcia.
Ast coach: Callum Holmes.