ASB Premiership Funbag: Heroes, freaks and failures of 2015/16

By Niall Anderson, Steven Holloway

Auckland City striker Ryan De Vries. Photo / Getty Images.
Auckland City striker Ryan De Vries. Photo / Getty Images.

Time for your weekly edition of the ASB Premiership Funbag. Got something on your mind? Email the Funbag. Today, the best and worst of this year's competition and our predictions for the semi-finals.

Your letters:

From Brenton, Auckland.

Can you do a quirky end of season awards list please?

Sure thing Brenton. Without further adieu, here are the heroes, freaks and failures of the ASB Premiership season.

Congratulations to all our award winners.

Overall winner, drum roll... Televised coverage
Holloway: Perhaps the only step forward New Zealand Football took last year was getting the national league on television. For 11 years New Zealand's top domestic competition didn't exist to most of New Zealand - see no football, hear no football - then, almost overnight, we were treated to two live games per week and a 30 minute highlights show.

Eureka. The crowds at some home games may have suffered (try convince an Aucklander to travel out to Albany on a Thursday night instead of watching from home) but the profile of the game has surely grown. At the gym, the physio waiting room, at work - I would see ASB Prem replays on TV's in the background. I could almost recite the Jake Butler 200 games profile piece word for word. That sort of exposure can't be undervalued.

Runner up.... Hamish Watson
Holloway: I remember watching Watson play for the first time in a Chatham Cup semi final for Lower Hutt three years ago. I thought he was a 30-something former pro who had turned up on the streets of Wellington, such was the way he held himself, his reading of the game, size and general appearance. When I found out he was just 19 I thought he had a very bright future. Watson hasn't 'made it' at the Phoenix yet, but signs are encouraging. He looks at home in the A-League and owes it all to a royal New Zealand Football admin cock-up and a number of impressive performances for Hawkes Bay United in this year's competition. Providing a pathway to professional football is what the ASB Prem is all about and Watson has achieved what every other player in the league hoped to do. Special mention: Joel Stevens

Second runner up... Auckland City FC
Holloway: OK, it may seem harsh naming Auckland City second runners up after they, once again, dismantled the league, but it's a credit to their dominance that it doesn't really get me excited anymore. I expect Auckland to win everything. I expect Ramon Tribulietx to out-coach and out-tactic every team he faces and I expect Ryan De Vries, Micah Lea'alafa, Joao Moreira and Emilano Tade to score at will against any opposition. Unfortunately, I also expected them to do a little better at the Club World Cup too - because I have been so spoiled in the past. That may sound mental - they have no right to get a result against professional teams - but with 67% possession and a few half-chances, they came close and were ultimately undone by two goalkeeping errors. But Auckland City are achieving well above their pay-grade and the club operates like one of the smoothest sports operations in the country. Kudos.

Player of the season: Ryan De Vries
Anderson:De Vries has always been very handy at this level, but he stepped it up a notch this season to be the undisputed top man in the fearsome Tade/Moreira/De Vries frontline. He knocked in 13 goals in 14 games - yes, that is more goals as a player than Southern United managed as a whole team! Good lawd.

The question now for the talented 24-year-old is whether this is a step on the path to greater things. Can he be the next Roy Krishna, or will he keep banging in the goals at ASB Premiership level for a few seasons yet?

Bore of the year: Southern United
Anderson: Poor Southern United seem to get slammed every week but when you score 11 goals in 14 games, there is no award more apt. Earning just three points on the campaign and with a goal difference of -31, Southern were less prolific than De Vries and Ben Harris

Their best performance was probably saved until last - they had a chance to end the season on a high but blew a 2-1 lead in the 85th minute to lose 3-2 to Canterbury.

A question to ponder as their season finished - How come Southern never get the random foreign dude who shows up in New Zealand and bangs in all the goals?

I mean, Pennas Frimpong is right there for selection! He is even a long-time Southern United diehard!

I really love southern United very much if you will invite me for a trails

Posted by Pennas Frimpong on Sunday, February 7, 2016

2016-2017: The year of Southern United and their team full of players who send in their highlight mixes via Facebook

Best off the bench: Paul Ifill (special mention Hamish Watson)
Holloway: The ageing Phoenix legend has been a revelation off the bench for Hawkes Bay, scoring three in eight games including two match winners. He's not fit enough to play the full 90 but will still be a big factor in the semis.

Goal of the year: Brock Messenger
Holloway: Not just an astonishing outside-of-the-foot stunner from outside the area - but an injury time winner as well. Shoot the Messenger...

Aided by the fact WaiBOP keeper Zac Speedy is about 4 foot 7 but even the giants of the keeping world would have struggled to keep it out....


Bonus mention for.....


Chad Coombes award for most bookings:
Anderson: To the English pairing of Ben Harris and Ryan Tinsley, who both picked up six yellow cards and missed matches with playoff importance along the way. Canterbury duo Brock Messenger and Gary Ogilvie had five, as did the mild-mannered Aaron Scott.

The two legends of the award - Chad Coombes and Cole Peverley - only had three yellows each but both still got sent off, Coombes doing so in spectacular fashion to keep his reputation gloriously intact.

The Boomer Kotchin award for worst foreign import: Brian Cunningham
Holloway: Perhaps Waitakere coach Brian Shelley's worst punt was on US striker Brian Cunningham, who was flown over, put up, given a car and the keys to West Auckland before making a few disappointing performances off the bench and flying home. Caltex Techron clean rating of 0 stars.

Roy Krishna award for best import: Micah Lea'alafa
Holloway: What a treat Solomon Island speedstar Lea'alafa has been to watch. With pace, trickery and an eye for goal, Lea'alafa has made Auckland's attack hum.

Best game: Hawke's Bay United 5 Phoenix Reserves 5
Anderson: What else could it be - A game which saw the underdogs go up 4-0 and then 5-2, before losing a man and eventually conceding a 92nd minute goal in front of a fanatical home crowd.

It has a case for best game in ASB Premiership history, but I am very partial to the stunning 2012-2013 final where Waitakere beat Auckland 4-3, providing one of the most frantic and exciting live blogs ever written.

The other contender - That time S.Holloway scored a hat-trick but got outdone by another dude who also scored a hat-trick as Manawatu beat Waikato 5-4.

Best own goal:
Holloway: Cole Peverley v Waitakere. Pevs deftly turned the ball into his own net from inside his own six yard box. What was he thinking?


Honourable mention: Goals where the ball hits the post and goes in off the back of the keepers head are always worthy of mention.


The 'what the heck happened this season' award: Waitakere United
Holloway: Brian Shelley was sacked after three games but he wasn't the last to leave the club. Michael Gwyther, George Curry, Craig Wylie, Brian Cunningham, Brandon Barnes, Nathaniel Bowen and Simon Williams also all walked out for one reason or another and the mass exodus resulted in Waitakere's worst finishing position in the history of the competition.

Predictions of the year:
Holloway: "Waitakere have done the best recruiting in the off-season and will finish in the top two and could even push Auckland City close for first," - Steven Holloway

"WaiBOP will make the playoffs," - Steven Holloway

"I'm going to put money on Southern United to beat Waitakere," - Steven Holloway
(Southern lost 6-0)

Best referee: Nick Waldron. Highly commended: John Rowberry

Benny, Wellington

Hey guys who do you think will make it through to the grand final?

Anderson: One of my favourite lines to trot out as a regular reminder is the brilliant, yet unjust nature of one game playoffs. Obviously Auckland City deserve to win the title, but if we gave the title to the most deserving team every year (ala the EPL) then the hype and excitement around the competition would have teetered out long ago.

So, there is a small possibility that the team with an undefeated season and a record unbeaten run could be toppled - which would be a bit unjust, but more importantly creates excitement.

As tempting as it would be to steal Steve's award for prediction of the year by going all in and guaranteeing a Canterbury United victory, my hot takes need a bit more time in the oven.

I'll side with everyone else in tipping Auckland and elsewhere I am going to back Team Wellington to edge Hawke's Bay in what could be an excellent semifinal.

C'mon Steve. You've been festering away heating up takes for a while and it's time to step up for the Funbag. There's been no over-the-top slander of Anthony Hudson or Andy Martin, no calling for heads to roll. The people need strong takes! Give them something big!

Holloway: WELLINGTON WILL WIN IT ALL! They will squeeze past Hawkes Bay in the semi then physically abuse their way to victory past Auckland in the final..... is what I would say if I was high.

But I'm not. Auckland are too good in every department. But I do think Wellington will beat Hawkes Bay in the semi and will make life tough for Auckland in the final.

Got a question you want answered next week? Email Steven.holloway@nzherald.co.nz or Niall.anderson@nzherald.co.nz.

- NZ Herald

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