Bay of Plenty's top football teams are looking to build on last season as Northern League competitions kickoff today.Tauranga City will compete in the first division and kick off their campaign against Hibiscus Coast in Tauranga today.The two sides split the head-to-head results last year and Tauranga went on to finish 10th in the 12-team league with six wins.
Tauranga's squad includes the addition of players who were with Tauranga Boys' College last season as well as some players new to the area. Barry Gardiner and Nic Millichip will coach the first team this year and Millichip says there has been good consistency in training leading up to the season opener.
"The new players add depth and it puts pressure on people to perform. Sometimes when you don't have that, you can put people in positions that are not their strength."
The reserve teams play at the same venue as the first team throughout the season and Millichip says the whole-squad mentality is important.
"We train as one squad and we are really a playing 30. We have worked on having a group mentality so people feel completely part of it. Having a tough selection decision is a good thing and Barry and I talk about that a lot," Millichip says.
Tauranga were not far of a mid-table finish in 2018, just six points behind east Auckland club Fencibles United who placed sixth.
"It will be a tough league. Bay Olympic and Three Kings have come down from the premier league and they are both strong clubs. I think the competition looks a bit stronger this year.
"We are building on what was there last year. We want to play an attractive brand of football and express the beautiful game. It is not just the physicality, there is a technical aspect to what we are doing. We have to believe in the process. We want to reduce mistakes so we don't give away easy ball but also focus on things like being at training and taking on board what we are talking about doing."
Playing in the second division is the McDonalds Ngongotahā Men's NRFL first team, who had a barnstorming end to the 2018 season. After earning one point from the first 10 games, they picked up seven wins to finish eighth – just a couple of wins outside the top four. Ngongotahā begin this season against Manurewa today,the south Auckland side were relegated from the first division last year.
Ngongotahā coach Andrew Gibbs says he hopes the team can replicate the form they had in the back half of last season.
"We galvanised and came together last year and set new goals. We had some self-belief. We focused on the environment and what we wanted as a unit.
"It will be another tough league this year but we have had a great pre-season and have a great group of boys who are working hard. We have mostly the same players with a couple of additions. Playing against Manurewa will give us a good measure of where we are at."
Gibbs says the team will play in a 4-3-3 formation this season and want to play an up-tempo game.
"We are constantly striving to be more organised and have a better understating of the style we play. We have enough creative players so that we are a handful for any team. Our play is around being strong defensively and lots of rotation in a three-man midfield and we are attacking by nature."
Ngongotahā have not finished in the top half of the table in their two years in the competition, which Gibbs hopes to change.
"The immediate goal is to get points on the board and then work towards the top half of the table. We are a one-game-at-a-time kind of team. We have also had a big campaign in the off-season to get sponsors on board and we have been supported by some really great Rotorua businesses."
Tauranga (Northern League first division)
v Hibiscus Coast (H)
v Mt. Albert-Ponsonby (H)
v Waitemata (H)
v Forrest Hill Milford (A)
v Fencibles Utd (H)
Ngongotaha (Northern League second division)
v Manurewa (H)
v Northland (A)
v Onehunga (H)
v Metro FC (A)
v Cambridge (H)