Te Puke Utd's goalkeeper and club president Ben Day.
Santiago Curi has decided to concentrate on coaching the Te Puke Utd men's team this season.
By Stuart Whitaker
It's a cliche - but a cliche for a reason - that pre-season means nothing when the competition proper starts.
Te Puke Utd kick off their 2021 WaiBOP Championship season with a home game against Ngaruawahia on Saturday pleased with their preparations - but unsure what to expect.
The highlights of the pre-season were a 4-1 win over West Hamilton and a creditable performance in a loss against Ngongotahā, but as club president and goalkeeper Ben Day says, at this level, it's hard to predict how that will translate into competition football.
Perhaps the biggest difficulty is making an assessment of the opposition.
This year's Championship competition - essentially the WaiBOP Federation's second division - is made up of a mixture of clubs' first and second teams from across the Waikato and Bay of Plenty. Team's relative strengths can vary from season to season and sometimes even from game to game.
A late starting, Covid-truncated 2020 season saw one full round of games before the Championship split into A and B divisions, Te Puke ending up in the B division, finishing fourth.
The hope is that Saturday will be the start of a full season of football.
''You try and think you are going to do well, but there is so much that changes [season to season] for every club and that makes it hard because every team comes out different every year,'' says Ben.
After combining playing and coaching in 2020, Argentinian Santiago Curi will concentrate solely on coaching duties in 2021, but his contacts mean there will be several other South Americans wearing Te Puke's strip this season.
Ben says there has been a core of around eight players at the club for several years who have returned this season, and big numbers at training.
''It's looking good heading into the season. The men's team has had overwhelming numbers at training. We've been getting 24 people which is more than there has ever been while I've been here.''
The club is also planning on fielding an over-35s team.
''That doesn't start for a couple of months, so we are still building it up, but we have another 20 people interested in that as well so on the player side we are looking pretty good."
It would, however, take another 5-10 players for the club to be able to field a reserve side.
Ben was vice-president last year before stepping into the president's role this year.
He says he is enjoying the role.
''I probably got a little bit lucky as we had a few more people interested in joining the committee and some old faces rejoined so the committee has some pretty good numbers and that is making my job a bit easier than others have had it.''
Saturday's season-opener will kick off at 12.30pm at Litt Park, and Ben would like to see people head along to support the club.
''We are hoping to set it up to be a good day and it's probably going to be one of the most competitive games of the season.''
The club's women's side start their defence of the Women's Bay 1 title after Easter.