At this point last season, Hamilton Wanderers women's head coach Stephen Cox was looking over his shoulder.

His team was sitting second to last and in danger of relegation. A vital win over rivals Claudelands FC at the end of that season secured his team another year in the premiership, but after two years of relegation fights, this one would be a different one.

A player shift from rivals Claudelands meant Wanderers bolstered their squad with Helen Talbot, Kelli Brown, Emma Cawte, Ella Golding, Katie Williams, Toni Power and briefly, Michaela Foster playing major parts in this season.

Putting the whole success on the shoulders of the former Claudelands players would be wrong however, as player management by the Wanderers coaching team has also played a major role in their success.

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Despite a rough start to the season, Chelsea Elliot, who last season was one of Wanderers' main strikers, has redeveloped as a centre back and thriving.

A more recent successful change has been moving Shae Brady into a central defensive midfield role. Against Papakura she halted attack after attack before setting the play in motion again for Wanderers.

Grace Wisnewski has developed into a more mature player, and with Kelli Brown has become a threat most defence fears.

Shae Brady has found a new lease of life in the midfield for Wanderers. Photo / Rob Young
Shae Brady has found a new lease of life in the midfield for Wanderers. Photo / Rob Young

Veteran squad member Kim Maguire has become a player who the team can depend on to make a difference upfront.

The squad still struggles with the occasional lapses in performance and judgement. A few costly errors have put them in third when they have the potential to be first.

Against Papakura it was evident in the first half as both teams struggled to make meaningful chances on goal.

The second half was a different story as inside 53 minutes Grace Wisnewski lobbed Papakura keeper Brooke Wylie to give Wanderers the lead.

She doubled that lead again with a rocket past Wylie, who had been suffering from an injury early on in the first half, but soldiered on due to a lack of a substitute.

An injury to Papakura's Brittany Lee Cunningham put a mark on an entertaining second half as the game filtered out until the 80th minute.

Emma Cawte was brought off the bench and made an immediate impact, threading a through ball into Wisnewski, whose shot went just wide of the mark.

Cawte had the last action of the game as a superb cross from Helen Talbot was cleared to Cawte, who's cannon of a shot was saved well by Wylie.

The first team's result was backed up again by another strong result from the reserve team who currently sit second place in their league, and still within a shot of the title.

Iona Love (right) battles for the ball against Papakura FC reserve side in the LottoNRFL league. Photo / Rob Young
Iona Love (right) battles for the ball against Papakura FC reserve side in the LottoNRFL league. Photo / Rob Young

Kayla Goodwin's pace was too much for Papakura reserves' defence as she gave Wanderers the lead in the second half.

Kate McConnell added a second for Wanderers, before Iona Love had a shot cannon off the crossbar.

Two catch-up games against Claudelands Rovers reserve could be crucial on deciding whether that team finishes as runners up or champions.