Hamilton Wanderers' noisy neighbours Melville United are out to cause an upset, as coach Sam Wilkinson issues a warning to their rivals that his team can claim the title of premier league champions, a feat not achieved in Hamilton since Melville United's 2009 victorious campaign.
The Hamilton rivalry will spark into life again this weekend as Melville United return to Northern Premier League action for the first time in two years against cross town rivals Hamilton Wanderers.
Since Melville United's relegation in 2016, Wanderers has been seen as the top team in Hamilton. The club has represented the Waikato in the national league, while holding a spot in the premier league.
A victory for either team will give a strong and confident start to the league.
"We'd obviously love to win the derby — we're the noisy neighbours and we're out to cause an upset," Wilkinson said.
The stakes will be even higher with the Inaugural Soccer Shop Challenge Trophy to be presented to the winner of the derby.
In the Hamilton Wanderers camp, the team has signed key players from its summer league campaign, including Tommy Semmy who has been a constant goal threat in both the northern league, and summer league, and a threat that Melville coach Sam Wilkinson is taking very seriously.
"Wanderers is a team that is very dangerous on the break. They possess a pacey and direct front line, and in Tommy Semmy they've got one of the standout players in the league," Wilkinson said.
"Our lads are really excited by the challenge of facing them first up. We will respect, but not fear them."
While Wanderers focused on their summer league campaign, at Gower Park, the home of Melville United, coaches Sam Wilkinson and Michael Mayne began preparations early in 2019 for their first season.
"We've had an extended pre-season. With the majority of the squad not playing summer league, we brought the players back in earlier than usual. We did some extra work initially around injury prevention and conditioning and we are really pleased with the levels of the players."
The team has played a series of pre-season matches, including a 0-0 draw against reigning champions Onehunga AFC. Wilkinson said that the safer goal for his team would be to "to stay up", but that isn't the case for Melville.
"The truth is that we want to win the league. The players have spoken about their hunger to win trophies this season and with the talent we have in the group, we think that's a really good mindset to have." We'll see whether or not we can live up to the expectations we're placing on ourselves."
"The rivalry is fantastic and great for the game in the Waikato. I think we've all grown
bored with watching National League games post Christmas with nothing riding on them."
Hamilton Wanderers head coach Kale Herbert said that his team is looking forward to another shot at the title in 2019, after putting in a strong performance in 2018.
He says Melville is a strong side, and his team will be cautious not to underestimate them on Saturday.
"I was able to get along to a few of their pre-season games and thought they looked very organised and offer a number of threats going forward. I think the loss of Jama Boss is big for them as he scored a number of goals last season but with players like Marc Evans and Mark Jones there always going to be a handful. It looks as though they have had a comprehensive pre season and I'm sure will be ready for Saturday," Herbert said.
He is wary that several members of his team spent much of 2018 playing football for the club, and will focus on making sure those players receive the rest they need.
"We will manage the work load of players throughout the Northern League Season given there are several players that play over a 12 month period. A number of these players will be given the required rest period throughout the winter competition to maximise their overall football recovery."
He said this move however will offer opportunities to some of the fringe squad players, allowing them to stake a claim and develop further.
This will be the first time Herbert oversees a Hamilton derby and he's looking forward to the task.
"The derby is healthy for football in the Waikato region. Having two teams in the Northern Premier League is a big boost. Melville had a fantastic season last year. The Blue Army look forward to the home and away fixtures this year and I wish Melville all the very best for the season."