Hawke's Bay United's winning start to the Sterling Sports national soccer premiership is set in stone after New Zealand Football's dismissal of a protest over player eligibility.
The protest was lodged by Auckland side and former champions Waitakere United who were beaten 3-1 by HBU at Bluewater Stadium in Napier on Sunday.
Waitakere claimed HBU fielded nine foreign players, one more than allowed by the regulations, and that one of them - starting right wing Matsumoto Kohei, from Japan - had not been on the squad list submitted to New Zealand Football beforehand.
But HBU, beaten semifinalists last season and out to win the competition for the first time, knew they had little to worry about, and they were advised yesterday by NZ Football's head of competitions Daniel Farrow that the protest had been turned down.
Franchise general manager operations Shane McKenzie said that among the nine challenged by Waitakere, Scots national Ross Willox was eligible because he held New Zealand citizenship, and HBU had clear proof that Kohei had been on a squad list provided to Football New Zealand on October 20.
The decision means HBU can go into next Sunday's away game against Auckland-based league expansion side club Eastern Suburbs at Bill McKinlay Park, Mt Wellington, without any issues over availability of players. The game is a launching-pad for the following week's home match against Team Wellington, who ended HBU's 2015-2016 campaign at the penultimate stage and went on to claim an underdogs' victory over Auckland City last March.
Mr McKenzie said it was a " little disappointing to have it blown up like this", but it was important for the club to show that it was not doing anything wrong.
"It's important to show everyone it's all above board and in line with the regulations," he said.
He said the regulations were clear. "You are either eligible or you're not," he said.
The rejection of the protest was confirmed late yesterday in a statement from NZ Football which said an investigation established HBU's start-list included the required eight New Zealand citizens and that all players that took part in the match were "registered in the correct manner and timeframe."
"NZ Football has reviewed all information available and is satisfied that Hawkes Bay United have complied with the relevant competition rules," Mr Farrow said.