As derbies go in the beautiful game, few match-ups will come close to eclipsing the one that will unfold at Guthrie Park, Havelock North, tomorrow.

While a derby is built on the platform of sameness of teams from a common locality, the 2pm kick off between Building King Havelock North Wanderers and Thirsty Whale Napier City Rovers in the Ultra Football Central League encounter is perhaps stark more for their distinctions.

Players/coaches Chris Greatholder, of Wanderers, and Bill Robertson, of the Blues, define the thread that connects the Hawke's Bay teams - the former based in the most affluent suburb of Hastings City and the latter in the more bustling neighbouring Art Deco city.

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The contrasts easily outnumber the similarities although that isn't to suggest they are locked in hostilities reminiscent of European and South American outfits.

If anything, there's a great tradition of civility between the rivals on either side of Chesterhope Bridge - several weeks ago the Rovers requested the match be shifted from its 1pm kick off and the villagers obliged without a fuss.

But there's no mistaking that fierce sense of pride in pulling on a gold-and-blue or royal blue shirts for a 90-plus minutes contention in the most elite winter league in the Capital Football and Central Football regions.

However, Havelock North go into round seven tomorrow as the last-placed underdogs with only an emphatic victory at home over powerhouses Wairarapa United on March 25.

That is quite a feat for the newbies who missed out to Integration Works Waterside Karori, Capital League champions, in the home-and-away promotion playoffs but the Central Football champions got an 11th-hour invite from the Central League organisers as the losing finalists after Team Taranaki withdrew unexpectedly, citing lack of homegrown players to remain in the 10-team competition.

Eking out enough points to remain in the elite league is the Ethan Dent-captained Wanderers' main preoccupation after taking a leap of faith in their predominantly homegrown talent. They added the Solomon Islands import pair of Gagame Feni and Ian Paia three rounds ago.

Table-topping Napier City Rovers go into the derby with Wanderers as overwhelming favourites tomorrow. Photo/file
Table-topping Napier City Rovers go into the derby with Wanderers as overwhelming favourites tomorrow. Photo/file

On the flip side, the Rovers boast a tapestry of success built on the humble merger of two clubs - Napier Rovers AFC and Napier City AFC in February 1973.

Considered one of the most successful clubs in New Zealand, the four-time each former national and Chatham Cup winners have found countless suitors from around the world.


The two-time (2012 and 2015) Central League champions have a United nations look about them on the foundation of imports from England, Canada, Japan and Uruguay this winter.

Ominously the Joshua Stevenson-skippered are setting the pace in the league with five wins and a loss as they sit three points adrift of second-placed Stop Out Sports Club on for wins.

Consequently no points for guessing who will run on Guthrie Park tomorrow as overwhelming favourites.

Greatholder and Robertson, good mates who coached alongside each other as Blues and Thirsty Whale Hawke's Bay United campaigners, champion a passing and possession-based game but also see merit in going "direct" when the need arises.

However, both sides have exciting young blood who are destined for higher honours in a sport that promises a lot but can cruelly banish players to obscurity on unsuspecting landscape.

Havelock North player Liam Shackleton and Rovers counterpart Karan Mandair perhaps epitomise those attributes.

Shackleton is a versatile winger who packs a decent grunt under the bonnet in a beneficial symbiotic relationship with the Solomon Island boys.

The 17-year-old says he has only played against arch rivals at the lower-tier HB Pacific Premiership level but hasn't seen them play although the teams did check each other out in a pre-season game.

However, the Havelock North High School year 13 pupil reckons they have done their homework and believe they can exploit the Blues in the backline.

"Obviously we are underdogs but we'll have to go in there thinking we can change things up a little bit to shock the league leaders," he says.

The hosts have overcome the disappointment in the 4-1 loss to Karori from the high of Wairarapa.

"We had three games in seven days obviously so it was quite a big turnaround to play home and travel again."

The Wanderers fancy themselves on claiming more points at Guthrie Park, Havelock North. Photo/file
The Wanderers fancy themselves on claiming more points at Guthrie Park, Havelock North. Photo/file

Doing the unthinkable with parochial fans behind them at home appeals as they learn from mistakes.

The former Te Mata Primary and Havelock North Intermediate pupil, who has been with the club since he was 5, says their strength is in knowing each other well over the years in pursuit of experience.

"The Solomon boys are class footballers so I can learn a lot off them. They help me a lot and I know they will be there with their pace to have options long and stuff like that," says the teenager who hones his foot skills in top level futsal.

Shackleton, whose parents Joanne and Michael are hockey enthusiasts, followed in the footsteps of brother Carl, now 22.

His father also played cricket, which Shackleton took a shine to as well.

Mandair, a Lindisfarne College year 13 pupil, has received back-to-back man-of-the-match awards in the past two rounds.

The 17-year-old centre-mid says it's about time spent during training, which equates to composure on the park.

"I think it's probably also from Hawke's Bay United. The trainings are quite similar but, obviously, the pace up there is quicker but this league is right up there."

Mandair says it helps that some of the imports had played for Bay United in the national summer league.

He says the Rovers are mindful of a "decent" Wanderers who will be different from their pre-season outing with the imports.

"I've not seen them [islanders] play but I've heard they are quite sharp," says the teenager who fluctuates as a midfielder, depending on whether the team is attacking or defending.


WANDERERS: 1 Shaun Peta, 2 Chris Greatholder, 3 James Barclay, 4 Campbell Whitworth, 5 Oli Chapman, 6 Vinny McKirdy, 7 Jared Bloor, 8 Ethan Dent (c), 9 Gagame Feni, 10 Ben Foxall, 11 Ian Paia, 12 Kenny Willox, 13 Harry Fautly, 14 Kurtis Maney, 15 Che Jesson-Bentley, 16 Jackson Ralph, 17 Liam Shackelton, 18 Stefan Kitching-Nicholson, 19 Guy Reeves, 20 Sam Waddington, 21 Brad Calder, 22 Nick Hayward.
Head coach: Chris Greatholder.
Ast coaches: Dion Adams, Bruce Barclay.
Manager: Tony Simons.
Physio: Colin Tutcheon.

ROVERS: 1 Ruben Parker Hanks (GK), 3 Liam Schofield, 4 Drew Matthews, 5 Kaeden Atkins (defender), 6 Jamie Wilkinson, 7 Sho Goto, 8 Karan Mandair, 9 Martin Bueno, 10 Patryk Misik, 11 Wesley Cain, 14 Josh Stevenson (c), 16 Danny Wilson, 19 Bill Robertson, 20 Zac Madsen, 21 Heath Caldwell (RGK).

Coach: Bill Robertson.
Ast coach: Stu James
Team managers: Greg Wall, Jim Neil.
Physio: Alex Gairdner.
Video analyst: Tim Motu.