What can Napier City Rovers fans make of an up-and-down season against arch rivals Western Suburbs at the pointy ends of the Central League and Chatham Cup campaigns?

The Thirsty Whale-sponsored Blues have lost their home-and-away league encounters — 3-2 and 4-2, respectively — to the Ole Academy boys but thumped them 4-1 at Park Island in the national knockout competition this month.

It's understandable if the fans feel when push comes to shove the Fergus Neil-skippered Rovers have a tendency to stutter but the coaching stable likes to think it has its fingers on the pulse of the troops.

What sticks out in the structure of the Blues, which player/coach Bill Robertson has established with the help of assistant coach Stu James, is its propensity to bring out the best while riding the roller-coaster of emotions during the winter.

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"It's as professional as it can be without being professional," says James before the Rovers kick off at 2pm against Miramar Rangers in round 16 of the league at Bluewater Stadium tomorrow.

With two rounds remaining, the hosts will use the encounter to gauge their worth before they host Albany United, of Auckland, in the cup quarter-finals the following weekend.
James says their Tuesday/Thursday training sessions are not just confined to performing drills on the grass but also tactical stuff in the clubrooms.

"We've pretty much drilled it into players on how we want to play when we've got the ball and how we want to do that when we don't have the ball," the 47-year-old regional manager of Summerset retirement villages explains.

The collective IQ of the defending champions' squad is up there so they tend to get it right most weeks.

Nevertheless, James concedes the Blues have lacked consistency on the road, not that they ever want to use that as an excuse in a league where travelling is a prerequisite.
Regardless of who is at the helm and who plays, the demands of hopping on to a bus every other week can take its toll.

"All up she's a good six-hour trip so depending on players' preparation that trip can have an effect."

He and Robertson have noted their charges have run out of steam at times when they have to hit the State Highway 1 to the capital city from 6.30am.

"By the time the 2pm kick off comes it's been a long day already so, yeah, I do think the travel has a touch on play."

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He emphasises the predominantly other teams, apart from Wellington United and Wairarapa United, tend to arrive here the night before the kick off to settle into a refreshed game mode once a season.

The away loss to Suburbs last Sunday comes on the heels of consecutive defeats at the hands of Wellington Olympic (6-1) and North Wellington (1-0).

The Rovers have dropped to the second rung of the league table, two points below leaders Western Suburbs. They will travel to Fraser Park to face Lower Hutt City on Saturday, August 10, before hosting the Greeks in the season ender on Saturday, August 17.

Despite the disappointment of last Sunday's stumble, James says a light-hearted approach at the Tuesday training had canvassed a collective nod of heads in ensuring they win the remaining league matches but also acknowledging the enormity of the cup clash.

"We've told ourselves not to jump too far ahead because this Miramar side — we need to beat them."

Hawke's Bay-born Andrew Bevin (left) and fellow Team Wellington player Angus Kilkolly add to the premiership quality of Miramar Rangers in the Central League this season. Photo/Photosport
Hawke's Bay-born Andrew Bevin (left) and fellow Team Wellington player Angus Kilkolly add to the premiership quality of Miramar Rangers in the Central League this season. Photo/Photosport

The likes of Hastings-born Angus Kilkolly and fellow former senior Rovers teammate Andy Bevin are among the national summer league quality the opposition will bring tomorrow.

With Miramar coach Scott Hales assuming the mantle of mentor of Team Wellington James expects the fifth-placed Rangers to use the match to showcase their talent for a premiership contract. The visitors have registered five losses and two draws, sitting five points adrift from the Blues.

"It sets us up for how ruthless we can be so [the training on Thursday] will be around taking their chances and players showing us they can do that," says James, revealing the club is content that it has been a rewarding season to date and mindful two other Bay campaigners, Building King Havelock North Wanders and Alexander Electric Napier Marist FC, are developing home-grown talent.

The Chris Greatholder-coached Wanderers are undefeated at the top of the Central Federation League on 36 points with the Jamie Dunning-mentored Marist in second place on 30 points after two losses to stamp the Bay's supremacy in the second-tier competition.

The villagers are aiming to regain selection to the Central League after they were relegated last season although they only gained promotion after Team Taranaki had folded the previous winter so the Capital Football organisers had extended the Hastings club an invitation.

Havelock North play Wanganui City FC at Wembley Stadium today while Napier Marist have a bye.