They may not know much about each other, but there is lot for GJ Gardner Homes Wanganui Athletic to admire about guests Napier Marist when their Lotto Federation League campaign resumes at Wembley Park tomorrow.
Newcomers to the League this season, Marist's development programme in recent years is appearing to bear some tasty fruit as the team currently sits tied for first place, third overall on differential, at the top of the league after five victories and one loss.
The club's 1sts team, captained by Ethan Dent and coached by Jamie Dunning, who recently graduated to an A Licence, are the figureheads at the top of a growing organisation which now contains six senior teams and runs an academy of 80 youngsters – the largest in the Hawke's Bay region.
Athletic coach Jason King can appreciate Dunning's work to build a strong core of players out of next generation – insulating themselves from the inevitable departures to university and OE's – given he has similar aspirations at home with his 'First Kicks' programme on Saturday mornings.
"The only way you can increase the talent pool is getting more people playing," King said.
"You can target your senior group, but that's a short term plan.
"First Kicks is finding kids and getting them to fall in love with it.
"We're the same as [Marist], in a way, we lose players to university, so we have to play them a little younger.
"Some may come back in three years. Not everyone stays in the big smoke."
King saw a number of the current Marist lineup beginning to emerge in recent seasons when he took Wanganui teams over to Hawke's Bay for Under 19 tournaments.
Football Whanganui let table leaders get too far ahead
If you're going to shoot for goal, then shoot to kill
Injured ref, controversial calls, extra time, and a penalty shootout
However, as talented as some of them may well be, everyone gets a little concrete in the shoes when they have to travel from one side of the Central Football catchment to the other for the longer away games.
"I'm not sure the last time a team from Napier Marist came to play at Wembley Park," said King.
"This will be a new experience for them to come to our place.
"They've got an extra hour's travel [from Palmerston North] on top of them this time. That's still three hours sitting in a van.
"We'll be looking for all the advantages we can. Even with a bit of concrete and the size of the pitch, you can't over-estimate [those factors]."
Having had a bye week to rest up since their nail-biting penalty shootout victory over Port Hill United at Marewa Park in the Federation Cup on May 12, Athletic are now back up to a full roster.
"I can't really make too many excuses about having the players, which is a good thing," said King.
This will include two sets of brothers and not only are both Burney's available – Scott and Steve – but Jai Stephens is welcoming home his sibling and former Wanganui AFC junior Shaan Stuart.
The 1.9-metre defender Stuart transferred for the 2013 season to the Versatile Wanganui City 1sts for a chance to play in the Chatham Cup, before taking up a scholarship academic and athletic to Wheeling Jesuit University in West Virginia, where he played NCAA Division 2 soccer.
Stuart received his international clearance to return to Wanganui AFC this week and King will just decide where to play the Whanganui High School old boy, whether off the bench or straight into the starting XI.
Napier Marist have run up 11 goals in their last two home games – hammering Hokowhitu 6-0 and then Palmerston North Boys High 5-0 last Saturday.
With Dent taking that game off to go run a half marathon, Harry Mason claimed a hat trick while Josh Murphy and Tom Tidy were the other goal scorers at Park Island.
Aiming to be a Central League team in three years, Marist had a shock to the system for this level when they were hammered 8-2 on opening weekend by Palmerston North Marist on their first long away trip.
They rebounded to hold off Wanganui City 3-2 at home in a Sunday match, before doing better on the road with a 3-1 win over North End, and then ending Red Sox's brief run at the top of the table, 2-0 back at home.
It is a double header at Wembley tomorrow afternoon as before the League clash at 2.45pm, the GJ Gardner Homes Wanganui Athletic Reserves host the Hokowhitu FC Reserves in their Horizons Premiership match at 12.30pm.
And on Sunday, the second round of the Women's Federation League begins with Team Ritesh Football Whanganui heading to Memorial Park to meet PN Marist Women, kickoff 1pm.