Nelson College shocked New Zealand last year when their First XI football team won the National title. Nelson became only the second South Island school to capture the title since the inception of the annual event in 1978.
Co-captain Matt Tod-Smith is back for another tilt at the top. He has already noticed differences in the way opponents approach Nelson.
“I think teams are a lot more cautious against us. We played Christchurch Boys’ in pre-season and they were very defensive. The game was drawn nil-all. They put 11 bodies behind the ball and we found it tough to break them down. We had a couple of scares too when they caught us on the break,” Tod-Smith concedes.
What is the solution for breaching stingy defences?
“I think you have to try to stretch teams as wide as possible, be patient and mixed things up. You also have to think about defending as well, otherwise you can easily concede.”
It’s interesting to note that Leicester City in their giant-killing English Premier League success made the fewest passes and had the third least possession of any team across the whole season. Does Tod-Smith see any resemblance in the wayNelson and Leicester approach the game?
“Not really. I think we should stick to our strengths and try to be balanced and the rewards will come,” he says.
New Zealand Under-17 coach Danny Hay was forced to concede some Nelson players weren’t rewarded for their success last season. Not a single Nelson player earned National honours. The coach of National runner-up’s Sacred Heart College was recently in Nelson on an observation trip.
“I guess it was disappointing to have nobody in Chile. Bertie Fish and Max Winterton were outstanding and probably could have gone, but that’s in the past. I think people will take more notice of us this year,” Tod-Smith says.
Nelson have six returning players from 2015. Tod-Smith identifies fellow captain Labu Pan and Van Roland Hlawn Ceu as key figures. All three boys play for Nelson Suburbs in the men’s grade Mainland Premier League which features clubs from Christchurch.
“The Mainland League is obviously a higher level of competition than the club grade in Nelson which the school plays in. It’s really good when we come back because it lifts the performance of everybody,” Tod-Smith says.
In June Nelson will play a series against Waimea College, Marlborough Boys’ College and Nayland College. The winner qualifies for Nationals.
Aaron Gordon added another international player to the Mississippi State soccer roster on Monday, after New Zealand defender Johanna Hamblett signed with the Bulldogs.
Hamblett, who was a member of the NZ U-20 Women’s National Team, brings versatility to the 2016 squad as she is able to play defender or midfielder.
“We’re excited to announce that Johanna is joining our team and we’re looking forward to seeing her play in Maroon and White this fall,” head coach Aaron Gordon said. “We’ve been tracking her for the past year and she is a player that was on the rise in New Zealand. “
Hailing from Christchurch, New Zealand, Hamblett also had playing experience with the country’s National Women’s League as she played for Mainland Pride. She led the squad to back-to-back league championships in 2014 and 2013. Hamblett was named the Player of the Year for the Cashmere Technical Soccer Club Premier Team in 2014.
“She will bring versatility to our team and we think she will improve our program,” Gordon said. “I think she wanted to join MSU because she saw the opportunity to make an impact and she liked the challenge of playing in one of the best leagues in the nation.”
Outside of football Hamblett also had an impressive resume in other sports as she participated in many athletic competitions throughout her high school career. With Burnside High School she was a member of the track and field team, surf club and netball team. Hamblett was also a member of the Opawa tennis club, winning a championship in 2012.
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Young Auckland City star Myer Bevan has always dreamed of being a professional footballer and the events of recent weeks have brought that ambition a few steps closer to reality.
First, the 18-year-old was hand-plucked out of thousands of hopefuls from all corners of the globe for a highly-sought after place in the Nike Academy, a UK-based programme that seeks to develop unsigned U-20 players with the intention of helping them find a professional club.
Just days after receiving that exciting news, Bevan was then included by coach Anthony Hudson in a wider training group preparing for the All Whites’ upcoming OFC Nations Cup campaign.
“It’s been unreal, it’s a great experience to be out there with those boys,” says Bevan of his time in Hudson’s training camp, which has been running at Auckland’s QBE Stadium since Monday.
“Most of them are professionals so it’s great to be amongst them and find out what it takes to be at that level.”
The sharp-shooting striker will look to take what he has learned from the experience into his next footballing adventure at the Nike Academy, which he will jet off to England to join at the end of June.
“It’s like a dream come true,” he says.
“It’s a step in the right direction and I can’t wait to get over there and get started. It’s probably one of the biggest doors that could’ve been opened for myself to step into what I want to do for a living.”
Bevan, who plays his winter football for Auckland club Western Springs, earned his place in the Nike Academy after first being singled out from over 200 other young Kiwi players in the New Zealand leg of the Nike Most Wanted event.
From there, he headed to Paris where 42 winners from around the world came together to fight for a chance to be included in the academy. Only 11 were chosen and Bevan is now set to join his fellow new inductees at St George’s Park – the English FA’s state-of-the-art football centre – for the next six months.
The Nike Academy has produced over 50 players who have gone on to play professionally and, as well as boasting world-class coaching, is known for its collaborations with high-profile former and current international players, most notably Joe Hart, Rio Ferdinand, Francesco Totti, Sami Khedira and Mario Gotze.
As a scout for the academy, former All Whites captain Danny Hay was largely responsible for selecting Bevan in the New Zealand leg of the trials and believes he has a lot to offer.
“He’s quite aggressive and is willing to put himself about, as well as being a fantastic finisher,” Hay says.
“But the thing that really stood out for us was that his movement off the ball was very intelligent so he clearly understands the tactical side of the game.”
Bevan knows he has plenty of work to do to achieve his lofty ambitions but has his heart set on a professional deal.
“If I was lucky enough to get a contract it would mean so much to my family and I because that’s all I’ve ever worked for,” he says.
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