The National Secondary Schools First XI football Premier Tournament returns in 2021 after the Covid cancellation of 2020. Last week the boys draw was made for the 32-team tournament to be contested at Park Island, Napier from August 30 to September 3.
There are eight pools with teams each. Three points are achieved for a win with a point for a draw. The top two from each group advance to the second round.
The defending champions are Sacred Heart College who beat Auckland Grammar School 2-1 in the 2019 decider. Grammar opened the scoring with a 25-metre shot by Alex Smith and held that advantage in chilly conditions until the for 35 minutes until Samuel Pointon levelled proceedings when his low, swirling, strike proved elusive.
The winning goal, a penalty, was scored by Riwai Stanton with the last kick in the first-half of extra time. Stanton latched onto a high ball, controlled on the chest, and was brought down in the box while attempting to shoot. The spot kick was calmly executed, driven firmly into the bottom right corner of the net, despite a correct prediction of its direction by the Grammar keeper.
Sacred Heart have won Nationals five times since 2011 and Auckland Grammar a record ten times since its inception in 1978, but not since 2007. Unfortunately, in 2021 both Auckland powerhouses have dipped in the Premier League with 11 combined losses in 21 games. Still in a tournament format both sides can’t be discounted. The Auckland League is headed by Saint Kentigern College who have lost just one game and outscored opponents 41-11. Westlake Boys’ High School are second with eight wins and 37 goals in 11 fixtures.
In the central North Island, Tauranga Boys’ College, Hamilton Boys’ High School and St Peter’s Cambridge are possibly the strongest looking teams. Tauranga won the Super 8 tournament scoring a record 33 goals in five matches. They are superbly led by Jordan Toy and longtime coach Neil Howard brings a lot of experience. He coached a National final in 2002. Hamilton Boys’ won Nationals in 2017 with the goal-keeping of Keegan Hansen proving unforgettable. He even scored a penalty in the final shootout.
The Wellington competition is led by two-time defending champions Scots College where Charlie Batchelor has been a real standout. However, a Scots victory isn’t a foregone conclusion. Wellington College has their strongest team in several years spearheaded by Zander Edwards. Rathkeale could be a dark horse after they upset Scots and boast Riley Grover while HIBS are coached by fiery veteran Brendan McInytre and in Lucas Jelly have a creative, goal scoring threat.
Nelson College are the most recent champions from the South Island winning at home in 2015. They will turn up battle hardened as they often play against senior club sides.
Christchurch is blessed with many fine teams. The Mainland Premiership consisting of a dozen schools is headed by Christ’s College who have won all 10 matches and scored 32 goals. Charlie Cameron and Caleb Manson have been prolific this season as have second-placed Cashmere who have scored 41 goals in their ten games.
Kings and Otago Boys’ are well ahead in Dunedin with King’s outscoring opponents 37-2 in the Premier competition.
St Thomas of Canterbury College
Palmerston North Boys’ High School
St Patrick’s College, Wellington
Westlake Boys’ High School
St Kentigern College
St Peters Cambridge
Mount Albert Grammar School
Otago Boys’ High School
St John’s College, Hamilton
Whangarei Boys’ High School
St Peter’s College, Auckland
New Plymouth Boys’ High School
Hutt International Boys’ School
Auckland Grammar School
Hastings Boys’ High School
Sacred Heart College
Tauranga Boys’ College
Shirley Boys’ High School
Kings High School
Hamilton Boys’ High School
Napier Boys’ High School
Cashmere High School
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