At least one of last year’s finalists in the Women’s Knockout Cup will not get a chance to lift the trophy again this season with both looking to knock each other out on Sunday.
The quarter-finals of the country’s showpiece winter female competition are set to take place this weekend and the most eye-catching of the four fixtures is a hugely-anticipated clash between holders Forrest Hill Milford United and the side they pipped to the crown last time, Glenfield Rovers.
As if being a repeat of the 2016 final wasn’t enough to get the adrenaline flowing, the match has even more added spice as the pair are fierce local rivals and the player who previously captained Forrest Hill to success, the inspirational Tessa Berger, has now swapped ranks.
“Derbies are always the first fixtures that everyone looks for,” says Forrest Hill coach Ben Bate. “And when you throw into the mix that it’s a national cup quarter-final and a repeat of last year’s final, it really adds something. All the girls know what it means.”
Berger, just as notable for her exploits off the field as a councillor on the Rodney Local Board, is one of several high-profile players to have departed Forrest Hill since last season while the Glenfield roster has also undergone some notable changes.
“If you look at the squads that played in last year’s final, there’s been a fair turnover,” says Bate. “For us, CJ Bott has now signed professionally in Germany which is fantastic while Emma Rolston is playing in Australia and of course Tessa is now at Glenfield.”
Bate has huge respect for Berger and would’ve liked to see her lift the cup with Forrest Hill again but says there is no ill-feeling in the camp over her decision to cross enemy lines.
“She made a choice to go to Glenfield and has had a very successful season with them so far,” he says.
“But she still has loads of friends within the group here because she was really well liked. It’s always good to come up against those players the girls have had good experiences with in the past and it adds a bit more competiveness to it. I’m sure there will be a few girls who will be keen for the challenge of playing against her.”
Forrest Hill Milford United coach Ben Bate on the Women’s Knockout Cup quarter-final against Glenfield Rovers
The departures of Berger and co have left Bate with a young, inexperienced team to work with and he says player development has been the main focus this season. After being a regular feature at the sharp end of the NRFL Women’s Premier table in recent years – including a maiden title win in 2014 – Forrest Hill are currently sixth in the nine-team league but Bate is pleased with the progress his young charges have made.
“We didn’t think we were going to go out and win everything this year, we’ve had to be realistic in what we’d like to achieve,” he explains.
“But we’ve given three 14-year-olds debuts so there’s a very bright future. It’s part of a two or three-year plan we’re working to at the moment, it’s a time thing and these girls just need a bit more opportunity at this level to keep pushing on. They’re still making mistakes and are very much in that learning stage but we’re encouraging them to experiment and learn from it when they get things wrong.”
Despite their status as cup holders, Forrest Hill will go into the quarter-final as underdogs as the more experienced Glenfield have beaten them twice in the league this season, 3-1 on both occasions. Bate’s side will also be without the services of two of its brightest prospects in Arabella Maynard and Aneka Mittendorff, who are both in Samoa representing their country at the OFC U-16 Women’s Championship.
But Rovers – who won back-to-back cups from 2014 – will likewise be missing a pair of key performers in prolific striker Katie Rood and captain Liz Milne, the former departing earlier on Sunday for a trial at an overseas club while Milne is getting married.
“We know what Glenfield are about and have a good understanding of how we can utilise our strengths to put them under pressure,” Bate says. “We’ve got a few strategies we’re going to try to implement in the game and we’re looking forward to having another go at them.”
The tie at Glenfield’s McFetridge Park is not the only all-Auckland quarter-final on Sunday with fellow NRFL Women’s Premier teams Eastern Suburbs and Three Kings United set to do battle at the same time across town at Madills Farm.
On Saturday, Upper Hutt City will host Palmerston North Marist in the capital with the visitors needing to be wary of deadly attacking duo Sarah Gregorius and New Zealand U-20 international Emma Main.
The only South Island clash is between Dunedin Technical and Christchurch’s Coastal Spirit, who won the cup in 2013.
Women’s Knockout Cup Quarter-Finals
Saturday 5 August
Upper Hutt City vs Palmerston North Marist, 12pm, Maidstone Park
Dunedin Technical vs Coastal Spirit, 12.30pm, Caledonian Ground
Sunday 6 August
Eastern Suburbs vs Three Kings United, 1pm, Madills Farm
Glenfield Rovers vs Forrest Hill Milford United, 1pm, McFetridge Park