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Canterbury look to continue their dominance in Women's League Final

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

Canterbury United Pride will look to make history on Sunday when they host Auckland Football in the National Women’s League Final in Christchurch.

The defending champions, who finished top of the table after four wins, a draw and a loss this season, are hoping to win their fourth title in the past five years of the premier women’s football competition in New Zealand. The Pride have a remarkable record and will play in their fifth successive NWL Final on Sunday.

The Mike De Bono-coached side know it won’t be easy when they come up against a young and exciting Auckland side who are the most successful side in National Women’s League history with six titles.

De Bono said the team have had a good week of training and said the secret to their recent success in the National Women’s League is the team’s unrelenting belief.

"To reach the final again, our fifth in a row, is a great achievement and testament to this group," said De Bono ahead of the Grand Final. "It is exciting. We have a team that knows how to win. You can look back at games over time where we have been down but we just keep going for the win and we will be drawing on that this weekend when we take on a strong Auckland side."

The head coach said even with their strong home record, they are taking nothing for granted in the Grand Final at English Park.

"There is no expectation that we will win. You could see from the competition this year, in the second to last round there were five teams who could have made the finals. It has been very competitive. There is pressure on both teams and we take confidence from the fact that we have been in the final five years in a row and we are playing in front of our home fans."

The Pride have experience in Football Ferns Annalie Longo, Meikayla Moore, Victoria Esson and Aimee Phillips, and many others have pulled on the white jersey at youth level.

It will be the first time that Auckland and Canterbury have met in the National Women’s League Final which dates back to 2004 (it was a straight round robin in 2002 and 2003).

Captain Longo said it was crazy feeling playing in her fifth final in a row and she is expecting Auckland to be up for the fight.

"We pride ourselves on setting the bar for the league and this success has built over the years when we had Gareth [Turnbull] and a quality coaching staff. They started it and it is great to keep building on that and hopefully it continues into the future," said the 26-year-old who has played 103 A Internationals for New Zealand.

"They present a tough challenge. They have four Football Ferns within their side so they are players that we have to nullify, but we have just been focusing on us and the way we want to play. If we are aggressive and execute our game plan that gives us a good chance."

Meanwhile, Auckland finished second on the table only one point back from the Pride after four wins and two losses during the regular season.

They confirmed their place in the NWL Final last weekend when they defeated Southern United, one of the stories of the competition with their success in 2017, 3-1 at Keith Hay Park in Auckland.

Auckland travels to Christchurch for their first final since 2012 and they will look to win their first title since 2009.

They boast plenty of players with big game experience. Football Ferns Liz Anton, Hannah Blake and Stephanie Skilton, who all made their international debuts on the recent successful Ferns tour of Thailand, are joined by Football Fern squad member Grace Jale, who scored a stunning goal in the preliminary final, and New Zealand age group representative Jacqueline Hand.

"The girls are excited but at the same time they are focused and switched on," said Auckland coach Gemma Lewis.

"We are treating it like any other game, but we know we have worked hard to come this far and there is good team spirit amongst the group. We want to make the most of this opportunity. We know what to expect and we are looking forward to it."

Lewis said the National Women’s League Grand Final is an opportunity for her young team to make a name for themselves.

"I want them to show what they are made of and show all the things we have been working on," she said. "We get better with every game we play so for us it is about putting it all together and delivering a complete performance. Having it live on SKY Sport and being able to represent Auckland with a performance they are proud of is something they want to put out there."

Please find attached audio from interviews with:

Canterbury United Pride coach Mike De Bono

Canterbury United Pride captain Annalie Longo

Auckland Football Federation coach Gemma Lewis

National Women’s League Final

When: Sunday 10 December, 2017, kick off 1.30pm, Live on SKY Sport

Where: English Park, Christchurch

Who: Canterbury United Pride v Auckland Football Federation

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