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Unbeaten Melville face stern test

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

High-flying Melville United are yet to be beaten in any competition this season but will face their sternest challenge so far when holders Onehunga Sports come to town in the fourth round of the ISPS Handa Chatham Cup on Saturday.

The Hamilton-based club are currently on course to run away with the Lotto NRFL Division One title and their hopes of a maiden league-and-cup double are still alive after wins over Lynn-Avon United, Ellerslie and Hibiscus Coast in one of New Zealand sport’s most fiercely-contested competitions.

But they are yet to come up against top-flight opposition and it doesn’t come much tougher than Onehunga Sports, who are in the running to claim a second successive double after also winning the NRFL Premier League and Chatham Cup in the previous season.

Sam Wilkinson, joint coach of Melville with Michael Mayne, is fully aware of the scale of the task but insists the players won’t be shying away from it.

"I think they’re probably more excited than anything," he says. "A lot of our boys have got aspirations to go and play at a higher level so to pit themselves against probably the strongest regional club in the country over the last couple of years is a really exciting challenge for them."

Finding chinks in the armour of a side of Sports’ standing won’t be easy but Wilkinson says Melville will be focusing on themselves anyway.

"I think all teams have areas you can look to exploit but our mind set will still very much be focused on imposing our own playing style - we don’t want to go into the game with an inferior mind set," he says.

"We’re aware of the qualities they have but the challenge for us is to go in and dominate the game rather than stop them playing. That’s the mind set that’s been successful for us so far this season and we’ll go into this game in the same frame of mind."

At the heart of Melville’s success has been a professional approach that has brought an increase in training intensity but Wilkinson says he and Mayne do not deserve all the kudos.

"A phrase we often use is trying to create a professional environment within an amateur setting," he says.

"But a lot of credit has to go to the players, we put on a training programme that has four or five sessions a week but the players are the ones that come down and do the work. It’s been a hugely positive response from them to buy into what we’re trying to do and it’s really nice this year to see the programme churning out some results in terms of where we are in the league."

While Wilkinson is keen to heap praise on the players, there’s no doubt the partnership between he and Mayne - long-time friends and former team mates - has also been a major contributing factor.

"I think being mates first and foremost has helped with the coaching relationship," he says. "A lot of people don’t believe it but we are literally on a par in terms of hierarchy, we have discussions and quite often our thought process with tactics and selections are very similar. We’re quite open to debate and disagreeing but we’ve had no issue with fallouts so long may that continue."

Gaining promotion is the primary goal but the allure of the Chatham Cup remains strong in this particular corner of the Waikato.

"You can see straight away the buzz the cup creates and, in terms of raising awareness of what we’re doing and growing interest in the club, it’s magnificent for that," says Wilkinson, who was on the losing side as a player when Melville lost the 2003 final to University-Mt Wellington - the closest they’ve ever come to bringing the trophy to Gower Park.

"It’s amazing to see how the players respond to the cup, in some of the earlier rounds we were looking at bringing other players in and resting players but they were all desperate to play. So the cup is still a huge target for the players and also for Michael and myself - we want to go as far as we can in it."

The clash between Melville United and Onehunga Sports is one of eight matches in round four of the ISPS Handa Chatham Cup this weekend, see below for all the fixture details.

ISPS Handa Chatham Cup Round Four

Saturday 14 July

Melville United vs Onehunga Sports, 2pm, Gower Park

Central United vs East Coast Bays, 2pm, Kiwitea Street

Nelson Suburbs vs Green Island, 2pm, Saxton Field

Wairarapa United vs Stop Out, 5.45pm, Memorial Park (Masterton)

Sunday 15 July

Cashmere Technical vs Roslyn Wakari, 1pm, Garrick Memorial Park

Manukau United vs Mt Albert Ponsonby, 2pm, Centre Park

Birkenhead United vs Western Springs, 2pm, Shepherds Park

North Wellington vs Western Suburbs, 2pm, Alex Moore Park

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