Kicks off in Dunedin this weekend
In addition to the established core of Futsal Whites throughout the eight teams, the competition’s third season once again sees a familiar trend of football “converts” named in the respective rosters.
The league is played over three weekend series spread throughout the summer of 2012/13 – ASB Stadium in Auckland hosts Series Two in February and the final round is in Wellington at the ASB Sports Centre in March.
For the first time all seven of New Zealand Football federations have entered teams, including two from Central Football, reflecting the greater role of federations in running the FIFA-endorsed version of indoor football in their regions.
Defending champions Auckland start as the favourites after claiming the 2011/12 title with a perfect 14 wins from 14 matches in round robin and finals action.
League MVP Dylan Manickum also claimed the golden boot with a season tally of 19, well ahead of his Auckland and Futsal Whites teammates Bakr al Saudi and Miro Major in second and third respectively. Manickum also claimed the New Zealand Football futsal player of the year award in May.
The Super City side will once again boast more Futsal Whites than any other team in the league, however all sides bar Manawatu can name a current international in their 25 player roster.
Elsewhere, Mainland was the big surprise last season and with Capital will lead the charge to reach the benchmark clearly set by Auckland.
Kuba Sinkora and Daniel Burns were the standout players during Mainland’s progression to the final last season and will once again bare the most responsibility for repeated success.
Capital is packed with current and former Futsal Whites and will expect big things from a fully fit Micky Malivuk and custodian David Plowright, who took out the golden glove award for best goalkeeper. There is a cosmopolitan feel to the Capital squad once again with a smattering of Brazilians and the flair of Shingo Ina of Japan.
Northern seem bolstered by the arrival of experienced trio Felipe Bernardi in a dual role as player and coach, Hicham Kamri and Ouadhah Ragued complimenting the youthful exuberance of ASB Trans Tasman squad members Harvey Mills and Jan Fischer. There will also be huge interest around Chinese international Jiong Zhang.
WaiBOP are the new boys on the block but feature promising Futsal White Elliot Collier in their ranks, along with former internationals Wayne Bates and Brayden Lissington, as well as ASB Premiership experience in Mark Jones.
Hawke’s Bay has been investing in youth for some time now, with many of their talented juniors coming of age. Most notably Futsal White Tai Barham and squad member Mitch Webber, while Nat Wright has established himself as a regular goal scorer in the ASB Futsal National League. There will also be attention around a pair of Solomon Islanders in Joachim Rande and Arnold Keni.
Experienced campaigners Murray Burling and Ian Robinson headline the Manawatu squad with former international Greg O’Connor set to return from injury during series two in Auckland.
South loom as a dark horse with Michael Sannum leading the campaign on and off the pitch, and big Brazilian Carlos Hermann will hope his talismanic effect will be felt at home in series one.
Depending on your outlook the ASB Futsal National League either rounds out or kicks off a bumper year of activities as Futsal Development Manager Dave Payne notes.
“This year we hosted the historic first-ever FIFA-sanctioned futsal international on home soil against the Futsalroos in the first annual ASB Trans Tasman challenge.
“And while Australia won the series three-nil, the Futsal Whites – under new coach Scott Gilligan – improved with every appearance on court.
“Next year looms as a watershed year for futsal in New Zealand with approval from the OFC Executive Committee to host the futsal championship for the first time, and a number of international opportunities emerging following the FIFA Futsal World Cup in Thailand,” said Payne.
However, underpinning the increase in elite competitions such as the ASB National Futsal League and international activities is a desire to grow the sport at grassroots level.
“Ultimately all of the international activity is designed with the thought of raising awareness of, and participation in futsal,” said Payne.
New Zealand Football has helped source funding for 13 dedicated futsal staff across all seven federations and delivered the national junior festival and youth championships, the New Zealand secondary school championships, and the national girls and women’s tournament within the calendar of events for 2012.