By MATTHEW MCKEW
The allure of a new South Island-wide football league’s having the desired impact in Otago, with Queenstown Rovers finding themselves locked in a season-long, hard-fought battle for a place in the coveted higher division.
Five games in and Queenstown’s senior men’s team are midtable in their current league, the Otago Daily Times Men’s Southern Premiership, but they’re just five points off leaders
South City Royals, with a game in hand.
This year, the top three after 14 matches will break away for the inaugural South Island League, which also includes five teams from the South Island’s northern regions’ Mainland Premier League.
It’s part of a heap of changes made by New Zealand Football, including an Oceania Champions League in October, aimed at promoting more youngsters into the professional
‘‘Everybody’s fighting for the same outcome and the league is a more challenging competition for it,’’ Rovers gaffer Jamie Whitmarsh says.
Should his side win away against reigning champions Green Island this weekend, they could be catapulted into the qualifying slots.
But Whitmarsh says it won’t be easy, especially as he finds himself in that ever-familiar position of having to rebuild his squad, having retained only seven players from last season.
It’s nothing new for the coach, but what’s added to the challenge is his inability to call on the likes of All Whites under-20s prodigy Will Ebbinge.
Instead, Whitmarsh says he’s got a bunch of ‘‘hardworking, honest lads’’ who don’t give in.
That determination’s partly why Rovers games have all been tight — their two losses being by just one goal.
‘‘There’s no middle ground for us, we don’t settle for a point, we are always trying to win and that’s to our detriment sometimes, maybe we need to rein that in a bit.’’
It proved their undoing last week at home to the University of Otago, when they lost 2-1 — Kyle Reid bagging the home team’s goal.
Whitmarsh remains upbeat, though, and hopes with more games will come better understanding among his players.