By Anendra Singh, Hawkes Bay Today
While the personnel has changed for Rovers coach Bill Robertson the locker room remains the same. PHOTO/Duncan Brown
When you are nothing but a footnote in a competition it hardly matters whether you change a few spark plugs and administer an oil change to what's under the bonnet of the vehicle to success.
But when you're a marquee Central League soccer team, such as Conroy Removals Napier City Rovers, who are steeped in a rich and proud tradition of bringing home silverware, it's not so cut and dry.
To the outsider who can't understand what all the fuss is about, a mass exodus of players from the previous season is often negated with an equally concerted drive to replenish the reservoir with other talent.
But, again, it's not a hit-that-reboot-button-and-hope way out in an ever-changing landscape that demands a near-overhaul of the engine that drives the heart and soul of an elite winter campaign, in keeping with the pitstop analogy.
Never mind that player/coach Bill Robertson, captain of the 2016-17 Stirling Sports Premiership back-to-back title-winning Team Wellington, was at the cusp of plotting the downfall of powerhouses Auckland City in Albany when his Blues had registered a 3-all stalemate against Lower Hutt City last Saturday at Fraser Park, Wellington, in their opener.
Settling for mediocrity isn't Robertson's style and neither has it ever been ingrained in the flagship club's psyche but he is taking the single point on the road in the face of realism which has left the cupboard bare of more than 50 per cent of stocks from the past two seasons.
"It's a feature of the league now, really. They have been offered better opportunities so it's difficult to try to keep them here, you know," says the England-born coach who is finding it increasingly challenging to raise the stakes in light of resources at his disposal against powerhouse teams at the bigger centres around the country.
"I think it's the most competitive Central League we've been involved in and it's getting stronger and stronger," he says after Rovers finished third in the league last year but only two points shy of champions Wellington Olympic, coming down to the last game in retaining their crown.
Attractive job offers with age-group coaching stints in metropolitan centres are hard to counter with the modest offerings in provincial centres such as Napier and Hastings.
What probably hurts more is that many imported talent are christened in the holy water of Bluewater Stadium, Park Island, which is the stage for the round two match against Western Suburbs in the 2pm kick-off on Sunday.
The frustrations associated with trying to instil a degree of continuity that the Blues enjoyed, say from 2014 to 2015, is reflected on their balance sheet of seasonal spoils - Chatham Cup semifinal in 2014, losing finalists in 2015 and league crown that year with a record number of points (49) and goals (80).
Nevertheless, it goes without saying bedding in new players entails more than just, metaphorically speaking, reading bedtime story books and tucking them soundly under the duvet with a kiss of sweet dreams.
To find cohesiveness and a sixth sense of understanding will require time and, within acceptable levels of human tolerance, patience.
But all that isn't an insurance cover for any impending shortcomings.
Robertson is well into the crouch to brace himself for the challenges with assistant coaches Stu James, and the former All Whites duo and club stalwarts of Perry Cotton and Marty Akers.
The economies of scale suggest the injection and elevation of home-grown talent - such as new captain Fergus Neil, deputy Joshua Stevenson, ex-skipper Danny Wilson, Angus Kilkolly, Ross Willox, Matt Bruin, Ethan Ladd, Jorge Akers and Bradley Perks - a dearth of which is accentuated in the national summer league.
"What we've tried to do is look around the region and retain the best talent we have to bring in some of the younger players who have been doing well in our reserve team in the premier grade to step up into the Central League."
Rightback Charlie Yexley, of Romford, East London, and midfielder Fahad Rwakarambwe, of Southampton, are the two English imports.
With the overlap of the national premiership, some Rovers didn't join the squad trainings until four days before the season kicked off.
Veteran Stu Wilson, elder brother of Danny, is in the lineup tomorrow although he isn't in the squad because Robertson is in New Caledonia this weekend to begin Team Wellington's campaign in the Oceania League.
The Declan Edge-coached Suburbs are an emerging force, evident in the 1-all result against the Greeks, so Robertson is expecting a tough game.
It hasn't missed his attention that Wairarapa United had recruited about six players from Carlton United, the national league newcomers, as well as imports.
Miramar Rangers, he emphasises, will show their might although succumbing 4-1 to Wairarapa last weekend.
It's never a dull moment with the return of Ian McGrath's promoted Team Taranaki who pipped Palmerston North Marist 1-0.
In case the Blues faithful have forgotten, Robertson reiterates the toll the road will takes on Rovers in a predominantly Capital Football-heavy league.
"We're travelling to Wellington very other week when everyone else seems to be just kind of down the road as we get on that mini-bus at six."
Managing the team and fans' expectations, to put it delicately, is imperative.
Long-time Rovers board chairman Russell Booth has stepped down from the position because of career commitments in Auckland with Phil Doran assuming the mantle.
■ NAPIER CITY ROVERS: 1 Ruben Parker Hanks (GK), 2 Blake Koolen, 3 Bradley Perks, 4 Jonny Cox, 5 Matt Bruin, 8 Vinnie Mackirdy, 9 Angus Kilkolly, 10 Fahad Rwakarambwe, 11 Jorge Akers, 12 Ethan Ladd, 14 Josh Stevenson (vc), 15 Jim Hoyle, 16 Danny Wilson, 17 Fergus Neil (c), 18 Ross Willox, 19 Bill Robertson, 20 Charlie Yexley, 21 Kyle Baxter, 22 Joshua Hill (RGK).
Coach: Bill Robertson.
Ast coaches: Stu James, Perry Cotton and Marty Akers.
■ WESTERN SUBURBS: 1 Reed Collingwood (GK), 2 Jonty Bilderbeck, 3 Josh Rogerson, 4 Dalton Wilkins, 7 Elijah Just, 8 Jaga Scott-Greenfield, 9 Noah Billingsley, 11 Xavier Green, 12 Dominic Wooldridge, 14 Owen Parker-Price, 15 Daniel Harford-Silas, 17Ben Sippola, 18 Callum McCowatt, 19 Ihaia Delaney, 21 Isaac Tetteh, 22 Blake Jones.
Coach: Declan Edge.
- Hawkes Bay Today