• Sixteen-year-old earns Rovers No 1 keeper's role

Sixteen-year-old earns Rovers No 1 keeper's role

Had the Covid-19 pandemic not played havoc with New Zealand sport during the past 12 months Hawke's Bay football keeper Oscar Mason would have been Auckland-based now.

Mason, 16, left the Bay in July last year. He was scheduled to attend Auckland Grammar so he could play for Central United in the Northern Region League to enhance his chances of making the New Zealand under-17 squad for this year's World Cup in Peru.

Four weeks into his Auckland expedition pandemic level restrictions hit the big smoke again and Mason (pictured above, photo Stephanie Gunther) had 12 hours to leave. While he was unable to return to the Rovers squad he had played 150 minutes for before his departure he continued training in the Bay and made the Hawke's Bay United National Football Championship squad and had one outing for them during the summer.

"It was a no brainer to come home and get coached by Jonathan Gould," Mason said referring to one of the code's top keeping coaches.

"While I made the 24-man New Zealand under-17 squad as one of the three keepers and attended the last training camp the World Cup got cancelled as did the OFC Championship and most age group football in Auckland," Mason explained.

"I'm involved with the New Zealand under-20 team cycle now and hopefully Covid-19 is sorted by the time I get a crack at that World Cup squad," Mason said.

The Napier Boys' High School Year 12 student has the ideal opportunity to show the national selectors what he is capable of when he has the No 1 keeping role for Thirsty Whale Napier City Rovers who open their Central League campaign with an away match against Wainuiomata on Saturday.   

He is expecting Wainuiomata field a younger side than Rovers and he is confident the visitors should be able to get on top of them in the physicality stakes.

Ten teams will compete in this winter's Central League and the top three will qualify for the new-look New Zealand Football Championship to be played from October to December. 

"Top three has to be the goal. But the landscape has changed and that will be a challenge for regional clubs like us. It's not going to be easy up against clubs with bigger resources but our club has a proud history and we have to give it a go," Rovers player-coach Bill Robertson explained.

He pointed out this season's Rovers squad will have a youthful look as the club provides an opportunity for young players within the Bay. Mason's selection as the No 1 keeper reflects that.

Another 16-year-old keeper, Reon Werahiko, will be Mason's deputy this season. 

Robertson added that although Wainuiomata have been promoted to the Central League this season they have partnered up with the Ole Football Academy and are expected to perform well.

"It will be a journey into the unknown for most of us as we haven't played at the Wainuiomata club before."

The Blues journey begins at 6.30am on Saturday as they bus to the capital to prepare for the 2.30pm kick off. 

The Napier City Rovers squad for the season is:

Reon Werahiko, Liam Schofield, Luca Barclay, Isaac Belcher, Tai Barham, Sam Wall, Cameron Emerson, Zac Madsen, Kailan Gould, Ethan Ladd, Josh Stevenson, James Hoyle (captain), Fergus Neil, Luke Minshull, Bill Robertson, Ben Wade, Oscar Mason.