National women's league retains youth focus
The national women's football league will retain the youth restrictions and development focus introduced last year when the new season opens this weekend.
Like last season, the national league will be a predominately under-20 competition but with five over-age players allowed in each squad of 24. No more than three over-age players may take the field at any one time.
Teams can select any age-restricted players who reside or play within their boundaries but will be able to draft their quota of over-age players from any region.
The seven federation teams will again be split into two conferences and this season an eighth team, a Northern Conference development squad, will replace the Auckland development squad.
That squad will be comprised with an eye of developing slightly younger players for the 2014 under-20 women's World Cup, especially those too old for the current under-17 cycle.
In one change from last season, the league will be completed before Christmas, with a final on December 4, rather than beginning after the New Year break.
Defending champions Capital Football will again be spearheaded by talismanic striker and captain Renee Leota whose 13 goals in eight games led the Wellington based side to their first title in seven years.
Six time champions Auckland Football, coached by Jill Gilmore, will again be among the favourites despite not being able to call on the services of nine Football Ferns who have left the catchment area and signed professional contracts overseas since last season.
Former Football Fern Rebecca Tegg will be looking to add to her four national league golden boot trophies and could be partnered by exciting 14-year-old up-and-comer Martine Puketapu, who has already represented New Zealand at under-17 level.
Outside Auckland and Capital, who are the only sides to have won the national league since its inception in 2002, last season's beaten finalists Waikato-Bay of Plenty along with a promising Northern Football side loom as the main challengers.