High hopes for Central women under returning coach Simon Lees

Defender Sarah Morton will be a key player for the Central national women's league team this season.

Defender Sarah Morton will be a key player for the Central national women's league team this season.

Simon Lees is back in charge of the Central women's football team and he is ambitious as ever.

Central start the national women's league this weekend and Lees, returning to coach the side for the first time since 2013, is positive about the team's chances this year.

In his last start as coach Central finished fourth and weren't far off qualifying for the preliminary finals, so after the side has finished sixth out of seven teams the past two seasons, Lees was keen to do better.

They have had three pre-season games - a draw with Capital, a loss to Waikato-Bay of Plenty and a win over Capital, so most of the squad has played a lot of minutes recently.

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Lees said the squad, which is spread from Hawke's Bay to New Taranaki have been committed to training and players have been travelling every week and they are all buying into what they're trying to do.

"Every time you can look at the other regions and say who they've got and all those sorts of things, but the work ethic and the ability we've got in this group, I expect really big things," he said. "The expectation helps the players."

Lees should be able to get the best out of the squad largely made up of players from the Palmerston North Marist club side.

There are no senior internationals in the team, but they have a handful of New Zealand age-group players and national futsal players.

Their biggest gain is probably experienced midfielder Leah Gallie, who will captain the side, but they have also picked up experienced strikers Meisha Boone and Aleesha Heywood.

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One loss is attacking midfielder TJ Lyne-Lewis, who is out with injury and she has been replaced by former Black Sticks hockey goalkeeper Georgia Barnett.

Defenders and New Zealand age-group players Amber Phillips and Sarah Morton should play a big role for Central this year, as well as Morton's sister Rose.

Tilly James and Hannah Robert will be threats on attack too.

Central start off against Northern on the North Shore on Sunday and Northern are likely to have Manawatū expats Jane Barnett, Catherine Pretty and Jess Oulaghan.

Northern should be one of the top sides this season and will be a tough ask for Central to start against.

Central: Goalkeepers: Brooke Bennett, Aoife Gallagher-Forbes, Courtney Norman. Defenders: Jenna Barry, Mackenzie Barry, Molly Woodhead, Rose Morton, Sarah Morton, Evie Newman, Amber Phillips, Kate Watson. Midfielders: Aimee Atkins, Emma Crewe, Sophie Crewe, Leah Gallie (captain), Anna Hinton, Ella James, Aniela Jensen, Chantelle Lebon. Forwards: Georgia Barnett, Meisha Boone, Aleesha Heywood, Tilly James, Hannah Robert.

 - Stuff

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