LADDER leader Riverside Olympic's strong start to the Northern Premier League season faces a big challenge against Ulverstone today but coach Wayne Penfold is confident of securing three points.
Olympic is sitting equal top with reigning champion Somerset and needs to consolidate its two wins in row with a victory against Ulverstone before its bye next week.
English striker Chris Wademan has scored seven goals in two games and appears to be the spark that Olympic needed to challenge for the title after several middling seasons.
Penfold said the Reds always matched up well against his side, which was unchanged for this round.
"We face a big challenge against Ulverstone this week, but while we are wary of Ulverstone, we are confident that we have the team to take it up to them and come away with the right result," he said.
Northern Rangers are wary of Launceston United, which started its season with a 2-0 win against Prospect Knights last week.
Spokesman Brendan Lichtendonk said it would be a tricky match. "They seem to be on the up at the moment, we found them to be defiant in the Hudson Cup, and they are one from one already this year, so they will be full of confidence on their home patch," he said.
Dylan Headland has been called into Rangers' Victory League list for the injured Yitay Towns and will be used sparingly to ensure he is fit for tomorrow's match against South Hobart.
Defender Tenzing Anderson returns to shore up the back line while Ash Fisher will strengthen the centre of the park in his first start in midfield this year.
"For us it will be about getting the season back on track," Lichtendonk said. "We were OK in the first half against Somerset, but in the second we were woeful.
"We threw everything we have been working on out the window, and our senior lads failed to show any leadership or composure for the game plan.
"We have worked hard this week on getting back to our game plan, and I expect our senior lads like Gabriel Tams, Fisher and Stefan Hamilton to execute this flawlessly."
Launceston United coach Robert Murray will miss Mitch Hawksley who has a broken toe that will sideline him for about three weeks, and will replace the winger with Tyler Baker.
"They're going to have at least five decent players in from their Victory League side," he said.
"But we've just got to keep working on what we want to do and focusing on small, five-game blocks at a time."
The North-West Coast derby between title holders Somerset and Burnie United is always a hot contest.
Somerset coach Jeremy De Bomford and 2013 George Dale medallist Kaimon Johnson both remain out injured while Josh Goodwin is unavailable due other commitments.
De Bomford, however, said the club was lucky with its depth with last year's under-18s stepping up and preforming at the higher level.
"We're just going into the game wary of a strong United team coming off a good win," he said.
"We are just looking to implement our game plan and play some solid football."
With their Victory Leagues teams playing at Mitsubishi Park, Devonport City and Launceston City will have strong NPL sides for their curtain raiser.
Devonport coach Malcolm Gorrie said the number of players available was causing a selection headache, with Brendan McCaffrey and Kamil Douglas back in.
"Lonny City will have a good list to choose from so it should be a good battle," Gorrie said.
The 2014 Northern Women's Premier League kicks off tomorrow with 10 teams competing.
WEEKEND DRAW - Northern Premier League: TODAY: Launceston United v Northern Rangers at Birch Avenue (2.30pm); Somerset v Burnie United at Cardigan Street (2.30pm); Riverside Olympic v Ulverstone at Windsor Park (2.30pm); Launceston City v Devonport City at Mitsubishi Park (3pm). Bye: Prospect Knights
Northern Women's Premier League: TOMORROW: Launceston United v Northern Rangers at Birch Avenue (12.30pm); Somerset v Burnie United at Cardigan Street (12.30pm); Launceston City Allies v Prospect Knights at Mitsubishi Park 1 (12.30pm); Riverside Olympic v Ulverstone at Windsor Park (12.30pm); Launceston City v Devonport City at Mitsubishi Park 1 (2.30pm)