MATCH PREVIEW | The Highs and Lows of 150 Games for Dura

Wellington Phoenix captain Andrew Durante will reach a rare milestone on Sunday when he leads his team out for the 150th time against Melbourne Heart at AAMI Park.

Wellington Phoenix captain Andrew Durante will reach a rare milestone on Sunday when he leads his team out for the 150th time against Melbourne Heart at AAMI Park.

It doesn-t seem that long ago since some of the Phoenix backroom staff watched Durante help Newcastle Jets win the 2008 Hyundai A-League Grand Final over Central Coast Mariners.

The question on everyone-s lips in the room that day was “will Dura still come to the Phoenix now he has won the title” even though he had signed a pre-contract agreement with the Wellington club.

Fortunately for the Phoenix Durante is a man of his word, but as he cast his mind back to that day he couldn-t resist a laugh.

“Tony Pignata (then Phoenix CEO) was texting me throughout the finals series to make sure I was coming to New Zealand,” Durante said.

“After the final I got another text asking if I was still coming, but it was never in doubt once I had signed the pre-contract.”

After six years and 149 games does Durante, who is now a New Zealand citizen and an All Whites regular, have any regrets?

“None,” he says firmly. “There have been plenty of ups and downs but what an experience it has been.

“Signing for the club was exciting, but then the loss of Terry (Serepisos) and the ownership problems was a difficult time for me because as captain I was in the front line for all the questions.

“Making the finals three years in succession was at the other end of the scale. It was an awesome experience.

“The first time in particular was really special as we had two games at home and playing front of massive crowds at Westpac Stadium is probably the highlight of my career.

“It was such an incredible experience, but then there were the low points of getting the wooden spoon and Ricki (Herbert) resigning.

“Ernie arriving provided another high. To be honest I-ve enjoyed it all - the good and the bad.”

Durante has missed only 11 games during his time at the Phoenix, an amazing record for a central defender.

“Yeah, it is a good record to have and it is something I have prided myself on,” he says.

“I thought the best way to lead the team was to be on the field as much as possible and I wanted to be available for every single game.

“Yellow cards is usually what makes centre backs miss games so I-ve tried to keep cards to a minimum.”

Durante has seen players come and go over the seasons, so who is the best he has played with in Wellington?

After much thought Durante plumps for Paul Ifill as his No 1 pick.

“We-ve had a lot of really good players but Paul is the most exciting and definitely the best foreigner to come through the club.”

The captain has also seen several good players discarded simply because they didn-t fit into the culture created at the Phoenix.

“The culture is the main thing we pride ourselves on. It doesn-t matter if you are a fantastic player, if you don-t have a good attitude we aren-t interested in you.

“A few players have been found out in that regard during my time here and have been moved on pretty quickly.”

While Sunday-s game is a fantastic milestone for Durante, he is quick to point out it is more important to get three points and keep up a challenge for the finals.

“It is going to be an exciting finish to the competition with six or seven teams in the mix for the last four playoff places,” he said.

“With five games to go each one is crucial and we need to be picking up maximum points.

“Heart gave us a touch up on our home ground but hopefully we can go over there, play well and get three points.”

Wellington Phoenix v Melbourne Heart Sunday 16 March @ AAMI Stadium, Melbourne. Kick off is 4.00pm local time, 6.00pm on Sky Sport 3 in NZ.