After an 18-week pre-season it is no wonder that the Wellington Phoenix players can’t wait to walk out on to Westpac Stadium alongside Brisbane Roar on Sunday afternoon.
After an 18-week pre-season it is no wonder that the Wellington Phoenix players can-t wait to walk out on to Westpac Stadium alongside Brisbane Roar on Sunday afternoon.
Never mind that the Phoenix will be without four senior All Whites, including captain Andrew Durante and Golden Boot runner-up Jeremy Brockie.
Or that eight of the 16-man squad will be pulling on a Phoenix shirt for the first time in a Hyundai A-League fixture.
Throw in the fact that half of them don-t look old enough to shave and you could be forgiven for thinking they may apprehensive.
No way. Of course there will be the opening day nerves that players, even the most experienced, in all 10 clubs will be feeling.
The main thing in the Phoenix lads- minds is that they will finally be playing.
Pre-season games are all well and good, and the Phoenix did pretty well in theirs against A-League opposition, winning two out of three, but there is nothing like the buzz of an A-League encounter as the youngsters are about to find out.
It will be all the better if they enter the stadium to the cheers of a big crowd, and the signs on that front are good with a record number of memberships having been sold.
Head coach Ernie Merrick ran his eyes over the squad for the last time before kick-off when they trained at the match venue on Saturday morning and pronounced they are ready to do battle.
“I think they are ready to go,” Merrick said.
“Most of them, apart from the likes of Albert (Riera) and Jason (Hicks) have been with us for the 18 weeks of pre-season and that will stand them in good stead.
“They know how we are going to play but the cohesion won-t be super smooth right from the off. That takes seven or eight weeks but it will come.”
Merrick is under no illusion of the challenge facing his charges, but over those 18 weeks he has given them the ammunition to use. Now they must fire it.
“We have to win the midfield battle because that will determine the outcome of this game,” Merrick said.
“If we can launch attacks by winning the ball in midfield we have players like Paul Ifill, Kenny Cunningham, Stein Huysegems and Carlos Hernandez up front to do some damage with it.
“Everyone is working hard, even Carlos is defending and winning the ball.
“Vinny and Manny are super workers, and the fitness testing shows we are well ahead of where the players were at this time last year.
“We have a lot of young players in the squad so the contribution of the experienced players is vital.
“Ben Sigmund will have to organise the back line; Vinny and Manny need to do the same in midfield and the experienced front four know what I am looking for from them.”
Merrick named a 16-man squad after the final training session and will finalise the starting XI just before kickoff which is at 5pm.
Wellington Phoenix squad: Jacob Spoonley, James McPeake, Luke Adams, Jason Hicks, Ben Sigmund, Michael Boxall, Reece Caira, Vince Lia, Manny Muscat, Kenny Cunningham, Carlos Hernandez, Albert Riera, Paul Ifill, Tyler Boyd, Stein Huysegems, Hamish Watson.