Four young Kiwis join Phoenix on scholarship contracts

The Wellington Phoenix have signed four up and coming New Zealand footballers as scholarship players for the upcoming Liberty A-League season.

Two of the players, Te Reremoana Walker and Charlotte Lancaster, were part of the inaugural Phoenix women’s squad, while Georgia Candy and Michaela Foster are newcomers to the team.

Head coach Natalie Lawrence is thrilled to be able to offer more young New Zealanders the chance to play professional football.

“For us to be able to bring in more Kiwis and give them that taste of professional football and what it might look and feel like at training, and the different intensity level of the game is only going to help them kick on,” Lawrence said.

“There will be opportunities for all the players in the squad, including scholarship players, to put their hands up to be in the team.”

Walker, 18, was on a fulltime contract in the team’s maiden season and featured in all but one of their 14 matches as a centre back and central midfielder.

“Mona (Te Reremoana) doesn’t see it as a demotion,” Lawrence said. “She sees it as another opportunity to get more experience in professional football. That’s the kind of attitude we want, and we’re really pleased with how she’s handling moving to a scholarship spot.

“She has a really bright future. She’s different from a lot of players. She’s incredibly technical and can play a number of positions.”

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA – MARCH 01: Charlotte Lancaster of the Phoenix and Mackenzie Barry of the Phoenix celebrate a goal during the A-League Women’s match between Western Sydney Wanderers and Wellington Phoenix at Wanderers Park, on March 01, 2022, in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Jason McCawley/Getty Images)

Fellow 18-year-old Lancaster, like Walker a Junior Football Fern, was one of the team’s two scholarship players last season and made five A-League appearances.

“Charlotte showed during the under-20 world cup that she has an incredible impact when she comes on,” Lawrence said. “She has a beautiful left foot. She can shoot and score from anywhere.

“We wanted to give her an opportunity again and see whether we can continue developing her into the player we know she can be.”

Candy, 21, is a former Young Football Fern. The goalkeeper was part of the squad that finished third at the 2018 FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup in Uruguay.

Originally from Waikato, she joined the Phoenix academy this year to be coached by the academy’s head of goalkeeping Ruben Parker.

“Being able to get four scholarship players this year, a goalkeeper was always a priority for us and Candy was at the top of our list,” Lawrence said.

“She’s incredible. She’s an outrageous shot stopper, she’s good with her feet, she commands the area and she adds an intensity to training that will keep Bri (Brianna Edwards) and Lily (Alfeld) on their toes.”

Capital’s Georgia Candy celebrates after making a save. ISPS Handa 2020 Women’s Premiership final between Canterbury Pride and Capital Football at English Park, Christchurch. Sunday 20th December 2020. © Copyright Image: Martin Hunter / www.photosport.nz

Foster, 23, is a former New Zealand age-group international too. She captained the Young Football Ferns at the 2016 FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup in Jordan.

Also from Waikato, Foster now plays for Northern Rovers in the national women’s league.

“Mickey’s somebody we’ve been keeping an eye on for the last year or so,” Lawrence said. “She came in and played some games for us up in Auckland, and every weekend I’m watching national league games and she’s been a consistent performer throughout the season.

“She can play any position on the field, she can use both feet and she was the captain of the New Zealand under-17 women’s team so she understands high performance.

“Being able to offer her a scholarship spot is giving her an opportunity to see whether she can really kick on with her football. That’s pretty exciting we can do that for her, and she’s earnt it.”

The four scholarship players take the Phoenix women’s squad to 20, with two potential spots to be filled.

The women are in their first week of pre-season training, with their historic opening round match in Wellington against Melbourne City on Sunday, November 20.