The Wellington Phoenix are welcoming a perennial Liberty A-League contender to Aotearoa for the team’s maiden match in Auckland.
The Phoenix are playing host to Sydney FC at North Harbour Stadium on Sunday afternoon.
The Sky Blues have played in the grand final in each of the past five seasons and comprehensively won their first two meetings with the Nix last season.
Wellington head coach Natalie Lawrence is welcoming the test for her young side, at a venue that feels like home for most of the squad.
“We’re really looking forward to having them (Sydney) here,” Lawrence told media on the eve of the match.
“We’re really looking forward to being in Auckland. A lot of us have trained here (at North Harbour) for a number of years.
“Some players have trained here (on the outer oval) but have never gone into there (the main stadium) so this is a big event for them.
“We want to make New Zealand home and make it as hard as we can for Sydney.”
It is the Phoenix’s first match on home soil since they broke through for a resounding 5-0 win over Canberra United five weeks ago.
The team have only played two A-League matches since January 22, due to a bye and last week’s FIFA international break.
“You look at February and you’re like ‘good way to reassess’ but we’re definitely feeling like we haven’t had a game,” Lawrence said.
“We tried to do as much as we could during those two weeks.
“[But] Sydney will be in the same boat. They’ve had players away with the Matildas and Ireland.”
Betsy Hassett, Kate Taylor, Paige Satchell, Mackenzie Barry, Michaela Foster and Brianna Edwards have re-joined the Nix, having been part of the Football Ferns squad for their internationals against Portugal and Argentina.
“They got back yesterday. Some of them that didn’t get big minutes did a light training with us so we could talk to them about what we’re going to do against Sydney.
Hassett is the only Ferns squad member who is being closely monitored by the club’s physio.
“She was the one that played three 90s. Everyone else has come back pretty well so we’re pretty pleased.”
Hassett also broke her nose in New Zealand’s second match against Argentina on Thursday night.
“We’re currently going through concussion protocols with her. It’s 50-50 whether she’ll be available.”
The Phoenix have brought an extra player to Auckland as cover and Natalie Lawrence will also be able to call on young attacking midfielder Alyssa Whinham for the first time since round four.
“This is a good test for her. She’ll be limited but it’s a good opportunity for her to get back in with the team.”
Taylor is available for selection again too after sitting out Wellington’s defeat to Western Sydney due to suspension.
Both of the Nix’s previous meetings with Sydney FC came in New South Wales in December 2021, when New Zealand’s professional women’s football team was very much in its infancy.
“We know their threats so we’ll do what we can to nullify them, whilst knowing what we can offer as well.”
The Phoenix may sit five points adrift of the bottom of the A-League ladder, but Lawrence believes her players still have a lot to play for over the remaining six weeks of the competition.
“They’ve got a world cup they’re vying to get into the squad for, (Claudia) Cicco with the 20s as well. It’s not just about Kiwis, it’s about the Aussies too.
“We’re trying to build something, and we want that to continue by using the good crop of players that we’ve got here and then adding some reinforcements.
“We’ll do what we can, work as hard as we can on the field to prove that and see what happens at the end of the season.”
The 15th round Liberty A-League match between the Wellington Phoenix and Sydney FC is scheduled to kick-off at North Harbour Stadium in Auckland at 1:00pm (11:00am AEDT) on Sunday and will be broadcast LIVE on Sky Sport 2 & 7 in New Zealand and Paramount+ and 10 Play in Australia.
Most recent A-League meeting: 30 December 2021 – Wellington Phoenix 0 Sydney FC 5
All-time A-League head-to-head: Phoenix 0W, Sydney 2W & 0D
Wellington Phoenix squad: 2. Saskia VOSPER, 3. Kate TAYLOR, 4. Mackenzie BARRY, 5. Marisa VAN DER MEER, 7. Chloe KNOTT, 8. Grace WISNEWSKI, 9. Ava PRITCHARD, 10. Alyssa WHINHAM, 11. Betsy HASSETT, 12. Brianna EDWARDS (gk), 13. Paige SATCHELL, 14. Michaela ROBERTSON, 15. Zoe MCMEEKEN, 16. Emma ROLSTON, 17. Claudia CICCO, 18. Te Reremoana WALKER, 19. Charlotte LANCASTER, 20. Milly CLEGG, 21. Michaela FOSTER, 22. Georgia CANDY (gk).
Unavailable: 1. Lily ALFELD (gk) (injured), 6. Isabel GOMEZ (injured).
Sydney FC squad: 1. Jada WHYMAN (gk), 2. Mary STANIC-FLOODY, 3. Charlotte MCLEAN, 4. Anna GREEN, 5. Kirsty FENTON, 6. Sarah HUNTER, 7. Teigan COLLISTER, 8. Rachel LOWE, 9. Madison HALEY, 11. Cortnee VINE, 12. Natalie TOBIN (c), 14. Abbey LEMON, 15. Mackenzie HAWKESBY, 16. Deborah-Anne DE LA HARPE, 19. Charlize RULE, 20. Princess IBINI, 21. Shay HOLLMAN, 24. Shay EVANS, 25. Rola BADAWIYA, 30. Katie OFFER (gk).
Unavailable: 18. Taylor RAY (injured).