New-look reserves ready for 2022 Central League

The Wellington Phoenix reserves are able to wear club colours in the Central League for the first time.

After three seasons playing as Lower Hutt City AFC, the reserves will officially play as the Phoenix in the 2022 Central League, which starts this weekend.

Academy technical director Paul Temple says it’s an exciting step forward for the club.

“Up until this point we’ve always had to have a partner club and the rules and the regulations of the leagues have never accounted for the Wellington Phoenix in its own right,” Temple said.

“The game has acknowledged the need to address that the Phoenix academy is here to stay and play a big part in the development of young players across the country.

“It’s a sign of positive change in terms of the Wellington Phoenix being accepted in the New Zealand Football landscape and being a member of the system.

“I know that the boys are always keen to represent the Phoenix and wear the kit and the badge on their chest. It gives them that acknowledgement that they’re in the system and they’re part of a bigger club.

“We are really grateful for the support of Lower Hutt City during this transition, they have been a huge part of the growth of the academy.”

The Phoenix’s relationship with Lower Hutt will continue, with the academy’s under-19 and under-18 sides to play in the Capital Premier League and Capital 1 under the club’s name.

Temple has stepped aside from coaching the Phoenix reserves, with club legend Chris Greenacre taking over a new-look squad, with only a couple of players remaining from the team that finished third in the 2021 Central League, just six points behind champions Wellington Olympic.

Alex Paulsen, Ben Old, Oskar van Hattum, Finn Surman, Kurtis Mogg, Henry Gray, Jackson Manuel and golden boot George Ott are now with the Phoenix first team, while a number of others have moved abroad.

“It’s a massive step up for them all and it’s one they’ll thrive in,” Greenacre said.

“They’re not daunted by it. This group of players have got a real belief. They were the champions of Cap Prem and they’re taking that confidence with them.

“On our day when our game comes together, we’re certainly a match for everyone and will cause a lot of teams a problem.

“My expectation is just to see the team grow from the start of the season until the end of the season and maybe they’re judged in a season’s time when they’ve got a bit of experience at playing week-in, week-out this level.

“It’s going to be a bumpy road along the way I’m sure, but they’ll learn vastly from it.”

The learning has already started in pre-season with matches against Miramar Rangers and North Wellington.

“We had a good performance against Miramar before COVID hit us and we gave a good account of ourselves, so the boys are going into the season full of confidence.”

Twelve players tested positive for COVID-19 in pre-season, but Chris Greenacre says they’re at full-strength for their season-opener against Miramar Rangers at Fraser Park on Sunday afternoon.

“It’s obviously been a distraction, but we won’t use it as an excuse because everyone else is in the same boat and it’s probably affected other teams more than it has us.

“The boys have worked really, really hard in pre-season. They’ve had some really good performances and we’ve worked on a lot of stuff so they can’t wait to get the season underway.”

Greenacre is hoping he can help bridge the gap between the reserves and the first team and “get them to think like pros”.

“There are certainly players here who can step up to the first team level eventually. I’m not saying they’re anywhere near ready now, but they’re showing glimpses of what they could be capable of in the future.

“Not just here at the Phoenix, but in New Zealand in general the future is really bright at the moment. There are a lot of talented young players in New Zealand.”

Wellington Phoenix reserves squad: 1. Alby Kelly-Heald (GK), 2. Joseph Chiari, 3. Adam Supyk, 4. Lukas Kelly-Heald, 5. Isaac Hughes, 6. Dan McKay. 7. Noah Karunaratne, 8. Fin Conchie, 9. Riley Bidois, 10. Charlie Beale, 11. Kaelin Nguyen, 12. Blake Chandler, 13. Matthew Sheridan, 14. Joshua Rudland, 15. Marco Lorenz, 16. Fergus Gillion, 17. Sebastian Barton-Ginger, 18. Ben Wallace, 19. Billy Check, 20. Callum Kennett (GK), 21. Jonathon Sims, 22. Joshua Tollervey