Reserves looking to evolve in 2023 Central League

The Wellington Phoenix reserves have a settled squad entering the new Central League season.

Head coach Chris Greenacre is able to call on the majority of the group which finished an impressive third in 2022, behind capital heavyweights Wellington Olympic and Miramar Rangers.

Striker Riley Bidois and fullback Adam Supyk are the only significant departures from last year.

“Other than that we’re pretty much as we were,” Greenacre said. “We’ve brought up four or five of the Cap Premier boys to bolster the squad and give them some exposure at this level.”

It is in stark contrast to last season when he entered the Central League with an almost completely new-look squad.

“Continuity with any squad is a positive. We’ve spent a lot of time on the grass working on a lot of different things and it’s difficult to restart again.

“We haven’t had to do that, and the players are more than aware of how we play.

“Like every other organisation and team we’re trying to evolve as well so we’ve added a couple of bits here and there.”

Attacking midfielder Noah Karunaratne in action at the Hilton Petone pre-season tournament in February. Photo credit: Photomac.

The coaching staff reviewed the 2022 season and have identified areas where they want to improve.

“We want to be even fitter than we were.

“We want to be more clinical in front of goal and we’ve done a lot of work this pre-season on our end-product; our finishing and getting more players in the box.

“Collectively we could score more goals throughout the team, rather than it just being left up to the strikers. That’s a target that I’ve set everyone.

“On the flipside it’s about conceding the minimal number of goals. So, we’ve also been working on our set pieces.”

Striker Josh Rudland in action at the Hilton Petone pre-season tournament in February. Photo credit: Photomac.

It has been a disrupted pre-season for the reserves, with a number of players training with the first team and international call-ups. Seven squad members represented the Junior All Whites in Indonesia last month and Noah Karunaratne, Isaac Hughes, Lukas Kelly-Heald and Fin Conchie are currently away with the New Zealand U-22 team.

Despite the disruptions, the Wellington Phoenix reserves won the Hilton Petone Cup last week, beating Wellington Olympic on penalties in the final.

“We were delighted with that. It was not something we set out to do.

“We wanted to try and be as competitive as we could throughout pre-season and then before you know it you’re in the quarter-finals and then suddenly you’re a semi-finalist so it’s like ‘you know what let’s see if we can have a crack at winning this’.

“It doesn’t matter what stage of the season it is whenever there’s silverware to be won you want to do that because that’s ultimately what we’re in the game for.

“Full credit to the players. It took penalties to beat Olympic, but they hung in there. We’ve actually worked on penalties in the pre-season, so it was really nice as a coach to see that come to fruition.”

Reserves head coach Chris Greenacre (left) talks to his assistant Steve Coleman at a Central League match in 2022. Photo credit: Photomac

Greenacre also dedicated the Hilton Petone Cup win to his staff.

“They’ve been incredibly supportive of me. We’ve all stuck together and got through this pre-season.

“The staff across the academy have worked a lot of hours and I appreciate the help they’ve given myself and more importantly the players. It sometimes goes unnoticed the amount of work they do.

“It’s been a far from ideal pre-season, but we’ve galvanised together and to see some silverware at the end of it is very pleasing for everybody.”

The reserves will open the Central League season against Waterside Karori at Fraser Park this Saturday before visiting newcomers Whanganui Athletic next weekend.

They will play eight matches before their season pauses for four weeks from May 13, when a number of the squad will represent New Zealand at the FIFA U-20 World Cup in Indonesia.

The Wellington Phoenix reserves huddle before a Central League match in 2022. Photo credit: Photomac.

Wellington Phoenix reserves squad: 1. Alby Kelly-Heald (gk), 2. Xuan Loke, 3. Lewis Partridge, 4. Lukas Kelly-Heald, 5. Isaac Hughes (c), 6. Fin Conchie, 7. Noah Karunaratne, 8. Dan McKay, 9. Josh Tollervey, 10. Charlie Beale, 11. Josh Rudland, 12. Kaelin Nguyen, 13. Matthew Sheridan, 14. Hayden Thomas, 15. Seth Karunaratne, 17. Ryan Watson, 18. Riley Manuel, 20. Ben Wallace, 22. Marco Lorenz, 24. Jackson Manuel, 25. Fergus Gillion, 29. Daniel Makowem, 32. Joseph Cornille, Eamonn McCarron (gk).

Wellington Phoenix reserves 2023 Central League fixtures (home games in bold):

Saturday, March 25 vs Waterside Karori – Fraser Park – 3pm

Sunday, April 2 vs Whanganui Athletic – Wembley No. 1 – 2pm
Friday, April 7 vs Wellington Olympic – Fraser Park – 3pm
Saturday, April 15 vs Petone – Fraser Park – 3pm
Saturday, April 22 vs North Wellington – Alex Moore Artificial – 3pm
Saturday, April 29 vs Stop Out – Fraser Park – 3pm
Wednesday, May 3 vs Western Suburbs – Fraser Park – 7pm
Sunday, May 7 vs Napier City Rovers – Bluewater No. 1 – 2pm
2023 FIFA U-20 World Cup Indonesia May 20-June 11
Saturday, June 10 vs Waterside Karori – Karori Park No. 1 – 2:30pm
Wednesday, June 21 vs Miramar Rangers – Fraser Park – 7pm
Saturday, June 24 vs Whanganui Athletic – Fraser Park – 3pm

Saturday, July 1 vs Petone – Petone Memorial – 3:30pm
Saturday, July 15 vs Wellington Olympic – Wakefield Park 2 – 3:45pm
Saturday, July 22 vs North Wellington – Fraser Park – 3pm
Saturday, August 5 vs Stop Out – Hutt Park 1 – 2:30pm
Saturday, August 12 vs Napier City Rovers – Fraser Park – 1pm
Sunday, August 27 vs Western Suburbs – Endeavour Park 1 – 2pm
Saturday, September 2 vs Miramar Rangers – David Farrington – 2:30pm