Away day successes for Wellington Phoenix haven’t exactly been a regular occurrence during their six year history – indeed, (as many fans will probably be able to quote off the top of their heads), the ‘Nix have won only 18 of their 86 games in Australia.
So the 3-1 win over Western Sydney Wanderers must go down as one of their best-ever on the road, particularly as Ernie Merrick’s team trailed with just a quarter of the game remaining.
Such wins not only bring pleasure to Phoenix supporters, they also serve as a timely reminder to fans in Australia what a New Zealand team can bring to the competition. They also silence – briefly – the periodic cries across the Tasman that the ‘Nix should be ditched from the A-League, in favour of an all-Australian league.
I’ve never subscribed to that theory.
Not only do Australia and New Zealand have a long history of shared competition at domestic level – in Rugby Union, League and Basketball, to name but three other sports – but Australians do sometimes forget that as the “big brother” in the relationship, they are doing a sterling job in helping the development of football.
Lest we forget, the Phoenix are not just the only professional football club in New Zealand, but Oceania too. Australia should remember only too well the difficulties faced by countries in that region, so, after reaching out to Asia for assistance to develop their own game, it should be only natural they do their bit elsewhere in return.
In fact, far from severing ties with New Zealand, I’d be seeking to bolster them.
Firstly, it’s good news that Wellington will be allowed into the new FFA Cup starting later this year, especially after plenty would have preferred them excluded.
But a comment by Ernie Merrick in the post-game press conference in Parramatta served as a stark reminder of the problems the Phoenix face in trying to stay competitive.
Merrick re-iterated that developing Kiwi youngsters was no easy task, given the lack of a team in the Australian National Youth League.
That door has remained firmly closed to Wellington since their admittance into the senior competition in 2007. Finances are probably the main reason – but if the ‘Nix can find a way to subsidise the Australian end of things, then surely it’s an option worth pursuing again?
Team Wellington offers one path for youngsters through the domestic ASB Premiership, but with only 14 regular season games, developing players need more competitive matches.
The kind of experience on offer in the NYL would be invaluable for the sort of players Merrick is trying to introduce into his senior squad. As we saw in Parramatta, Matthew Ridenton, Tyler Boyd and Louis Fenton, along with others such as Alex Rufer and Luke Adams, wouldn’t struggle to compete.
The clubs current injury situation also shows just how crucial having a good pool of youngsters to draw on can actually be. League leaders Brisbane have had similar woes, but have been able to draft in the likes of Donachie, Yeboah, Acton, Borrello and Theodore, all of whom have seen significant NYL action.
A stronger development path for Kiwi youngsters would also eventually strengthen the A-League. With no immediate plans for expansion by FFA, their focus (in their own words), is on ensuring the competitiveness of the existing competition.
One way they can do that is by allowing the ‘Nix to compete in the NYL. The only question remaining is the money, on which note, larger crowds at the Cake Tin would certainly help swell the coffers at Phoenix HQ.