Chris Greenacre wants the Wellington Phoenix reserves to live up to the raised expectations on his young side during the inaugural National League Championship.
The reserves visit Napier City Rovers this afternoon on the opening day of the 10-team competition, which pits the best sides from the Northern, Central and Southern Leagues against each other over a single round-robin format.
Greenacre guided the young Nix to a creditable third place finish in this year’s Central League, a repeat of the team’s 2021 result with an almost entirely new squad.
He believes the reserves have “surprised a lot of people”.
“There’s now an expectation around them because everyone has gone ‘they’re actually alright these guys”,” Greenacre said.
“So there’s a level of performance that they’ve brought to the table, whether they thought they could do it themselves or not, and I think it’s about trying to consistently keep that expectation there and deliver to it over the next nine games.”
Consistent performances are the priority.
“I think towards the end of the Central League season there was a little bit of inconsistency.
“You want to win every single game but you’ve got to give yourself a chance to be in every single game, so we’ll just worry about what we worry about. We won’t worry about any of the opposition. It’s about us, sticking to our structure, sticking to the way we play and trying to get that to the best of our ability consistently and I think we’ll be okay if we do that.
“I’m never going to stand here and say I want to do this, and I want to do that, not with these kids. There’s enough pressure on them anyway, but for them it’s about consistently delivering over nine games, week after week, and building on what they have built so far.”
Close to half of the reserves’ squad helped the Junior All Whites qualify for next year’s FIFA U-20 Men’s World Cup in Indonesia by winning the Oceania U-19 Men’s Championship in Tahiti.
The 10 New Zealand age-group internationals only returned to club duties on Wednesday, but Greenacre isn’t worried about the limited build-up.
“We’ve had enough work over the last eight or nine months so we’ll hit the ground running.
“The main thing is physically the players that stayed behind have worked really hard and shown fantastic attitude while the guys over in Tahiti have been training every single day and obviously have had good competition.
“Now it’s about managing the loads of the players because they’ve been on a different cycle and have had a lot of games in a short period of time. For the first week or so it’s about monitoring the players loads and seeing where they’re at.”
Three Junior All Whites; Noah Karunaratne, Jackson Manuel and Marco Lorenz, as well as senior striker Riley Bidois were part of the Wellington Phoenix squad for their Australia Cup campaign in August, while a number of the reserves have trained with the first team during their pre-season.
“The players that have had a taste of the first team environment have to be demanding of their teammates because we need to lift the level again.
“There’s an expectation for players that step down that there can’t be a discrepancy. We need to be working at the same level as the first team and the expectations need to be exactly the same.”
First team players will also feature for the reserves during the National League Championship, unlike during last year’s South Central Series, when the Phoenix were based in Australia.
“Ultimately it’s about what the first team needs and wants with injuries, suspensions etc and there will be some players that need some game time.
“They’ll step down, that’ll be no problem for us. We’ll adjust accordingly.”
Wellington Phoenix reserves 2022 National League Championship draw (home games in bold):
Saturday, October 1 vs Napier City Rovers at Bluewater Stadium, Napier – 2pm
Sunday, October 9 vs Auckland United at Sky Stadium, Wellington – 12pm
Sunday, October 16 vs Melville United at Sky Stadium, Wellington – 12pm
Saturday, October 22 vs Christchurch United at Christchurch Football Centre, Christchurch – 3pm
Saturday, October 29 vs Miramar Rangers at Fraser Park, Lower Hutt – 2pm
Saturday, November 5 vs Auckland City FC at Kiwitea St, Auckland – 1pm
Sunday, November 13 vs Wellington Olympic at venue TBC – 12pmSunday, November 20 vs Cashmere Technical at English Park – 1pm
Sunday, November 27 vs Birkenhead United at Fraser Park, Lower Hutt – 1pm