Wellington Phoenix head coach Natalie Lawrence is encouraging her players to “enjoy” the first game of women’s professional football in Aotearoa.
The Phoenix are playing host to Melbourne City on Sunday afternoon in the opening round of the 2022-23 Liberty A-League season, after being forced to play the entirety of their maiden campaign in Australia.
Lawrence says she’s “feeling all emotions possible; nerves, excitement [and] anticipation”.
“A lot of hard work has gone into, not just having this professional side as a whole but, having home games,” she told media on Friday.
“Last season we really wanted to be home, we wanted to be here and now it’s happening.
“It’s my first game as a head coach of the Phoenix. I consider Wellington my home. It’s crazy.
“We’re going to do our very best to enjoy the occasion on Sunday because it’s going to be a big one.”
Lawrence is confident the players won’t be overawed by the enormity of the event.
“We’ve mentioned it but we haven’t fully focused on it.
“One of the big things this week was whilst we’ve moved from pre-season into season nothing changes. The process is the process and that’s the one thing we can control.
“We went through it last year with the first game of the season being this huge momentous occasion and the feeling is the same.
“What the girls have done this week, being in the media and talking about trying to get this 10,000 [crowd] that’s channelled their focus in a different way so they get out everything there and then when they’re training they’re fully focussed on training and how they can beat City.
“There will be a lot of nerves, but how they channelled it last year they’re even more well equipped this year.”
The Phoenix women picked up an historic point on debut against Western Sydney Wanderers last year before picking up breakthrough wins against Canberra United and Western Sydney.
They have raised expectations this season, now they’re based in Wellington.
“One of the things I’ve always said is we obviously never go in to lose any game. We set ourselves up to win and we want to stay in the race. For as long as we possibly can we want to stay in the race,” Lawrence said.
“We have realistic targets. We came bottom last year [and] that’s not going to be acceptable this year for the club, for us and for the players. None of us want that again and we want to stay in the race for the finals for as long as we can.
“If we control what we can and stick to our process then the outcome will look after itself.”
As well as being able to enjoy the comforts of home, Natalie Lawrence has been able to bolster the squad, with Football Ferns Betsy Hassett, Paige Satchell and Emma Rolston adding international experience to the Nix.
All three recently represented the Ferns in their two internationals against South Korea, with Mackenzie Barry, Kate Taylor and Grace Wisnewski also spending time with the national squad.
“Whilst the timing sometimes isn’t amazing and losing quite a few players in pre-season came at a tricky time, the fact that they can play high level international games at home before our first game is quite a positive for us.
“Having Betsy and Paige being able to play makes a huge difference.”
Unfortunately Rolston and Wisnewski sustained injuries and will miss Sunday’s opening match, along with club captain Lily Alfeld, midfielder Isabel Gomez and forward Michaela Robertson.
“We have a few injuries for our first game, but we still feel pretty happy. We’ve developed quite a strong squad this year and we know we have the players to still put on a strong performance.”
The opening round Liberty A-League match between the Wellington Phoenix and Melbourne City is scheduled to kick-off at Sky Stadium in Wellington at 3:00pm (1:00pm AEDT) and will be broadcast LIVE and free-to-air on Prime Television and on Sky Sport 1 in New Zealand and Paramount+ and 10 Play in Australia.
Most recent meeting: 9 January 2022 – Melbourne City 4 Wellington Phoenix 0
All-time A-League head-to-head: Phoenix 0W, City 1W & 0D.
Wellington Phoenix squad: 2. Saskia VOSPER, 3. Kate TAYLOR, 4. Mackenzie BARRY, 5. Marisa VAN DER MEER, 7. Chloe KNOTT, 9. Ava PRITCHARD, 10. Alyssa WHINHAM, 11. Betsy HASSETT, 12. Brianna EDWARDS (gk), 13. Paige SATCHELL, 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) (c) (injured), 6. Isabel GOMEZ (injured), 8. Grace WISNEWSKI (injured), 14. Michaela ROBERTSON (injured).
Melbourne City FC squad: 1. Sally JAMES (gk), 3. Naomi CHINNAMA, 4. Chelsea BLISSETT, 6. Leticia MCKENNA, 7. Julia GROSSO, 8. Kaitlyn TORPEY, 10. Rhianna POLLICINA, 13. Emina EKIC, 14. Katie BOWEN, 15. Emma CHECKER (c), 18. Leah DAVIDSON, 19. Maria Jose ROJAS, 20. Caitlin KARIC, 21. Isabella ACCARDO, 22. Bryleeh HENRY, 23. Melissa BARBIERI (gk), 24. Daniela GALIC, 25. Darcey MALONE.
Unavailable: 5. Tori TUMETH (injured), 9. Holly MCNAMARA (injured), 16. Karly ROESTBAKKEN (injured), 17. Hannah WILKINSON (injured).