Wellington Phoenix v Melbourne City: Preview

by Jonathan Tay (18/11/22)

Above: Action from last season’s game between Melbourne City and Wellington Phoenix. Photo: Daniel Pockett.


Wellington Phoenix vs. Melbourne City, 1:00 pm AEST/2am UK, Sunday 20 November, Sky Stadium, Wellington.


Above: Melbourne City head coach Rado Vidosic. Photo: AP.

At the dawn of a new season, hope springs eternal.

All clubs start on the same level playing field; no team yet to kick a ball in earnest, nor face up to a midfield worth a combined 136 Matildas caps. For Melbourne City, reality hits this Sunday, as they travel across the ditch to face the Wellington Phoenix in New Zealand to open their 2022/23 A-League Women’s campaign.

The biggest question for City to answer this season: are they true title contenders?

“We remember last season; we know what we want this season,” striker Hannah Wilkinson pronounced at the A-League launch on Wednesday. “Our whole team, we had some high expectations, and we didn’t quite achieve them. So it certainly feels like unfinished business.”

Last season, City played a pleasing-on-the-eye, passing-heavy brand of football, led by veteran coach Rado Vidosic. However, though they were runners-up for the premiership, their young side fell short against both Sydney FC and Melbourne Victory in the finals series, missing out on the Grand Final. That unfinished business will likely lead through the same two unyielding obstacles of Sydney and Victory this time round as well.

Whilst a number of the squad have returned this season, City continue to rely on youth (with an average age of 22.8 years), and time will tell if they have enough experience and endurance to last the course.

“We’re going to try to do our best of course,” Vidosic said at his pre-match press conference.  “Who’s going to win it? It’s very hard to predict right now; I think Sydney FC would be one of the favourites again, Melbourne Victory have recruited quite smartly as well. Western United, we played them a couple weeks ago, they’ve got a World Cup winner in their team – they looked very good.

“I think this season [the standard] is going to be a little bit better than what it was last year, which is great. If we can keep on improving our league, I think that’s the main thing – and we’re going to try our best to be there at the end.”

We won’t get answers to all questions straight away, but Sunday’s game provides a softer opening for City, against a Phoenix side who, on paper at least, look to still have an inferior squad. It will be a prime opportunity to see whether this group can continue to maintain Vidosic’s tactical demands for aggressive pressing and calm ball composure, and how the new signings are integrated into the side.

Above: Melbourne City’s Hannah Wilkinson (far left) won’t be able to take to the field in her native New Zealand this weekend due to injury. Photo: Melbourne City.

Most of the recent recruits have travelled with Americans Emina Ekic and Julia Grosso coming in alongside Young Matildas starlets Bryleeh Henry and Daniela Galic. Ex-Sydney FC player Maria Rojas is another welcome addition following news which broke this week that Wilkinson will miss the first month of the season with a quad injury, joining Holly McNamara who’s out long-term with an ACL injury.

Further back, intrigue will surround who steps up to fill the hole in midfield left by Rebekah Stott’s departure. New Zealander Katie Bowen injects a defensive stability, whilst City will be hoping for further internal improvement from the likes of Leah Davidson, Leticia McKenna and Darcey Malone. Karly Roestbakken, who battled injuries throughout last term, will unfortunately also begin this season out of action (foot).

“We’re absolutely firing to try and achieve those goals that we set out,” Wilkinson said. “The core group of players are back, so it’s like we’re kind of picking up from where we left off, but pushing ourselves a little bit harder, to try and really get what we want to achieve.”

We will see City play a small part in a bit of A-League history; taking on the Phoenix in what will be their first proper home game in Wellington, and the first Women’s game hosted outside of Australia in the domestic competition.

Wellington, for their part, will hope to continue to build on the positivity engendered during a difficult, inaugural season. Having been forced to use Wollongong as a home base last year, where they earned just a single point, they’ll be relieved to finally have the comfort of a Kiwi crowd. They showed signs of late improvement, winning two of their last four matches to close out 21/22.

They are unfortunately the only team that does not in fact start on the same level playing field, continuing to be hindered by the inequitable rule which counts Australian-born players towards their foreign quota of five players. Internationals Betsy Hassett and Paige Satchell have however been drafted in to boost the seniority within the team, though goalkeeping captain LIly Alfield will miss their opening fixture, still recovering from knee surgery.

Speaking about the game, Vidosic added, “It’s about a four-hour flight, the length is probably similar to Perth. I think last season we didn’t travel to Perth, so for some of these girls it’ll be the first time they need to use their passports, that’s a good experience. We’ll see how things go, it’s an early morning training in Wellington, but the good thing is we’re playing in a beautiful stadium – apparently they’re going to have a good crowd as well, so I think it’s going to be a cracking game.

“When you’re playing in front of a big home crowd, it’s actually more pressure on you (the home team). Some of our girls played at the (Under-20) World Cup in Costa Rica, in front of 22,000, and did really well, so it’s not that they’ve never faced anything like that.

“I think the pressure is equal, I don’t think the players will have that on their mind when they go out to play. Our experienced girls will help the younger less experienced ones if there are any problems.”


Above: Rhianna Pollicina in action against Adelaide United last season. Photo: Melbourne City.

Rhianna Pollicina had a standout season in 2021/22. She contributed seven goals and three assists and provided the most shot-creating and goal-creating actions of any City player.

She thrived as one of the two “number 10s” in Vidosic’s 3-4-3 formation; not only key in creating chances for her side, but also in Melbourne City’s high-pressing strategy.

She may be one of City’s only familiar faces in the forward areas for Sunday’s game, so the 25-year-old will hope to showcase consistent form to open her sophomore year in Sky Blue.


Bryleeh Henry had a dismal last season with Western Sydney Wanderers. A promising forward in the Young Matildas squads, she was mired in the gloom of a seemingly rudderless Wanderers side which finished second-last just ahead of Wellington.

Henry was presented with chances worth a measly 1.6 expected goals (xG) from 11 games, including nine starts. She will have been disappointed with just one goal from the penalty spot to show for the sum total of her campaign.

Above: Bryleeh Henry, a key signing for City, seen here in action for Western Sydney Wanderers last season. Photo: Kris Goman for Impetus.

By comparison, Wilkinson was second in the golden boot race, with 12 goals from chances worth 9.0 xG. Henry will be hoping for a similar City bump, plying her trade in a more cohesive and competent squad.

“We tried to bring her in a few years ago, but she decided to stay at Western Sydney. This year when her contract was up, she reached out, and it was very easy to bring her in,” Vidosic added on Friday. “We worked together for the [under-20] World Cup…She’s doing really well, so I can’t wait to see how she’s going to go in the game on Sunday.”


“It’s a bit silly of me,” Wilkinson lamented on her injury. “I just went straight in; too hard, too soon after my Covid infection which was a bit too much for my body.

“When I came back here, I still had a lot of quad pain from not training and being sick for a while, and just managed to pull or strain my quad a little bit. It’s going well, I’m definitely through the worst of it. Back on the pitch doing more specific stuff, so yeah, getting past it.”

The Football Fern is expected to be out of action for a month.


Three questions with Denise Duffy and Jonathon Haggar, part of the Flight of the Nix, a Wellington Phoenix supporters group. The Phoenix are hoping for a crowd of about 10,000 for the first home game in the club’s history.

Wellington will make history this Sunday, being the first club to host a game in the A-League Women’s outside of Australia. How are you feeling about finally being able to see the Phoenix playing at their actual home ground (and in their actual home country!) in Wellington, New Zealand?

Denise: I think New Zealand is switching more and more on to women’s sports. For long term fans of the game it’s thrilling and a bit of a relief that there is professional [women’s] football in this country. I think you will see some tears at the opening match for sure. And do tune in. No country does opening ceremonies quite like the Kiwis – it should be beautiful. Our Flight of the Nix crew will be there.

Making their debut in the A-League competition, there were obviously very few expectations for Wellington last season. What are the club hoping to achieve as they commence their sophomore year?

Denise: When we spoke with new coach Natalie Lawrence her response was realistic. They want to be there in the playoffs at the end season. Of course our fans and certainly these athletes want more. Here’s their dilemma: if they bring in high calibre athletes from abroad, it is at the sacrifice of a Kiwi spot. While other teams are stacking their rosters with short-term deals, the Phoenix are not going to do this.

Their commitment is to develop future Ferns. They have already been successful at this. New Zealand will continue to be super patient and supportive of this team and this approach. I will say, winning is addictive, it draws more fans, it creates confidence. Fans are hoping and expecting this team to continue to gel and run through brick walls for this coach. If we see that, they are bound to win some. 

This offseason, there have been a number of new signings, re-signings, and five of the squad who were selected for the New Zealand Football Ferns’ recent friendlies. Who are the players we should be keeping an eye on right out the gate?

Jonathon: I’m tipping Michaela Robertson for the team’s golden boot. She is a prolific goal-scoring machine. She’s been out of professional circles for a while but she is going to be an absolute blast to watch. Milly Clegg won’t start many games but is a super reliable sub. Very young at 17, but has future star potential written all over her. She played in the U17s and U20s World Cup this year, and is another prolific goal-scoring machine. She is super football smart, controls her body well around the pitch, and has phenomenal football IQ.

Paige Satchell was at Sydney FC and wasn’t getting many minutes but has come to the Nix to push for a Ferns starting position. Lots of pace, excellent ball control, strong physically. Claudia Cicco is an up-and-coming Matilda, playing for the Australian U20s squad, and is a fierce defender. She is no pushover and takes her role in the back line extremely seriously. As an understudy to Kate Taylor and Mackenzie Barry, she is going to have to work hard to make the starting squad but Claudia has got the ambition and talent.

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