Daniel Richardson

Daniel Richardson is a Wellington-based sports journalist for NZME. News Service.

Soccer: Rowe is ready to roll

Luke Rowe will start at left back for a depleted Wellington Phoenix side against the Melbourne Heart across the Tasman. Photo / Getty Images.
Luke Rowe will start at left back for a depleted Wellington Phoenix side against the Melbourne Heart across the Tasman. Photo / Getty Images.

Luke Rowe was probably due a bit of good fortune.

After being released by English club Birmingham City last year, the youngster searched for another opportunity in New Zealand.

He was linked with Team Wellington as he tried to gain selection for this year's London Olympics.

But, despite a decent summer for Team Wellington in the ASB Premiership, the left back was overlooked for Neil Emblen's Oly-Whites squad and the 21-year-old went back to England as he wondered if football was even the right career path for him.

On Sunday though, the English-born lad, who is eligible to represent New Zealand through his father, will start at left back for a depleted Wellington Phoenix side against the Melbourne Heart across the Tasman.

The former New Zealand under-20 representative missed out on a full-time contract with the Phoenix this year but was named in the first intake for the club's school of excellence and will likely play for Team Wellington this summer as he awaits another chance in the A-League.

Missing out on that Oly-Whites side still irks Rowe, who had to watch the Olympics on television with his family in Coventry, as Ian Hogg was preferred on the left side of defence.

"I didn't know what I was going to do this year and I had to really give it a good think about what I was going to do with my life," Rowe said.

"But coming in here has given me a breath of fresh air.

"I knew it was going to be close between me and Hoggy so that really had me on a downer for a couple of months but going home and seeing my family; they just picked me up and dusted me off and told me if I want to do it don't let anyone stop me."

Rowe is yet to even play a professional first-team game but more than a couple of football scribes in New Zealand have already suggested he is a potential successor to the reliable Tony Lochhead on the left side of defence for club and country.

It's Lochhead's boots that Rowe will fill this weekend, as the elder statesman is one of seven Phoenix players who are on international duty, along with head coach Ricki Herbert who will be calling the shots for the All Whites.

Rowe joined Birmingham City as a 13-year-old and was on a scholarship for a couple of years in his teens then played more than 30 games for the reserve side during his one year with the club as a contracted pro.

It seems like Herbert has been hand-delivered a left back - a rare commodity in football - but Rowe said he hadn't bought in to the speculation surrounding his potential to play for the senior national side.

"To be fair I don't really read the papers so I don't really know about it. So I think it's a good thing in a way because I don't hear those things and I don't put as much pressure on myself and it's good to have Tony here with me as well so he can bring me through."

As for Sunday's game, Rowe, who will form a makeshift defensive line with fellow debutants Michael Boxall and Cameron Lindsay as well as club captain Andrew Durante, said he just wanted to focus on the basics.

"There's heaps of thoughts going through my mind. I just want to do the first 10 or 15 minutes right and then get a bit of confidence and just ease my way in to the game, that's my plan."

- APNZ

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