Wellington Phoenix defender Ben Sigmund will get his reward for putting in the hard yards when he makes his 100th appearance for the club against Adelaide United at Hindmarsh Stadium tomorrow.
When Sigmund turned up at the Phoenix' Newtown Park fresh from playing for Auckland City in the national championship, few people would have put money on him joining the Centurions Club. The club's sports scientist Ed Baranowski, who is rejoining the club full time in February, took one look at Sigmund and put him on a special programme.
Instead of taking part in training with his teammates, Sigmund was consigned to the sidelines running and doing any other work Baranowski prescribed.
"I came in on a one-year contract and I was determined to give it 100 per cent; to give myself the best possible chance of continuing in the professional game at the end of that first contract,'' Sigmund said. "Ed put me on a programme that got my base fitness up and I had to drop a bit of body fat as well.
"To be fair, it fell off me when I began training every day. I did everything Ed and Ricki [Herbert] told me to do. If Ed had told me to jump off a cliff, I probably would have done it.''
Once he earned a place in the starting XI, Sigmund became a regular and it is now hard to envisage a Phoenix team without him alongside captain Andrew Durante in the centre of defence. Last season he was the club's Player of Year.
Tomorrow's venue hasn't been a happy hunting ground for the Phoenix and Sigmund is determined to turn that around tomorrow, especially after their last visit there when Sigmund was sent off even though replays clearly showed Adelaide's Jeronimo Neumann dived.
"I always remember the game at Hindmarsh where we got battered 6-1 and it isn't a fond memory,'' Sigmund said.
"Then there was the game earlier this season when I was sent off after the diving incident.''
Sigmund and his teammates were disappointed with their effort in the 1-0 home defeat to Sydney FC and believes it was the kick in the backside needed to get a result tomorrow.
"Everyone has put their hand up for what happened last week and I think tomorrow you will see a team that will come out of the blocks fired up and ready for a good performance.
"Adelaide is a tough place to come and they are flying in second place but it is the type of challenge the Phoenix boys relish. We have to roll our sleeves up and show what we are made of. Three points from this game will make the Christmas pudding all the tastier.''
The Phoenix will be without leading scorer Jeremy Brockie, who didn't make the trip to Adelaide because of a hamstring injury. There was a chance Brockie could have played but coach Ricki Herbert didn't want to take a risk with the striker.
His place is likely to be taken by youngster Louis Fenton. Spanish midfielder Dani Sanchez also returns to the squad and is likely to start in place of Alex Smith, who Herbert feels "needs a freshener''.
Wellington Phoenix: Mark Paston, Leo Bertos, Andrew Durante (captain), Ben Sigmund, Tony Lochhead, Manny Muscat, Vince Lia, Dani Sanchez, Paul Ifill, Louis Fenton and Stein Huysegems. Substitutes: Tyler Boyd, Alex Smith, Benji Totori, Griffin McMaster.