Jason Pine is Radio Sport's football commentator

Football: Wellington Phoenix hope green turns to gold

Alex Rufer (left) battles for possession with Melbourne City's Anthony Caceres in Wellington's 1-0 defeat on Saturday. Photo / Photosport.
Alex Rufer (left) battles for possession with Melbourne City's Anthony Caceres in Wellington's 1-0 defeat on Saturday. Photo / Photosport.

It's doubtful a Wellington Phoenix bench has ever been so green.

When coach Ernie Merrick surveyed his four outfield reserves during Saturday night's 1-0 defeat to Melbourne City, he saw three players who had never featured in the A-League, while the other - Alex Rufer - hadn't played a competitive game since a double leg-break 10 months ago.

Shorn of six frontline players through All Whites duty and injury, Merrick's squad depth was sorely tested, but Rufer and teenaged striker Logan Rogerson emerged with credit after being introduced in the second half.

Rufer replaced striker Hamish Watson at the start of the second spell, joining stand-in captain Vince Lia at the base of the Phoenix midfield as they tried to stem the flow of attacks from a dangerous Melbourne City front-line. With Spanish midfielder Albert Riera having left the club in the off-season, Rufer is now eyeing that vacancy as one he could claim long-term.

"I see myself as very versatile," he said. "I can play striker or attacking midfield, but I think that holding midfield role is something I can really take hold of. I've learned a lot off Vinnie and Albert and now I think I can really step up and take that spot."

Rogerson's debut has been a long time coming. Signed at the beginning of the 2015/16 campaign, he was the only outfield member of the squad not to see a single minute of game time last season.

"It was hard and probably only my family would know my struggles," said Rogerson. "Week in and week out the first team travel, and I had to stay behind and work in the gym. But that's football and everywhere you go around the world it's the same. You just have to keep working hard on and off the field and the opportunities will come. Credit to the sports scientists who stuck around and helped me get stronger and bigger and keep myself fit and ready for the opportunity, which came on the weekend."

While admitting to some nerves in the moments before he took the field, the young Kiwi said they disappeared once he entered the fray.

"When I got out there it wasn't as scary as I thought it'd be. It was just another game of football and I really enjoyed it.

"Ernie just told me to do my thing - take players on, dribble, don't be scared, get the ball and don't hide. I was pretty happy to get a touch early so my nerves settled. [Former teammate] Manny [Muscat] was marking me, so I knew I had him for pace," he joked.

Rufer also admitted to some difficult times as he recovered from breaking his ankle and tibia playing for the Phoenix reserves just before Christmas last year.

"The first few months were extremely tough," revealed Rufer. "I couldn't do anything. The first month was from about Christmas onwards when you're meant to be all joyful and happy but I found it so hard to just crack a smile. I was so down.

"But I started coming back here [to the training ground] and started to get more positive and I think that really helped with my recovery. I could actually see myself improving, but it's been a really tough year and I'm just glad to be back."

Rufer and Rogerson are both likely to travel to Perth for Sunday's game against the Glory where they'll be joined by their returning All Whites teammates Andrew Durante, Kosta Barbarouses, Matthew Ridenton, Louis Fenton and Michael McGlinchey. Depending on the role each of them plays in tomorrow's clash with the USA and how the long journey from Washington DC to Western Australia affects them, the two youngsters may see more A-League action this weekend with Rufer enthused by the prospect.

"I've just got [so much] motivation and hunger from being out for so long. I think that game was perfect for me to come on and show what I can do and hopefully I can keep playing," he said.

"It was a disappointing result but we can take a lot of positives out of the game and so can I individually. If we can grow from that game, I think we're going to have a really good season."

- NZ Herald

Get the news delivered straight to your inbox

Receive the day’s news, sport and entertainment in our daily email newsletter

SIGN UP NOW

© Copyright 2016, NZME. Publishing Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production apcf05 at 03 Dec 2016 21:05:33 Processing Time: 520ms