Players across the A-League have acknowledged the incredible sacrifices that the players and staff at Wellington Phoenix have made this season during their relocation to Australia to play the A-League season.

Having been based in Wollongong since November 2020, the ‘Nix will play two of its final four matches in New Zealand in May, returning to action in their home country for the first time in 433 days.

Western United’s Andrew Durante, who announced his retirement from professional football on Wednesday, and Perth Glory’s Liam Reddy, who will both feature against the Phoenix in the respective final two home matches at Sky Stadium and Eden Park, paid tribute to the efforts of the Wellington players.

A former Wellington Phoenix defender who is familiar with the Kiwi outfit following his 11 seasons in New Zealand, ‘Dura’ said the Nix’s efforts had been admirable.  

“The players and staff have made some really big sacrifices this season to be here in Australia. It’ll no doubt be a massive homecoming for them this weekend and they’ll be buzzing to see their friends and family again. 

“We are looking forward to playing in front of a large crowd in Wellington and I know our boys will rise to the occasion.”

The ‘Nix are looking at a bumper crowd for their return to Sky Stadium for the clash with Western, with projections around the 20,000 mark.

Reddy, who will likely be part of the Glory’s travelling contingent when they face Wellington in the ‘Distance Derby’ on 30 May at Eden Park, echoed Durante’s sentiments around the ‘Nix’s efforts this season.

“It’s hasn’t been easy for anyone this season; the players, the fans and the clubs have all made enormous sacrifices, but none more so than the Phoenix,” Reddy said.

“They have really been outstanding in the way they have handled the challenges thrown at them and just embraced those challenges with little fuss. They’ve made Australia their second home which we must be grateful for as it’s helped the competition navigate all the associated problems around border restrictions. 

“In any normal season we would travel at least once to play in New Zealand so we’re looking forward to the challenge.”

The Phoenix’s Alex Rufer, who returned to New Zealand this week, said it had been fantastic to touch back down on home soil, but their time in Australia had been rewarding.

“It’s obviously fantastic to be home and we’re very excited to have the opportunity to be back with our family and friends,” Rufer said. “We are also extremely excited to play in front of our amazing fans after such a long time away.

“Our time in Wollongong was actually a really rewarding experience because we had the chance to work together every day, spend important time as players and staff and also within the community, who really embraced us. We also appreciate the players at other clubs who reached out and thanked us for helping keep the season rolling without too much disruption.

“With the season coming down to the wire for so many teams, we’re hoping our two matches at home can give us plenty of momentum heading into the Finals.”