Back in front of their own fans for the first time in a year, Wellington Phoenix are out to use home comforts to boost their A-League Men's finals push.

Wellington Phoenix Homecoming

  • Phoenix returned to New Zealand late last week.
  • It will be their first home game in over 300 days.
  • 20000 fans are expected to be present for their match against Central Coast Mariners.

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Up to 20,000 fans are expected at Sky Stadium on Sunday for the visit of Central Coast Mariners, and the Phoenix return.

"A few of the boys wouldn't have played in front of these crowds before," Nix utility Tim Payne said.

"It's a fantastic experience. It's what we play the sport for."

COVID-19 has again scythed through Wellington's season, forcing Ufuk Talay's side to play home games in Australia for a third campaign.

They've performed admirably - sitting fifth with matches in hand - and want to use this fixture and next Sunday's clash at Auckland's Eden Park to solidify a finals campaign.

Wellington's absence from New Zealand during the pandemic has produced all sorts of quirks and streaks.

Steven McGarry first signed with the Phoenix in 2015 but is yet to play in Wellington, failing to make the grade as a teenager before departing to Holland for two seasons.

Ben Waine debuted for the Nix in 2018, growing from unknown teenager to All Whites striker, but has started just one match in his home town.

And a string of Phoenix players, including foreign signings Gael Sandoval, Scott Wootton and Nicolas Pennington are yet to set foot in New Zealand.

"Scott has signed a three-year deal and he still hasn't been here," Payne laughed.

"Hopefully he likes it here!"

Waine, one of a handful of Wellington-raised players in the Nix squad, made a beeline for his family on Friday night after touching down at the airport, denying tears despite a few emotional hugs.

"If there were any tears it'd be tears of joy. It's been such a long time," he said.

He experienced the thrill of last year's homecoming, when the Phoenix returned after a year away and thrashed Western United 3-0 in front of 25,000 fans.

"(During that match) I was looking around and it just gave me instant goosebumps," he said.

"A lot of the boys realised how much the fans mean to us when we've been away.

"When you play home games and there's maybe 10 people there it's not very nice.

"We're really focused on putting a good shift for these two games."

Waine has 12 A-League goals in his blossoming career - and more in a national team shirt - but has never scored in Wellington.

"That'd be a dream come true. It's something I have dreamed about for a long time," he said.

But first things first - Waine said the priority was a family reunion.

"I'm going to go see my dog. I bloody miss him. He's a red nose pitbull, a big boy. Charlie," he said.

The Mariners belted Wellington 5-0 in their last meeting on April 5, while Sam Sutton will miss the match as he is isolating in Australia with COVID-19.


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The full A-League Men's schedule can be found using this link.