Three of the arrivals are from fellow ASB Premiership sides with midfielder Tom Biss and defender Aaron Jones joining from Hawke’s Bay United and winger Joel Stevens likewise heading north from Team Wellington. All three are proven performers at that level but it is the other two signings that are likely to spark the most excitement amongst Waitakere fans as both have spent time in the professional game.
Solomon Islands international Benjamin Totori needs no introduction to regulars at Fred Taylor Park as his goalscoring exploits in a previous stint out west have made him one of the club’s favourite sons. The name of Steven Gray will be less familiar to those supporters but the Irishman also arrives with a fine pedigree having played to a high standard in his homeland before heading down under and signing with A-League outfit the Melbourne Heart.
Waitakere player-coach Brian Shelley is delighted with the quality that has come in and believes each of the new signings – who have all signed only for the Champions League campaign at this stage – has much to contribute.
“I think we’ve done some pretty good business,” he says. “We’re not bringing a big squad to Fiji so we wanted to make sure we have players in the team who can play in a number of positions and it looks like we’ve been able to do that well.”
High on the list of wanted attributes were also pace and an ability to find the net – qualities that the likes of Totori, Biss and Stevens will add in abundance. Stevens notched four goals during Team Wellington’s march to the ASB Premiership final while Biss struck nine at a ratio of more than one every two games – an outstanding return for a midfielder. Despite his main job being keeping things tight at the other end, centre back Jones also provides a goal threat having scored four for the Bay this season.
It is Totori who is likely to cause most concern for opposition defences, however, and Shelley says the former Wellington Phoenix striker did not need much convincing to return to one of his old clubs.
“He indicated that we were the only team he wanted to play for, which was pleasing because I’m sure we weren’t his only option,” Shelley says.
“He will definitely give us something that we haven’t got. We have creative players but he’s a bit different – he scores goals, is a real attacking threat and can play in a few different positions. Plus, he’s a Pacific Islander so will be really comfortable in the environment we’re going to face in Fiji.”
Shelley was not at Waitakere during Totori’s previous spell so does not have first-hand experience of his talents and has therefore had to canvas the rest of his coaching staff for opinion. That is far from the case with defender Gray though, a player Shelley knows well from time together in their native Ireland.
“I played with Steven for a number of years professionally back home and we actually flew out to Australia together. He’s a left-footed centre back who can also play at left back so is another who covers a couple of positions,” Shelley says.
Gray’s most recent club was Oakleigh Cannons in the Victorian Premier League, who he returned to after spending most of the 2012-13 season in the A-League at Melbourne Heart. Heading in the opposite direction are Richie Cardozo and Jordan Lowdon, who took part in Waitakere’s run to the ASB Premiership semi-finals but have unfortunately had to return to Australia.
“Obviously, we would have loved to bring both of them with us but we knew they wouldn’t be available from the start,” Shelley says.
“It’s a difficult one for them because if they hadn’t gone back at the end of our season then they would have missed the transfer window over there. They’ve both made a living out of the game so they have to do what’s right for them in the long term. It’s unfortunate to lose them but we just couldn’t make it work for them to be able to stay.”
The group stages of the 2014 OFC Champions League will take place in Fiji from April 7 to 15 with the semi-finals set to be played at the respective clubs on a home-and-away basis. Waitakere have been drawn in Group A and will face AS Pirae (Tahiti), Kiwi FC (Samoa) and Solomon Warriors (Solomon Islands) at Churchill Park in Lautoka.