‘A lot of people had us as wooden spooners’: Rudan reveals Phoenix’s finals motivation

It is the pre-season sledge that has driven Wellington Phoenix this season and will act as further motivation heading into Friday night’s Elimination Final against Melbourne Victory.

The Phoenix will appear in their first finals match in four years tonight when they take on defending champions Victory at AAMI Park (kick-off 7.50pm).

It’s a scenario that many thought unlikely before the start of the campaign after a couple of tumultuous seasons on and off the field for the Kiwi outfit.

But under rookie coach Mark Rudan, Wellington have been one of the fairytale stories of the season, defying the doubters to finish in sixth spot.

“There’s a lot of belief in this playing squad; amongst each other and among the football club,” Rudan said.

“It is the outside noise, and it started at the start of the season. It was pretty clear – journalists have to make predictions as to the outcome of the season and a lot of people had us as wooden spooners. A lot.

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“An ex-colleague of mine [at Fox Sports] said to one of my players at the season launch, ‘after you lose your first five or six games and your coach is out of a job you’ll see what’s going down’.

“All those sorts of things are just sources of motivation.

The club’s been kicked from pillar to post, we understand that, but we’ve built something here and we’ll continue to build.

“It’s not us [that had doubts]. It’s everybody else that has said that.”

Wellington Phoenix celebrate a goal.
Wellington have proved the critics wrong with their performances this season

Wellington may start as underdogs to keep their season alive by beating Victory, but Rudan doesn’t care.

He has seen his side go toe-to-toe with Kevin Muscat’s men this season, drawing all three matches, including two at AAMI Park.

Still, Rudan – who will depart Phoenix once their season comes to an end – knows the size of the challenge facing his troops.

"One of their marquee players [Keisuke Honda] is earning more than our entire football budget," he said.

"Everyone's expecting Melbourne to win the game. And we're supposed to be packing our bags, we might as well not even be here.

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"(Victory) are the biggest club in the country. Well, the bigger the challenge the better for us."

Asked how his side would handle the pressure-cooker environment of finals football, Rudan said: “There’s no pressure, absolutely none.

“I understand that there could be a few more nerves, but it’s my job to calm them down and let them know that they’ve done ­extremely well to get here.

We ­deserve to be here and it’s just ­reward.

“For us, it is about grabbing that opportunity. Throughout the season there were moments where people questioned us, but we have kept coming through.”

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