Merrick to pursue all import options

SAM WORTHINGTON
Last updated 05:00 15/06/2013
Ernie Merrick
KENT BLECHYNDEN/Fairfax NZ
ALL SMILES: New Phoenix coach Ernie Merrick.

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New Phoenix coach Ernie Merrick will cast the net wide in his recruitment drive after releasing Benji Totori "by mutual agreement" yesterday.

The Solomon Islands international had another year remaining on his contract but Merrick could not guarantee him regular game time and he will instead play for the Oakleigh Cannons in the Victoria Premier League.

Totori was signed by former Phoenix coach Ricki Herbert last year after impressing at the Oceania Nations Cup.

But the speedy striker failed to make the step up to the A-League and did not score a goal in his 15 Phoenix appearances.

Merrick now has just 14 players on the books after releasing five players, including Tony Lochhead, on Sunday.

Totori's release means Merrick has two import slots to fill.

"I think there are two crucial positions," Merrick said of his recruitment plans.

"It'd be good to have another striker and a key midfielder. So I would say the import would be an option for one of those two but it doesn't necessarily have to be an import. It could be a New Zealander coming back from overseas, already here, or playing in another league, or it could be an Australian."

Merrick has to sign at least six players before the season starts on October 13.

He wants to add three players with the quality to start and another three young back-up players as longer-term prospects.

"I mean, we've all made mistakes, fortunately I've had a good run with recruitment but we'll do that conscientiously over a period of time and try and get it right . . . It won't be a rush job."

It seems almost certain some New Zealand players will be added to the squad.

"We forget the standard in New Zealand and Australia is very good. If you think of my first three recruits at the previous club I was at [Melbourne Victory] . . . the first three recruits were three Australians, Kevin Muscat, Danny Allsopp and Archie Thompson. And not only were they three Australians, they were three Victorians, and that's the way you engage with the community. So we'll certainly cast the net wide, we won't restrict in any of those positions but you would think it would be good to keep options open for those two key roles."

In an ideal world Merrick said he would have attended the under-20 World Cup, which starts in Turkey this month, for scouting purposes.

"But we'll have people looking on our behalf. I'll be watching every game Australia and New Zealand play in the under-20s and having a look around at some Asian countries as well."

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The Junior All Whites continued their preparations for the tournament with a 5-3 loss to Iraq in Antalya yesterday.

Hamish Watson, Luke Adams and Louis Fenton were New Zealand's goal scorers.

The Junior All Whites play their final warmup game against Egypt on Monday before kicking off the World Cup against Uzbekistan on June 23.

- Fairfax Media

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