Wellington Phoenix sign 'smiley, talented' Totori
He will frustrate Phoenix fans as well as thrill them, but overall Neil Emblen is confident Benjamin Totori will successfully handle the step up to the A-League.
It will make Totori the second player from the Pacific Islands to crack the A-League, behind countryman Henry Fa'arodo who had 11 appearances for Perth Glory in 2005-06.
The diminutive 26-year-old was electric at the Oceania Nations Cup in his homeland this month, scoring three goals in two games against Ricki Herbert's All Whites.
He has been similarly prolific in the New Zealand league with Manawatu and Waitakere United, but injury cut short a stint with the Portland Timbers in 2008.
Former English professional Emblen played with and coached Totori at Waitakere and witnessed his sizzling form in Honiara firsthand as part of Herbert's coaching staff.
"He's a great talent and he looked head and shoulders above anybody in Honiara. He's capable of doing some breathtaking stuff and a few of the Phoenix boys witnessed it firsthand. He was just on fire," Emblen said.
"He'll go in with a lot of confidence from day one and feel he deserves to be there."
Totori's experience in New Zealand means Wellington's wind and rain wouldn't faze him and Emblen also believed he could cope with the A-League's physicality.
"It won't worry him but you have to take the rough with the smooth at times with Benji. He'll run at people and there's times where it doesn't come off. But I'm sure there will be more people excited about him trying it than getting on his case if he does lose the ball. I think he'll be a crowd favourite. He's a smiley guy who everybody likes. I'm actually surprised it's taken so long for a pro club to take him. That physicality, I don't see too many people smashing into Benji because he's so nimble and he rides tackles. It's a new level but he's worked hard on his game in the last 12 months and it looks like he's grown up as a person in the last 12 months as well."
Totori said he followed the A-League closely and knew that it would be a big step up in quality and professionalism.
There had been some interest from clubs in South America but he chose the Phoenix because he felt "at home in New Zealand".
He is friends with Wellington-based footballers Fa'arodo, Michael Fifii and Phil Imray and his girlfriend will join him for a month before returning to the Solomon Islands for studies.
"It's a big move for me," Totori said. "When I was in New Zealand playing for Waitak I always wanted to play for the Phoenix. I was really happy with my performances at the Nations Cup and the mindset I've got now. Everybody here is excited, my family too."
He was enthusiastic at the prospect of playing up front with Phoenix star Paul Ifill. "I've watched him play, he's a good player and I'm so grateful to get the chance to play alongside him. I'll work hard.
"It won't be easy but in football anything can happen."
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- © Fairfax NZ News
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