Tom Bliss has more reason than most 19-year-olds to keep his flat tidy.
The promising midfielder shares an apartment with fellow Phoenix academy members Luke Rowe and Alec Solomons, with A-League graduate Tyler Boyd the fourth house-mate.
But the interesting part is the identity of the landlord.
"It's Ricki Herbert's little apartment in Evans Bay," said a grinning Biss, who will line up for Team Wellington in tomorrow's curtain-raiser at Westpac Stadium. "We just pay him some rent each week and we've been great, keeping it clean and everything. It's real good banter inside the flat."
But Herbert, who now lives on the Kapiti Coast, is yet to pop in for a flat inspection. "Jonathan Gould [Phoenix goalkeeping coach] does that, comes over and checks it out every week."
Biss said it was difficult when Herbert picked Boyd and Louis Fenton as the two academy players most worthy of upgrades to professional contracts.
But he and the other hopefuls had moved on from that disappointment and were now fully focused on their national league endeavours with Wellington.
Herbert has dangled a carrot by signalling that up to six under-21 players could be on the fulltime books of the Phoenix next season.
Biss, a Hawke's Bay protege of Gould, appears a likely candidate after not looking out of place in his A-League debut against the Melbourne Heart.
Assistant coach Chris Greenacre said Biss had the ability to develop into a box-to-box player in the Tim Brown mould.
"It was a huge experience for me and I loved every moment of it," Biss said.
"But I don't want to dwell on it too much, I just want to keep pushing on from here. Gouldy just tells me to keep my standards high and don't drop them when I go to Team Wellington. But it is a different feeling, playing in the A-League in front of 12,000 people, to going down and playing in the national league."
Both Wellington and tomorrow's opponents, Canterbury United, are licking their wounds from heavy defeats in round one.
Wellington were beaten 3-0 in a grand final replay with Waitakere United, and Canterbury slumped to a 5-2 defeat against Auckland City.
"It was tough, I guess since we've been at the Phoenix, the youth boys have only been together for about three trainings at Team Wellington," Biss said.
"So team morale is a bit down but it was really boys versus men. I think we might have a little target on our back, being at the Phoenix and we've got to really prove ourselves in the national league. Aaron Clapham and Russell Kamo are big players for Canterbury but I think they're quite vulnerable at the back so hopefully we can get the three points at Westpac."
Wellington coach Matt Calcott has been boosted by the return from injury of Adam McGeorge and Cory Chettleburgh, and Henry Fa'arodo has arrived from the Solomon Islands.
Meanwhile, Capital are away to Footballsouth in national women's league in Dunedin tomorrow. Capital - who have drawn their opening two games - have several injured players, including former Football Ferns Emily McColl and Hannah Wall, and Young Football Ferns captain CJ Bott.
HOW THEY LINE UP
What: National league, round two. Where: Westpac Stadium. When: 1.45pm tomorrow
TV: Live on Sky Sport 2.
Referee: Mark Hester. Head-to-head: Wellington 11 wins, Canterbury six wins, four draws.
Wellington (from): Scott Basalaj, Karl Whalen, Alec Solomons, Andreas Damgaard, Luke Rowe, Jamie Duncan, Tobias Bertsch, Tom Biss, Tom Doyle, Karsten Viborg, Hamish Watson, Will Jones, Tim Schaeffers, Wiremu Patrick, Jimmy Haidakis, Dominic Rowe, Kyle Segebart, Adam McGeorge, Cory Chettleburgh, Henry Fa'arodo, Andrew Abba, Justin Gulley.
Canterbury (from): Adam Highfield, Dan Terris, Vladimir Bayrev, Tom Schwarz, Darren White, Aaron Clapham, Dimitar Bayrev, Josh Smith, Julyan Collett, Russell Kamo, Nick Wortelboer, Chris Murphy, Ken Yamamoto, Tristan Nicol, Ashley Wellbourn.
- The Dominion Post
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