Phoenix's Yellow Fever hits Solomon Islands

SAM WORTHINGTON
Last updated 05:00 02/12/2012
Benjamin Totori
Getty Images
ISLAND DREAMS: Phoenix newcomer Benjamin Totori has sparked big interest in the Solomon Islands.

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Westpac Stadium won't be the only place suffering from Yellow Fever when the Wellington Phoenix play the Western Sydney Wanderers today.

According to striker Benjamin Totori, his Solomon Islands compatriots have also become Phoenix loyalists since he signed with the A-League club.

"Everybody back home supports the Phoenix now, the kids, everybody in the Solomons watches the games as well," said Totori, who is likely to come off the bench.

"Coming here and playing in the A-League, the kids back home know I'm here and now they also have the belief that they can do it as well. So hopefully we have some more in the future."

Totori is just the second Pacific Islander to play in the A-League after compatriot Henry Fa'arodo, who had a stint with Perth Glory, but is now with Team Wellington in the New Zealand league.

Totori is yet to score an A-League goal - but gave a glimpse of his potential with an eye-catching cameo in the 3-0 win over the Jets in Newcastle last month.

Totori used his blistering pace to win a penalty that was converted by Paul Ifill, but later blotted his copybook by shooting into the side netting rather than passing to Jeremy Brockie in front of an open goal.

"It's a challenge for me," Totori admitted. "The style of play is good and the league is pretty fast compared to other leagues.

"It's going well coming off the bench so hopefully I can keep giving something to the team. It's all about being strong in the mind that you can do it. So it's in my mind now, just work hard and stay strong.

"You just need to concentrate because in football anything can happen.

"Living the life as a professional footballer, you can have some bad times as well, but things change very fast, very quick. So you just need to be prepared for that."

Totori is living by himself in a Newtown apartment - a short walk each morning to the club's training base. His partner is studying in the Solomons, but will join him before Christmas.

"For me it's just doing the right things and training hard, and just doing my best. It's good playing with the senior boys, their experience and learning from them. Confidence is building each day and after each training session."

Coach Ricki Herbert will stick with a 4-3-3 formation against the competition newcomers, who have surprised many with their competitiveness.

"They're solid, they're strong, they defend really well, so it's going to be up to us to be good enough to break them down," Herbert said.

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The Phoenix have also been defending much better since Vince Lia returned to the starting XI to stiffen up the midfield.

"Vinnie's been a strong part of finals' series for the club, he understands that role," Herbert said.

"He's fit and healthy now, 100 per cent. I thought our passing could have been a little bit better at Perth, just the retention in midfield there, but it's just new combinations and that might take a couple of weeks.

"But I like the three in there, I think they do a good job and Manny [Muscat] is probably getting more familiar playing as a holding midfielder."

Aaron Mooy is away on Socceroos duty, leaving former Japan World Cup star Shinji Ono as the Wanderers' player to watch today.

- Sunday Star Times

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