Thomas Probert's progress a plus for WaiBop
The rapid progress of defender Thomas Probert has been an undeniable success story for WaiBop United this season.
WaiBop play the final match of their 2013-14 ASB Premiership season today against Team Wellington in Cambridge, with Probert a certainty to start at centre back.
That's a far call from the start of the campaign for the new-look franchise.
''He started the season as an apprentice,'' said WaiBop coach Peter Smith of the 17-year-old.
''He came in to fill the drink bottles and blow up the balls before training. Now he's arguably our top centre half.''
The son of former All White, Mount Maunganui and Gisborne City player Paul Probert, Thomas Probert got his opportunity to appear for WaiBop through injuries to captain Aaron Scott and fellow defender Takahiro Yokota.
After a shaky start, the rangy youngster has found his feet at the top level to form a solid partnership with Tyler Lissette for a side that will finish the season in sixth spot in the eight-team league.
Smith felt the development of Probert, along with other young players from within the region like midfielder Reid Drake, was a huge highlight of his team's campaign.
''Tom's now got that bit of metal, that bit of fight in him - the potential he's got is massive,'' Smith said.
Probert and his fellow defenders should be well tested today at John Kerkhof Park (12.30pm kickoff), despite little hinging on the result.
Today's visitors have already qualified for the top four playoffs, having hit a good run of recent form, and contain dangerous attacking players in Henry Fa'arodo and Charlie Henry.
WaiBop are also finishing their campaign in good fashion, having beaten Wanderers SC and Southern United before sharing a point with defending champions Waitakere United at Cambridge last weekend.
''We want to sign-off with a positive result so we can head into the winter on a high and I'm sure [Wellington coach] Matt [Calcott] and his team will want the three points as they could very well move Team Wellington into second on the table,'' Smith told his club's official website.
''This season has been one heck of a ride for us.
''Starting a new club from scratch came with many headaches, but also, as it turned out, some great moments. We're finishing reasonably well so it's a shame we don't get to carry on for a few more weeks.''
Smith has brought Probert's younger brother Connor into the squad after strong displays for a WaiBop youth side which has impressed in their age-group competition while goalkeeper Ruben-Parker Hanks is also included.
First choice keeper Andy McNeil suffered a quad strain last weekend and had to be substituted, before replacement keeper Danyon Drake dislocated his shoulder as the hosts finished the match with striker Sam Messam in goal.