Waikato stalwart Aaron Scott excited by what new-look national league has to offer
It took a while for Melville United stalwart Aaron Scott to come around on playing for Hamilton Wanderers this summer.
The rivalry between the two Waikato clubs played a part, as you'd expect, but it wasn't the only factor.
The past three national league seasons have been a hard slog for the 30-year-old defender; a far cry from the run between 2009 and 2013 where he was a member of a Waitakere United side that won four titles in a row.
Following two seasons with WaiBop United, who finished sixth and fifth, he returned to Waitakere last year for what turned out to be a disastrous campaign, where they changed coaches midseason and missed the playoffs for just the second time in 12 years.
By the time it got to the middle of the winter just gone, with Melville in the midst of a relegation battle they would eventually lose, Scott was low on energy and playing for anyone this summer, let alone Wanderers, wasn't in the picture.
Melville's season ended on September 24, and then came the school holidays, giving Scott, a teacher at Hamilton Boys' High, the chance to unwind and refresh.
"I went away for the school holidays, and then came back with that little bit of passion after doing a few morning runs, and thinking I've still got the energy to play, and I still want to play," he said.
"It just happens to be for the cross-town rivals."
The slightly awkward situation has come about because of the demise of WaiBop United, which, like Waikato FC before it, gave players a neutral banner to play under during the summer, putting their winter allegiances to one side.
The franchise was plagued by financial problems throughout its existence, and at the end of last year, as New Zealand Football moved to expand the national league, the WaiBop Federation announced it could no longer sustain the costs of running the team, which it had done for the past three seasons.
Wanderers were the only club from the region that expressed an interest in taking WaiBop's place, and when they were handed a national league licence last December, it set up a scenario where the likes of Scott could play against them in the winter, then turn out for them in the summer.
He played his first game for Wanderers on Saturday when they took on fellow newcomers Eastern Suburbs from Auckland in a preseason friendly in Ngaruawahia, which ended in a 2-1 win, giving them a big confidence boost heading into their first Stirling Sports Premiership game this weekend.
"Whether it's beginners luck or not, things clicked on the pitch defensively," said Scott.
"Whatever level you play, if you have that, then you can build on it on the attack side of things. Who knows what we can do - I was quite excited after that game and everyone was quite positive after it."
Having been around since its inception in 2004, Scott likes the direction the national league is heading in, especially after expanding from eight teams to 10.
"I'm excited by it, more teams means more games and a longer season, and you get more games to play at the top level and gain that experience," he said.
"Even at my stage in life, I can still go and learn things playing more games. It's an exciting change and the best thing the league could have done in my eyes."
Wanderers' inaugural premiership campaign begins this Saturday, when they host perennial strugglers Southern United at Porritt Stadium, a fixture that should give them a good idea of just how competitive they might be, but one they will have to tackle without Scott, who will be away at his sister's wedding.