Phoenix to play in Christchurch, NRL on cards

ON THE MOVE: New Phoenix coach Ernie Merrick and captain Andrew Durante will play a game in Christchurch next season.
ON THE MOVE: New Phoenix coach Ernie Merrick and captain Andrew Durante will play a game in Christchurch next season.

The Wellington Phoenix have pledged to play A-League games in Christchurch for the next three seasons and AMI Stadium operators are talking with top officials about bringing an NRL game to the city also.

Vbase general manager Russell Kenny yesterday hailed the Phoenix's commitment to Christchurch and hoped it would lead to more top-level sport being played in the city. 

The Phoenix - who feature former Canterbury United stars Ben Sigmund and Jeremy Brockie - will play the Perth Glory at AMI Stadium on Saturday November 9 at 5.30pm. 

Kenny said the match would ''kick off Cup Week'' in Christchurch and organisers are hoping to attract the Canterbury football community, the general supporting public and the Phoenix's Yellow Fever fan base from Wellington.  

He said the Phoenix had contracted to bring ''three in-season games here for the next three years'' if the A-League season schedule permits. Kenny said it was important for Christchurch to attract more high-quality support to the city. 

''We are also talking to the NRL and the Warriors about trying to bring a league game down here. We'd love to have the Warriors and we're speaking with them but we are also talking directly to the NRL and we would consider bringing a game here even it wasn't the Warriors.''

New Zealand Rugby League are also considering staging a couple of tests in Christchurch in the next four years. Kenny has met with NZRL chairman Scott Carter and said Vbase would be keen to host a match in the 2014 Four Nations series featuring New Zealand, Australia, England and a Pacific Islands nation.

''I think it's great for families to have these big games here,'' Kenny said. ''The Crusaders draw a lot of families and the Phoenix game will have a lot of fun associated with it. We want people to come down and interact with the Yellow Fever fans for the day.''

The Phoenix have played two previous A-League games in Christchurch, drawing crowds of 19, 258 and 14,018 for matches against Adelaide United at the old AMI Stadium in 2010. Phoenix general manager David Dome said the turnouts for those matches had encouraged the club to return to Christchurch. 

"We wanted to show our support for the Garden City as the rebuild gets under way,'' Dome said.

Sigmund confirmed yesterday that Christchurch is a home away from home for the Phoenix. 

"The boys love coming down there. The crowds have been good, the people have been great and we've obviously had some good results down there," he said.

''Canterbury is always home to me and it's good to see the old faces and to play in front of your Mum and Dad so they don't have to travel. That's always a proud moment for me.''

Sigmund scored an injury-time match winner in the Phoenix's last regular-season game in Christchurch, a 2-1 victory over Adelaide United in December 2010.

''That is probably going to be one of my best memories when I retire and look back on my career. To score in the last 10 seconds to win that game 2-1 in front of my home crowd is something I will always remember.''

Kenny said Vbase had ''worked very hard with the Phoenix to get them to bring a game to Christchurch'' but success of the venture would be dependent on public support. 

''We have to pay the Phoenix to come here and rightly so because it's their home game and they are coming out of Wellington so their expenses have to be met. 

''We just want the public to support it. If we end up with a small crowd, it's not going to do us any good.''

The Phoenix will also take their round three game against the Newcastle Jets to Napier's McLean Park on Sunday October 27 to coincide with the New Zealand under-19 national tournament held there each Labour weekend.

Fairfax Media