Wagga City Wanderers will be focused on clinching a top-four spot in the Capital Premier League (CPL), having fallen short on the last matchday of the season in 2022.
Head Coach Ross Morgan has returned to the Wanderers after previously overseeing them compete in the New South Wales (NSW) State League and continue into their first CPL season in 2019.
Morgan has also worked as a Technical Director for the Riverina Rhinos, and in youth development, however his most recent role saw him coach in Wagga Football’s top tier, where he won the Pascoe Cup title with Leeton United. Having been a part of their early history, Morgan had a desire to return after witnessing the club’s growth.
“Seeing the Wanderers evolve and progress, and have some good cup runs early on in their years in New South Wales, it was good to then come in and be a part of that,” Morgan said.
While the club was only established in 2014, it has already entrenched itself as a representative of the Wagga football community, having been formed to grow the game in the area by expanding the Wanderers from their NSW association league place.
Morgan was able to recognise the impact of their passage up into Capital Football’s second tier, particularly in its effect at a junior level.
“I was a part of the club when we moved over from the State League in NSW into NPL2 at the time,” he said. “The juniors then evolved from playing in their tournaments into a weekly competition, it’s really important for the club.”
The coach arrived on the scene after a sixth-place finish in 2022 saw them miss a place in the finals, although it did not tell the full story of the campaign. At times, the Wanderers played some fantastic attacking football, culminating in such results as a 9-2 victory over Yoogali, although conceding goals proved to be a major hindrance, letting in 57 goals in 21 matches.
Having not coached the club in the season gone by, Morgan, in discussion with those that were there in 2022, was quick to focus on the positives that he could gather.
“I’d seen the results, and by talking to Liam [Dedini] and Michael [Lucas] and the other coaches, you could see the direction they were going [in], they went on a good run last year, winning a few on the bounce, and I think they were unlucky to miss out on the top four,” Morgan commented.
Morgan’s side have come out firing for the 2023 season, determined to achieve a finals position, whilst sporting a team that leads the league in converting chances, alongside top of the table Yoogali.
The season has certainly turned into a tale of the Riverina sides, with the Wanderers sitting in second place after nine rounds.
“I think we’ve exceeded our expectations so far,” Morgan said, when asked for his overall thoughts on the club’s campaign so far.
“We’ve put ourselves in a good position almost halfway through the season, [but] we’ve got to sustain this [and] make sure we pick up as many points as possible at home.”
A key reason for their fantastic start to the season has been their ability to retain most of their squad from 2022, especially in their firepower up front. Morris Kadzola leads the CPL’s goalscoring charts with nine strikes, alongside Jacob Ploenges who himself has scored six, although the loss of Jacob Ochieng and his seven goals from 2022 has proven to be a blow.
On the arrivals front, the club brought in exciting winger Thierry Uwizeyimana out of South Australia to continue his development, whilst some home-grown talent, in returning Wagga player Tyler Allen, and South Wagga product Nick Forswith joined up with the squad at the start of the 2023 season.
The Wanderers often look to promote players from Football Wagga teams, alongside their own youth setup, ensuring that little reinforcements are needed due to the squad being largely made up of Wagga-developed talent.
“[For] last season [and] this season, you’re starting to see the majority of those first team players having represented the club at SAP (Skills Acquisition Program) and junior level which is really important,” he said.
The travel demands of the Riverina team in Canberra are another consideration for players, meaning the retention of those home-grown footballers is of paramount importance.
“Obviously there’s a big commitment being based in country like Yoogali and ourselves [with] having to travel every other week, so that factor does come into what players decide to do for the season,” he said.
“The players that do commit are committed and that’s the big difference. You’ve got solid numbers at training and the commitment is there to travel and it’s paying dividends this season with the way we’re playing.”
Looking ahead to the rest of the season, the ambition is clear for both the club, and Morgan himself.
“The goal is to be playing finals football,” he said. “I haven’t done that yet with Wanderers, it’s important for the club to be back there. It’s important now for those junior players to see that we can sustain it through a whole season and can be there when it matters.”
Words: Sam Watson