It was only supposed to be for a few months.
Opinions are divided as to whether Sydney FC or Melbourne are the team to beat but most A-League coaches view Wellington Phoenix as the dark horse for this year’s title.
A poll of the six coaches involved in the upcoming finals series reveals feelings are split as to who are favourites for the title despite Sydney claiming the minor premiership with a 2-0 win over the Victory on Sunday.
But four of the six coaches agreed Wellington could be the surprise packet of the playoffs, despite qualifying for the finals for the first time.
The tag sits well with Phoenix coach Ricki Herbert heading into his side’s home semi-final against Perth Glory on Sunday, with the All Whites coach confident his side can make an impact.
“We have gone 17 games undefeated at home since October 2008, lost less games this season than anyone else in the competition and we have a lot going in our favour,” Herbert said.
“I think on our day we are as good as anyone.
“The luck of the draw will count and we have a home final.
“We have also been pretty good away and beat the Gold Coast and probably don’t fear anyone.
“In Paul Ifill I think we have the best player in the league, no injuries and a confident squad. Why not?”
Gold Coast also received support as a dark horse, with Jets coach Branko Culina believing they would prove a huge threat to Sydney and Melbourne if they beat his side in Saturday’s semi-final at Skilled Park.
“If they beat us then I think they are a real chance,” Culina said.
“They have quality players who can rise to the occasion. They have shown this by beating Sydney three times this season.”
Culina, Victory coach Ernie Merrick and Glory coach Dave Mitchell considered Sydney the team to beat after lifting the Premiers Plate on Sunday.
“They are in form, full of confidence and have players like (John) Aloisi playing well,” Mitchell said.
But Gold Coast coach Miron Bleiberg said the Victory were still the team to beat, providing they get star striker Archie Thompson back on the park alongside Carlos Hernandez.
“Melbourne with Hernandez and Thompson on board are the best team,” Bleiberg said.
“Sydney is very consistent … they are the second favourite and we are the third favourite.”
Herbert was wary of the fact Melbourne already have two A-League titles to their credit and plenty of finals experience.
“They know what it takes to win a championship,” Herbert said.