As the Brisbane Strikers prepare to get their last full round of 2012 QSL fixtures underway this Saturday night, things could hardly be looking any better around Perry Park.
That rosy summation is not simply a reflection of where the Strikers are at in terms of their league campaign – ten points ahead of their nearest rivals and current champions, Sunshine Coast Fire. Nor is it a reflection of the fact that their opponents this weekend, Gold Coast, are bottom of the table and still winless. And neither is it based on the fact that the last two meetings between the Strikers and the Gold Coast have seen the Strikers win 9-1 and 7-0.
While all of those factors obviously do come into the mood around Perry Park this week, of more relevance still is the hard-nosed commitment to continual improvement that the team has dedicated itself to and the heartening news that two senior players who have played little part in the team’s mid-season surge, but who have a profound effect on the ‘vibe’ and professionalism around the squad, are back in training.
Winger Jonti Richter (pictured), whose workplace accident in May badly injured the ligaments in his left ankle and robbed him of the chance to continue his tremendous start to the season, has resumed gym work and expects to be back in full training within a matter of weeks following a successful operation to remove bone fragments in his foot. And forward Wayne Knipe has returned from what coach David Large refers to as “nappy duties” after the birth of his second child and is back in full training, adding his infectious enthusiasm to a team that continues to train the house down.
Large admitted this week that it was a real bonus to him to have the two players back amongst the group as the race for the championship turns, as it were, into the home straight. As teams strive for the best possible finishing positions and the race for the championship and finals reaches its business end, games are set to become more desperate. Now is not the time for the Strikers to lose their focus, and Large said the presence at the training ground of two of his most experienced players would help to ensure that does not happen.
Richter said today that his battle to return in time to play football again this season has taken a positive turn.
“I had my surgery about a month ago, and basically I have been doing strength work in the gym. Hopefully in the next week or two I’ll be back on the track running, and that will take probably three or four weeks of building up some strength and some range (of movement) in the ankle”, Richter said. “That’s the biggest issue right now, just getting the same amount of range back in my ankle. In just over a month’s time I’ll hopefully be able to join in with the boys and build up from there.
“Mick Fernandez, the physio, is hoping he can get me back three or four games before the end of the season. That’s the best case scenario. There’s quite a way to go but there’s a chance I could play two or three games before the finals, so that’s basically how I’m looking at it and we’ll just go from there”.
Richter said it had been difficult for him to accept missing out on football again so soon after recovering from a series of injuries.
“Originally I thought there was no chance of playing again this season”, said Richter, who was inclined to read the worst into some cautious statements from his medical team and felt down about not being able to work or even drive himself anywhere.
“Not being able to go down to training and go out with the guys, and stuff like, that has been quite hard as well, because I suppose you get a little bit of a sense of depression, especially with the amount of injuries I’ve had, where you always feel like you’re missing out or feeling like you’re not part of the team, even though you are”, Richter said.
“Now that I’m back I’ll be able to at least come down and see the boys before training, and even after I go up and do my ‘rehab’. It lifts the spirits and hopefully that will help me recover quicker”.
While it will obviously be a while before Richter is fit enough to be selected in the team and the same applies, to a lesser extent, to Knipe the Strikers will nevertheless be forced to make one or two changes this week for the resumption of their campaign after last week’s bye. Winger Sean Burke, who has made a welcome return to scoring form in recent weeks to complement the excellence of his contribution in other ways, is away on a family engagement as is the versatile Nick Robinson.
This means that Large has the pleasant task of deciding whether to restore the likes of left back Jack Boxell to the team, with Josh Searle likely to return to the right side of the line up in the absence of Burke. Midfielder Michael Angus, who was rested from the starting eleven due to a mild bout of the ‘flu when the Strikers played the North Queensland Razorbacks a fortnight ago, is also raring to go again and will be vying for a central midfield role along with Chay Hews and Jordan Mason.
The Gold Coast, meanwhile, are likely to be a changed outfit themselves from the one the Strikers last played in mid-May. Strikers skipper John Costello, who lives on the Gold Coast and has his ear to the ground there, said earlier this week that he had been informed of some player movement at the club in recent weeks.
One of the new players will be familiar to Strikers supporters with long memories. Centre forward Daniel Gecic, who was last seen by Strikers supporters tangling controversially with their then skipper, Stuart McLaren, in an incident against Logan United at Meakin Park in 2008 that got McLaren sent off (and then subsequently testified for McLaren in his appeal against suspension) has bobbed up again at the Gold Coast and was on the scoresheet last week in their 4-2 loss to the Whitsunday Miners. Gecic looks likely to partner former Brisbane Striker Jason Doherty at the cutting edge for the visitors.
Finally, Strikers supporters who go along to Perry Park on Saturday are advised to remain behind after the main game for a short while as the club recognises a couple of notable milestones. The details are to remain a surprise until then.
Kick-off will be at 6.00 pm.