Wellington Phoenix's Ben Sigmund returns from injury for Sydney clash
There were times this season when Phoenix defender Ben Sigmund doubted he'd be able to coax his battered body through another A-League game.
But the 34-year-old former All White, who has managed just 17 minutes of game time in the last 15 weeks, will finally be back in the starting line-up for Wellington in Saturday's away match against Sydney FC.
Sigmund had announced his retirement late last year when recent bouts of giardia, concussion, a suspect hamstring and ongoing injections to his painful hips had told him the time was right.
But he remained determined to finish the season in style, and over the last three months cut a patient if frustrated figure on the sideline at training as he worked his way back to fitness.
"It's been a long road, but I've always been determined to make sure I get back," Sigmund said.
"But you're thinking that time's ticking away because you're coming to the end of your career, and you want to get back out on the field.
"You can't dodge hard work, and that's what it takes to get back."
Sigmund's return is particularly timely for the Phoenix, who are languishing in ninth place on the A-League ladder with no hope of making the playoffs.
Their 4-0 loss to Adelaide United last weekend was particularly disappointing, leading coach Ernie Merrick to call on his team to play with more pride in their remaining five matches.
Merrick pointed to the way heads dropped after Wellington conceded a third goal early in the second spell against Adelaide, and said the team had missed having a gritty defender in the Sigmund mould.
"Ben is a presence. He commands respect," Merrick said. "He makes midfielders do their job, he makes fullbacks do their job. He's a real winner."
Sigmund says it's been difficult sitting on the sideline watching Wellington struggle, particularly when the players' heads dropped against the Reds last Saturday.
"I tell you what, I would not want to see anyone do that when I'm on the field," he said
"I know we're out of the playoffs, but that shouldn't matter. We're playing for contracts, we're playing for each other and we're playing for pride."