Smith, North ready to Roar together
Preparing for his long-awaited return, Brisbane Roar captain Matt Smith has plenty to savour ahead of this weekend's A-League kick-off.
Smith missed the final three months of 2012-13 due to hip surgery, watching as the then defending champions turned a mid-season from hell into an honourable preliminary final finish.
Filling his big boots in central defence was Jade North, who slotted in perfectly as the Roar regained their mojo to make the play-offs after previously lagging in second-last place.
That momentum has continued in pre-season as Brisbane have won all four of their A-League practice matches for Central Coast coach Graham Arnold to label them a major title threat.
Smith, back to 100 per cent fitness, has played every minute in those four wins and has instantly struck up a strong combination with North.
The pair, both premiership-winning skippers and Socceroo defenders, ensure the Roar will be a resolute unit at the back and provide the platform for the likes of Thomas Broich, Besart Berisha, Matt McKay and Perth recruit Liam Miller to shine.
"It's something I've been looking forward to for quite some time," Smith told AAP.
"I watched (North) from afar at the back end of last year and I'm really pleased he's signed long term with the club.
"Jade was a massive part (of the finals charge).
"I think his leadership and persona at the back really gave the rest of the boys confidence to keep pushing."
A hamstring niggle to rising fullback Jack Hingert could well see Brisbane feature a full backline with Socceroo experience in their opening round clash with the Phoenix in Wellington on Sunday.
The versatile Ivan Franjic may be moved back to his traditional right back spot while Shane Stefanutto will start on the left.
With back-up skipper Broich also over his foot problem, the Roar will almost be at full strength - only missing McKay on national duty.
Smith credited coach Mike Mulvey, controversially re-signed for a further two years in the midst of their A-League doldrums and Asian Champions League failure in February, for ensuring they start the new season in better shape than 12 months ago.
It was only 11 matches in before the back-to-back champions sacked Ange Postecoglou's replacement, Rado Vidosic.
"We know that last year wasn't good enough from a season perspective and we want to get back to the Brisbane that everyone knows," Smith said.
"We said in our pre-season that we needed to be better, plain and simple, and we needed to be more consistent.
"The players have a lot of belief. When a club signs a coach for a couple of years you can really trust the club and you can really trust the coach and Mike's done a fantastic job."