Manaia eyes the goal

Manaia Elliott in action for New Zealand

As Cambridge Football Club gears up for the biggest party in its history, one of its most promising prospects also has plenty to celebrate.

Manaia Elliott’s dream of playing professional football is on track following her selection to the Wellington Phoenix Academy.

“It’s pretty cool,” said the 17-year-old, whose proudest sporting moment was captaining New Zealand’s FIFA U17 Women’s World Cup team in India last year.

“I think the best part is just how good the training and the coaches, Paul Temple and Katie Barrott, are.”

The Wellington Phoenix is the country’s sole professional football club and competes in the A-League – New Zealand and Australia’s highest-level professional football league.  Its academy programme provides pathways into men’s and women’s A-League teams.

As Cambridge Football Club celebrates its 75th jubilee this weekend, Manaia stands out as one of its many success stories, along with Chris Wood, who currently plays for Nottingham Forest in the English Premier League.

“I’m happy for the club that they’re celebrating this milestone because every kid has to start their footballing journey somewhere,” she said.

“That’s probably where I first felt accepted to play football as a female in a male dominated sport, so it was quite vital in my development.  I wasn’t challenged by girls’ teams so they happily accepted me in the boys’ teams.”

Manaia arrived at the club in 2014, after moving to Cambridge with her family from Otago, and played there for six years before joining Melville United in 2020.

At 15 she was selected to play in the New Zealand National Women’s Football League, which led to spots in the Future Ferns Development Programme and the New Zealand women’s national U17 football team.

Having moved to Wellington this year to join the Phoenix academy, the former St Peter’s Cambridge student is now completing year 13 through distance learning with Te Kura, and shooting for a football scholarship at an American university next year.

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