This Sunday afternoon two of the competition’s great unknowns will go head-to-head.
One of those sides – Western United – is brand new to the competition, while the other was forced to hit the reset button after their most promising campaign in five seasons.
Football is a mugs game, just ask the Wellington Phoenix.
In just one off-season, the club went from no-hopers to title contenders as the Mark Rudan led outfit scored for fun and turned Westpac stadium into a fortress.
Despite being written off, the Phoenix – under Rudan – sent the league an ominous warning, leading the eventual Champions Sydney FC 3-0 at half time in their Round 7 clash, before becoming too good to ignore.
An elimination final berth saw the Phoenix travel to AAMI Park where they were outclassed by a strong Melbourne Victory outfit, spelling the end of Wellington’s season and the beginning of an arduous off-season.
The subsequent departures of Johnny Warren medallist Roy Krishna, Sarpreet Singh, David Williams, Fillip Kurto, Andrew Durante and coach Mark Rudan saw the club – once again – return to the drawing board.
New boss Ufuk Talay was given the almighty task of re-building this squad, just months after the club had finally seen the light.
It is difficult to predict how the Phoenix will fare in the new season.
The club was forced to hit the transfer window hard and did so – promoting several youth players in addition to the inclusion of experienced internationals, after only having seven players on their books a few months ago.
Fans will be hoping new recruit 21-year-old Reno Piscopo, will provide similar flair to Singh, who departed for German giants Bayern Munich.
Of the players remaining from last season’s team there are perhaps none more important than Alex Rufer.
The 23-year-old has been likened to Andrew Durante when it comes to his leadership and was one of Wellington’s most consistent performers last season.
Rufer, who is the son of Kiwi international Shane Rufer, will be looking to build on last season and continue to break through as one of New Zealand’s best emerging players.
At the other end stands former Newcastle United defender and the club’s new captain Steven Taylor.
One only has to scroll through the 33-year-old’s Instagram to see how much he loves the club and the city.
His ability to lead from the back and offer his services up front – as well as provide elements of humour in his attempts to cheekily distract opposition goalkeepers – makes the decision a no-brainer.
Expectations may not be great for the Phoenix, albeit fireworks are predicted in their history-making clash with Western United.
This match is perhaps the most intriguing of the weekend.
It may not attract the greatest crowd or television coverage, but its story-line and several sub-plots makes it must-see.
There will be plenty of interest surrounding how Rudan will be received by the home fans as well as how the league’s newcomers perform.
While it may be an awkward 90 minutes for a few former Wellington players and Rudan, the sides come in on an even playing field with both teams spending their pre-season working their way up from scratch.