Harding hitting her stride

The Wanderers A-League Women’s side are beginning to hit their stride with two wins in a row, with coach Robbie Hooker beginning to stamp his authority on the club.

The whole team has improved, but the shining star in recent weeks has been attacker Sophie Harding, who has five goals in her last three games.

Having scored two goals and assisted three more in her first season at the club in 2022/23, she was given more attacking responsibility after some key departures in the offseason, and she has risen to the challenge brilliantly.

“(I’ve) got a couple goals, which is good. I think I’ve been getting in good positions each game, and it’s just that final execution and it’s come together.

“I’m just gonna keep building on that and keep trying to score more goals.”

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA – NOVEMBER 25: Sophie Harding of Western Sydney kicks a goal during the A-League Women round six match between Western United and Western Sydney Wanderers at City Vista Recreation Reserve Pitch 1, on November 25, 2023, in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Jonathan DiMaggio/Getty Images)

The speedster’s hot start to the season is reward for the hard work she has put in up to this point; having come to Australia from England with her family at the age of six, she spent time at different NPL NSW club’s before getting her shot at the big time with the Newcastle Jets in 2020.

“I moved to Newcastle, moved my life there for six months when I was 19 or 20. That was a big move for me, but I didn’t even have to think twice. I knew that that’s where I wanted to be.”

It was not an easy time to make the jump, with Harding having to deal with the trials and tribulations of playing football in a COVID-19 world, however the positive environment she found herself in helped her get through it.

“It was actually the year COVID started that I went there. It was a difficult period, But everything was so new to me and exciting, to be in that environment was amazing.

“But then there were masks everywhere, COVID tests every day, flights and stuff like that. But it was a crazy period, but (a) good period”

NEWCASTLE, AUSTRALIA – NOVEMBER 05: Sophie Harding of the Wanderers with the ball during the A-League Women round three match between Newcastle Jets and Western Sydney Wanderers at McDonald Jones Stadium, on November 05, 2023, in Newcastle, Australia. (Photo by Scott Gardiner/Getty Images)

She also had to deal with personal loss during this time, with the passing of her father who introduced her to football.

“That was really difficult… but he got to see me play professional football, which was amazing. Obviously losing him was really, really hard, but it pushed me to continue playing and continue getting better. I know that that’s all he wanted me to do and I hope I’m making him proud.

“After every single game, we used to debrief – I would get roasted sometimes – but other times I’d get told I did well, and I have struggled at times not having him to talk to after games (and) before games.”

The circumstances she has faced in her career means her age belies her experience; despite only being 24-years-old and having much of her career ahead of her, she has taken up a role of leadership amongst a youthful Wanderers side.

“You wouldn’t think that I would be an older player for the team, but we do have a younger team. Some of our players are quite timid and quite quiet, so I do find myself having to take on that role a little bit.

“I try to be positive and make people laugh at training because I think that that’s how we build a healthy environment. Obviously, switching on when we need to and holding everyone accountable, but trying to make training fun, trying to make playing fun, because at the end of the day, when you’re playing happy you’re playing your best.”

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA – OCTOBER 14: Sophie Harding of the Wanderers runs at Natalie Tobin of Sydney FC during the round one A-League Women match between Sydney FC and Western Sydney Wanderers at Allianz Stadium on October 14, 2023 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

Leadership like this is important in a young team that had to overcome challenges from a failure to qualify for the finals last season, to changes in the playing and coaching staff – including a change of head coach close to the beginning of the season.

Harding feels the team will be better off for having gone through these experiences.

“I think that that’s what builds good teams. If you can go through all that, it’s going to make winning so much sweeter when it happens.

“When you’re losing, when people are getting injured, when you’ve got changes in coaches, changes in staff, it’s going to be hard.

“You’re going to be angry, you’re going to be frustrated, but if you can get through those moments, and be there for each other, then you’re gonna get closer, and being closer as a team is gonna make you win games.”