Harper on making A-Leagues debut

At the start of last week – let alone the start of this year – Taiga Harper probably wasn’t expected to make his professional debut in front of the passionate Wanderers members and fans.

Yet an injury situation in the goalkeeper position for the Wanderers, culminating with Lawrence Thomas sustaining an injury the day before the clash against the Newcastle Jets, meant the 18-year-old was thrust into the spotlight and the pressure cooker that is being a goalkeeper on the big stage.

Harper only signed a scholarship deal with the Wanderers at the beginning of the year after Thomas was on Socceroos duty at the Asian Cup and Jack Gibson suffered a long-term knee injury.

It was a difficult game to make a debut in, as the Wanderers finished the game with nine men in an end-to-end encounter that ended 3-3, and Harper says he learnt a lot from the game.

“It was a great moment for me. It was a hard game, a lot of good stuff, but there was lots of stuff that I had to improve on.

“In the early minutes, I made a mistake. but I take that as a message. It’s all about after the game, what am I gonna do?

“The first half there was good saves, good build up passes. I was always confident, knowing my task (that) the coaches give me.”

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA – FEBRUARY 11: during the A-League Men round 16 match between Western Sydney Wanderers and Newcastle Jets at CommBank Stadium, on February 11, 2024, in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Steve Christo – Corbis/Corbis via Getty Images)

Harper made several key saves in the match in a performance where he can hold his head high, and he felt the love from players, staff and fans not only on Sunday, but in his short time in the first team.

“It’s a very good environment. It has everything that I can develop my skills, my body. The goalkeeper coach Jess (Vanstratten) is an amazing coach, and the goalkeeper family is fantastic too.”

Living in Adelaide for the first 10 years of his life, he then moved to Japan where he went through the academy system of J-League club Kashiwa Reysol, before signing a contract with the senior team for two seasons.

“I was in the academy for eight years, [in] the last two years, I got an amateur contract for the professional team so that I can play.

“I didn’t get much opportunities to play, so I decided to come to Australia and make another challenge and grow my career.”

On his return to Australia, he actually lived with teammate Lawrence Thomas and his partner Ashleigh for a time, which he looks back on with fondness.

“It was great, It was very comfortable with Loz, talking about goalkeeper stuff was amazing. And Ashleigh is a very good person to hang out with, so it was a great time with those two people.”

For the rest of the season, Harper is aiming both to continue his improvement under Vanstratten and his fellow goalkeeper’s, but wants to ensure his game against Newcastle isn’t the only one of the season.

“This season I just don’t want to finish it with a debut, I really want to continue playing games. It’s gonna be hard to go to the next game to start on the first starting 11, because (Daniel) Margush is very good.

“(But) I have to take my best shot everyday, train at 100{819c2379e1bc88268fde798c7aa32b743f8d32f67923d1a9052292ac476d8479} and impress the coaches.”