Jack-Henry Sinclair is one of the rising talents of the local footy scene, currently getting up and down the lines as a wingback for Team Wellington for whom he’s won the OFC Champions League and represented Aotearoa at the recent Club World Cup. Not only that but, hey look, he was cool enough to have a little chat about it all with The Niche Cache…
Okay, better start this thing by saying congrats on the whole Club World Cup excursion. Describe what that experience was like. A bit different to the usual Dave Farrington experience, I'd assume...?
Yeah it was quite a different feel to a typical home game at Davey F. The crowd was crazy, especially when they hit back to make it 3-3, there was an incredible roar. It was fantastic seeing so many TeeDubs supporters and hearing them cheer us on. For people to come all the way over was great.
How much scouting were you able to do for a team like Al Ain or was it more a matter of just making sure you guys stayed true to your own game as much as possible?
We wanted to stick to the way we play week in week out. Really take it to them because we knew they wouldn't be used to teams pressing them from the videos we watched. I think that helped massively in going up 3-0. We were able to watch lots of their games and had individual clips on players too so we knew the way they played.
Speaking tactically, what do you reckon it was that allowed you blokes to shoot out to that 3-0 lead and what changed for Al Ain (either from your perspective, theirs, or a bit of both) to allow them to pull off the comeback?
We watched quite a bit of footage on Al Ain and in their league they don't get pressed so we saw that as something that would catch them out with, as well as identifying a few players that were weaker on the ball than others. Also not allowing balls into their wingers and forcing them to play inside into the chaos was important. We really wanted to take it to them and weren't afraid to go at them which allowed us to go 3-0 up. It's difficult coming up against a professional team where just one or two players can change a game and that's why they get paid so much to do what they do. Everyone worked harder than they would have ever had to and penalties is always a cruel way to decide a game.
On that note, how confident were you once it went to penalties?
We have a lot of good penalty takers so I felt confident going into penalties but knew that they were good technically too. When you have a goal keeper as good as Scotty B [Scott Basalaj] it gave me more confidence in us being able to take the game but penalties are a lottery and it didn't fall our way on the day.
Obviously a bit of a gutting result but when you look at how far Al Ain ended up going in that tournament, it's gotta be a proud one too. Has that been a difficult thing to balance, the pride and the disappointment?
It has been a really strange one to process. Everyone gave it absolutely everything so we have to be proud of what we did. But seeing how far they did go it plays on your mind a bit, thinking what could have been. They ended up doing really well.
So tell the tale of how you ended up at Team Wellington in the first place... what was the plan after finishing up with the Phoenix academy side?
After training full time with the first team for two seasons I talked to Darije [Kalezic] about my chances for the upcoming season of potential game time/becoming pro and it didn't look like happening. With FDF finishing up as well I felt it was time to either go pro elsewhere or start my studies, as training full time while not getting paid was too difficult to manage. I tried my luck in South Africa but it didn't work out, so on the flight back home I got in contact with Jose [Figueira] and signed that week.
Having been a part of the trial cycle in preseason, is the Wellington Phoenix still the main aim or will you look overseas or are you just sweet as getting it done for Team Welly every week for now? Like, what's the target for JHS at this stage in your career?
I'm still only 20 years old so I don't feel like there's necessarily a rush to go pro as soon as possible especially while I'm in my last year of study. I feel as though I've really improved under Jose, Scott and Pat the past season and a half and feel like that will continue. It's important for me to be playing and in my time with TeeDubs to date I've enjoyed my football and time at the club, with the players and staff in general, more than ever. It's been the best decision I've made, joining Team Wellington. But I wouldn't turn my nose up at an opportunity to go pro with the Phoenix, especially after seeing the change that Rudan and Greeny have implemented in the Phoenix's game play and in the dressing room.
You did have a stint on trial in South Africa with Stellenbosch FC in 2017 too... what are the three biggest lessons you took away from that whole process?
That trialling overseas, even if it doesn't work out, is a great way to experience new cultures. It's important to find the positives out of a potentially negative outcome.
You must always pick yourself up and move on to the next thing, don't dwell on what's happened.
Its important to understand and play different styles of football, it all helps you in different situations. This has helped me to play against Pacific Island nations as it's a similar skill set. Technique wise they're very good.
Describe what you consider to be your ideal position, your biggest strengths as a player and also your main weaknesses to work on.
I'd say my ideal and best position would be wing back. Under Jose I get to go forward a lot which I love but I also enjoy tracking back and helping out the defensive unit. It's a lot easier playing wing back when you have a back three and holding midfield that's as solid as ours as you don't have to be in a back five. My weakness would be cutting back onto my left foot, although I don't mind using my left if I'm playing left wing back, it's different driving inside on your left than going down the line on your left. My strengths would be crossing and getting behind the defensive line.
What differences did you see from the Phoenix under Mark Rudan this season while you were trialling there versus what that team was functioning like in your previous stints with them?
I was training with the first team when Ernie [Merrick] was there and he was really good, I enjoyed working under Ernie. Rudan has done really well with the team and a big part of that is Steven Taylor's influence off the field as well as on it. Also the 'no crap' approach and the way the team pushes their limits are huge factors in how Rudan has helped the team to do so well in the league so far. They're looking really good and players are really stepping up.
Having worked with him in a couple different situations, how have you found Jose Figueira as a coach? What would you say it is that sets him apart from other dudes around the local scene?
Jose is a fantastic coach. Tactically he prepares us so well and really expects us to push ourselves. Each training everyone is on their game and we train like we're expected to play. I've been fortunate enough to be coached by people like Greeny [Chris Greenacre], Des [Buckingham] and Ernie [Merrick] and I think Jose is easily alongside those names.
Does it frustrate you how people continue to confuse 'Jack-Henry Sinclair' for 'Jack Henry-Sinclair' or are you just immune to that by now?
I don't mind it too much. It’s a bit annoying if I'm watching a replay of the game and it's being repeated over and over again. It's my family that this is a real problem for, mum especially.
What's the secret for a perfect cross into the penalty area from out wide because you and Henry Cameron seem to be perfecting the art this season?
It's pretty easy to find the head of a player like Watto [Hamish Watson] given the size of his head. No just kidding, H [Henry] has got a crazy dipping cross and I have no clue how he does it, it alludes defenders that's for sure, you'll have to ask him about that one. But for me it's just about making sure you're using the right type of cross in the situation. All of our attackers are hitting the right areas so sometimes it's more about picking out a space rather than a player.
Finally, some words on the delightful NZ Premiership. What's the main way you've witnessed the league improving over the past couple years and what's the main thing you think should be done to keep those improvements coming?
It's great to see the Premiership improving each year and it's showed with players like [Justin] Gulley and Tim [Payne] being involved with the All Whites and others like Sarpreet [Singh] and Libby [Cacace] stepping up to playing week in week out at the Nix with the first team. There's been more foreign players coming in which is putting more pressure on local players to perform better and work harder so now we're seeing more teams, ones like Tasman and Southern, being really difficult to beat and winning games against teams who have been in the top few on the table each year. I also think the youth league is a great stepping stone for players, you've seen the likes of Maro Bonsu-Maro step up for Auckland City and score important goals.
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