From boys’ football to the Ferns in a year — the rapid rise of winger Manaia Elliott

By Joan Grey

Within a year, Waikato teenager Manaia Elliott has been catapulted from playing NRFL U-17 boys’ league for Melville United to earning her first selection to the Football Ferns.

She’s in the national squad for their two-match series against Colombia in Bogata, one of six uncapped players in the 24-player group.

Wellington Phoenix winger Elliott (18) got the call-up from Ford Football Ferns head coach Jitka Klimková as an injury replacement for 63-cap defender Mikayla Moore.

READ MORE: Uncapped teen added to Ferns squad for two-game series against Colombia >>>>

Instead of flying home to the Phoenix women’s team base in Wellington after Saturday’s 2-1 A-League victory over Perth Glory at Go Media Stadium Mt Smart in Auckland, she was on a flight to South America.

Only last year, Elliott was playing in the U-17 NRFL boys league for Melville United in Hamilton.

This weekend she’ll be sharing the field with her Ferns idols in Colombia.

“They’re all such experienced players who I’ve looked up to for so many years,” Elliott says.

Main photo: Manaia Elliott playing for New Zealand at the OFC U-19 Women’s Championship. Photo: Kirk Corrie / Phototek.

In July, Elliott captained the New Zealand team that won the Oceania Football Confederation U-19 Championships in Fiji, securing a spot at next year’s FIFA U-20 World Cup.

Last year, she led the New Zealand team at the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup in India.

Following her experience at age group international level, Elliott signed a three-year deal with the Wellington Phoenix and has made a roaring start to the Liberty A-League.

Manaia Elliott … a roaring start to life in the women’s A-League.

She has played in all six matches and she scored her maiden A-League goal in the Phoenix’s 2-0 victory over Western Sydney Wanderers in October.

“I’m really enjoying being around the Phoenix girls. I just love the environment so much.”

Elliott’s experience travelling back and forth from Australia with the Phoenix has helped her adjust to the travel demands of international football.

“The A-League trips to Australia have definitely helped me prepare for this long-haul flight to Colombia. When travelling to Australia, the change in time zone was difficult to get used to at the start.”

The young winger has had to adjust to the pressure of playing A-League football in front of large crowds.

“I think it all comes down to mindset. You’ve just got to make sure you’re in the right space and focus on your job and how you can help the team perform on the day,” Elliott says.

“Sometimes you just have to shut out everything else that’s happening around you to be able to put your best performance forward.”

To budding female footballers eyeing a similar path to Elliott, she advises: “Keep working hard and just be yourself when you’re playing because everyone will bring something different to football. I think it’s important that everyone showcases their own abilities, and that’s something that makes you stand out.”

New Zealand squad

The Ford Football Ferns squad is:

Mackenzie Barry (7 caps) Wellington Phoenix, New Zealand
Katie Bowen (98 caps) Inter Milan, Italy
Daisy Cleverley (31 caps) HB Køge, Denmark
Ava Collins (11 caps) St John’s University, United States
Brianna Edwards (0 caps) Wellington Phoenix, New Zealand
Manaia Elliott* (0 caps) Wellington Phoenix, New Zealand
Victoria Esson (20 caps) Rangers, Scotland
Michaela Foster (8 caps) Wellington Phoenix, New Zealand
Ally Green (5 caps) AGF, Denmark
Jacqui Hand (17 caps) Åland United, Finland
Betsy Hassett (150 caps) Stjarnan FC, Iceland
Grace Jale (21 caps) Perth Glory, Australia
Aniela Jensen* (0 caps) University of the Pacific, United States
Katie Kitching* (0 caps) Sunderland AFC, England
Anna Leat (11 caps) Aston Villa, England
Ruby Nathan* (0 caps) Canberra United, Australia
Grace Neville (6 caps) London City Lionesses, England
Ali Riley (159 caps) Angel City, United States
Indiah-Paige Riley (14 caps) PSV Vrouwen, Netherlands
Paige Satchell (46 caps) London City Lionesses, England
Malia Steinmetz (25 caps) FC Nordsjælland, Denmark
Rebekah Stott (95 caps) Melbourne City, Australia
Kate Taylor (10 caps) Wellington Phoenix, New Zealand
Marisa van der Meer* (0 caps) Wellington Phoenix, New Zealand

*Debut Ford Football Ferns call-up.


Game to be played on Sunday December 3, 2023 (NZT)

Colombia v New Zealand
Estadio El Campin, Bogotá, Colombia, 10am (NZT)

Game to be played on Wednesday December 6, 2023

Colombia v New Zealand
Estadio Metropolitano de Techo, Bogotá, Colombia, 9am (NZT)

Joan Grey

Friends of Football writer Joan Grey loves playing and writing about football. She plays football for Franklin United.

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