Canberra United have almost been a byword for stability in the Westfield W-League.
Surely no club in the competition has maintained such steadiness when it comes it their playing personnel. Even now as we approach season nine, several names from the club’s debut year remain on the United playing roster, Ellie Brush and Ashleigh Sykes among them.
This year, though, feels just slightly different.
There have been a variety of personnel changes, but even so there is more than an air of familiarity about Canberra. Returning to wear the green this year are Hayley Raso and Steph Ochs – both previous championship-winners with the club.
Even newly arrived American striker Jasmyne Spencer has - unusually for an import - extensive experience in the competition, thanks to a couple of seasons at Sydney FC.
That trio join an already impressive forward line that includes Michelle Heyman and Ashleigh Sykes. If nothing else, Canberra are certain to be worth watching for their attacking combinations.
“We have a lot of attacking strength,” says Sykes, with no little understatement.
“It will be exciting to play with so many attack-minded players in the team.
It is becoming a bit competitive so the standard of training has to be pretty high, and we will have to fight for our places, so there is only positives.”
And the positives don’t end there. Add in new midfielder Celeste Boureille who hails from Portland Thorns - the most popular women’s club in the world – plus 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup winner Yukari Kinga, and exciting times loom in the nation’s capital.
Kinga will have at least teammate who can welcome her with a handful of Japanese phrases. Sykes spent the off-season at Nadeshiko League 2 club AS Harima Albion, a small club based an hour from Osaka.
Sykes has developed into one of the competition’s hot properties in the past few years, collecting 19 caps for the Westfield Matildas, and joining an elite group last season by picking up the Julie Dolan Medal as the competition’s best player.
But after eight years in the Westfield W-League, Sykes, now 24, decided it was time to temporarily seek out a new horizon overseas.
“It turned out Sykes’ experience in Japan was an enriching one.
“It was great to see a different style of football,” she said. “The first couple of teams in our league were really strong. Overall the W-League is a little bit better.
"Everyone (in Australia) has a good understanding of football which comes down to the good coaching we have. There is high quality technique in Japan, so they are different styles of games.
“Culturally Japanese are so nice and welcoming, and I met a lot of new friends over there. It was a nice place to life. It was good to experience a new lifestyle and new style of football also.”