Santa ready to mix it with A-League's best

Western Sydney Wanderers striker Brendon Santalab admits his overall form hasn't been as good as the A-League's leading strikers this season, but believes he has just as good a chance as any of them of scoring the goal or goals that could win his side the championship.


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After earning a "super-sub" reputation for scoring important goals off the bench for Western Sydney Wanderers earlier in the season, Santalab has revelled in a recent return to the starting side.

He scored doubles in each of the last two rounds of the regular season, when Wanderers beat Central Coast Mariners 4-1 and Wellington Phoenix 2-0 to secure a place in the top two and get this weekend off.

And now that Wanderers know their opponents for next Sunday's semi-final at Pirtek Stadium - it will be Brisbane Roar, after their 2-1 win over Melbourne Victory on Friday night - Santalab can't wait to get back out there.

Melbourne City's Bruno Fornaroli is the competition's leading goal-scorer this season, with an A-League record 23. Brisbane's Jamie Maclaren has 18 and Victory's Besart Berisha took his tally to 18 before his team was eliminated by Roar.

Santalab, despite having played in less games than each of the leading three and with far less game-time, has scored 10 goals.

Asked if he felt he was in the same league as the other three as a threat, Santalab replied: "I've always believed I could reach that level and I think I'm on the right track, but I don't think I'm there yet.

"Berisha has been the absolute pinnacle for A-League strikers for a very long time and while I believe I've had a great season it's a bit premature to put me in that category. I've got a lot of work to do, but I'm very happy with my progress and our progress as a team.

"Fornaroli is at a different level to everybody this season. He has blitzed the A-League and shown how important the foreigner and marquee spots are if you bring genuine quality to this country.

"Fornaroli has provided a great spectacle for the A-League and, no disrespect to myself, but he's in a different class. I watch him play all the time and I love learning off the likes of Fornaroli and Berisha.

"And obviously Maclaren has also had  a fantastic season for Brisbane and I admire these guys who I play against and I always look to be like they are.

"I can only improve by doing that and I've always been very honest with myself and I'll keep building until I can reach their level."

Santalab is 33, but he said he treated his body like a temple and that he didn't think age was a barrier to further improvement in his case. He believes he is on an upward spiral with his football and can continue that way.

"That's how I feel and that comes down to the way I look after my body and that's the key for me, looking after my body off the park," he said.

"Every day at training I look after my body with our rehab programs and all the strength programs we have in place at the Wanderers through our coaching staff, so at the moment I feel like I'm getting stronger and fitter.

"That's a credit to the coaching staff and I hope it continues this way and if I keep doing the right things I can't see why I can't improve even more."

Santalab said his confidence levels were such that he felt like he was going to score whenever he got just a hint of a chance at the moment.

"That's the mindset I have whenever I go out there and that fits my position," he said. "We're strikers and people expect us to score. It's never easy to score, but I'd like to think I put myself in good positions to score and that I give myself half a chance of scoring each and every game.

"We work on that at training every week and it has paid off of late, so it's a great feeling.

"When you're a striker and you're scoring goals you have that instant confidence when you get the ball in front of goal that you're going to hit the back of the net.

"That's a striker's instinct when he's doing really well and at the moment I feel like if I'm around the goal my chances of scoring are very good.

"I feel like I'm as good a chance as any of those leading strikers to score a goal in the finals to win a game or the championship, but if we do manage to win next week then whoever scores, whether it's me or one of my teammates, we would all celebrate together."

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5 min read
Published 16 April 2016 at 7:00pm
By Greg Prichard