Western United has already created an historic inaugural Liberty A-League Women season, defying the odds in reaching the Grand Final against three-time reigning Premiers Sydney FC.
The Green and Black’s inaugural side was full of players ready and eager to make their mark on the competition, and two of United’s stars will be particularly eager for a sense of redemption.
Emma Robers and Kahli Johnson have yearned to prove their worth to a Liberty A-League Women side and hoped Western United would be the place where they managed it.
Having emerged as a top young talent, Robers caught the eye of Melbourne Victory and signed her first professional contract ahead of the 2019/20 season.
After making one appearance that season, Robers was eager to kick on the following year but had that chance taken away from her after she suffered a ruptured anterior cruciate ligament injury while playing in NPLW Queensland.
Victory went on to win the Championship the next season, so Robers poured herself into her recovery in order to earn another contract at Victory for the 2021/22 campaign.
Head coach Jeff Hopkins labelled her an “incredible professional” during her rehabilitation and Robers was rewarded with another one-year deal, but started only once among eight appearances in total.
Robers did not make the pitch in any of Victory’s final five matches, and then tested positive for COVID-19 the day before the Grand Final, meaning she couldn’t even be in Sydney with her teammates to celebrate the win.
On the other side of that 2022 Liberty A-League Grand Final was a similar story as teenager Johnson had emerged as a first-team player at Sydney FC.
Debuting in the opening round against Newcastle Jets, the 17-year-old caught the eye as a talented winger who had already represented Australia at youth level.
Johnson’s continued development would earn her selection for the Young Matildas and eventually a spot in the squad for the 2022 FIFA U20 Women’s World Cup, right before she signed for Western United.
But despite all that promise, Johnson made only four additional substitute appearances after Round 1 as Sydney lifted the Premiership with the likes of Cortnee Vine and Princess Ibini patrolling the wings, as they have done this season.
Johnson, just like Robers, was made to watch the Grand Final from the stands, though for her there was the additional pain of defeat to add to the disappointment of not being called upon.
Fast forward just over 12 months and Robers and Johnson are set to be two key players in Mark Torcaso’s side as it chases an historic Championship crown.
Robers played 17 out of 18 regular season fixtures with 14 starts, sitting out only the final round due to an ankle injury.
Johnson started nine times for United and played 15 times in total, missing three matches due to international duty.
In the semi-final, Robers and Johnson linked up superbly on the right-wing before the latter assisted Hannah Keane’s eventual winner with a superb cross against her former side.
Johnson will be hoping to foil her old teammates in their search for silverware this season and Robers will be hungry to prove she can play a part in a Grand Final-winning team.
It all helps set up a mammoth Grand Final with the fourth meeting of the season between United and Sydney, kicking off at 4pm at CommBank Stadium on Sunday 30 April.
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