Wellington Phoenix have signed rising young defender Lukas Kelly-Heald to the longest deal in the A-League club's history.
The towering teenager has inked a four-year contract that will see him remain with the team until the end of the 2026/27 season.
Standing at 1.98m (6ft 6in) tall, Kelly-Heald, 18, started all four games for New Zealand at the recent U20 World Cup in Argentina. He's been a regular in the Phoenix reserves for the past two seasons, after rising through the club's academy.
"Lukas is a great kid and technically a very nice player," said new Phoenix coach Giancarlo Italiano. "Physically, he’s big, which will help him matching up to the more senior players in the A-League.
"He’s worked hard at the academy, and I’ve always had good reports from his coaches that he’s really focused to do well and go to that next stage.
"I think there’s a lot of upside with him. He's got a great attitude, he’s a good professional and he’s always asking the right questions."
Despite the defender's tender age, Italiano is confident Kelly-Heald is ready to make the step up to the A-League and has the potential to match his frame.
"I've got no fear in playing these younger players, as long as they can give me the output I’m looking for, and demonstrate their drive and focus," he added.
"I'm happy to reward any player that does that. Our goal is to develop Lukas into a first-team player and showcase him on a bigger stage.
"We see him as a potential All White, with the ability to play overseas in the future."
A born-and-bred Wellingtonian, Kelly-Heald says playing for the Phoenix has been a lifelong goal.
"Growing up in Wellington, watching the 'Nix week-in, week-out, it's like a dream come true to now be part of the first-team squad," said Kelly-Heald. "It's always been a cool experience, going to the stadium to watch the Phoenix, and you aspire to be them and get to their level.
"It's great to have the coaches and staff show their faith in me with a four-year contract. My parents and family are over the moon."
Twin brother Alby is the Phoenix reserves' first-choice goalkeeper and was also part of the NZ squad at the U20 World Cup.
Kelly-Heald is the club's 16th signing for the season, with all players assembling in Wellington for the start of pre-season training.