Football: Wellington Phoenix missing star striker Oskar Zawada for Waitangi Day showdown against champions Central Coast Mariners

Tabletoppers Wellington Phoenix will face defending A-League champions Central Coast Mariners on Waitangi Day, without star striker Oskar Zawada.

The Pole recently returned from a month on the sidelines with a thigh injury, scoring the winning goal against Newcastle Jets two weeks ago, but has now sustained a groin niggle that may keep him out of contention for another month.

"He's the ultimate pro," said Phoenix coach Giancarlo Italiano. "He looks after his body like no one else.

Oskar Zawada in action for Wellington Phoenix.
Oskar Zawada in action for Wellington Phoenix. Photo credit: Getty Images

"I think it's more just bad luck than anything. I feel as though, if he was fully fit and we integrated him into the team the way we thought he could integrate, we'd probably have a little bit more at the moment.

"Any injury is frustrating and he wanted to have a big season, but once he comes back and hopefully - knock on wood - everything is fine, he still has a big part to play in this team.

"This is not the first time something like this has happened and he's a big player for us, but the rest of the squad will pick up the shortfall. They've done it before and they’ll do it again."

Zawada was the team's topscorer in the 2022/23 season, his first with the Phoenix, but he has been dogged by injury during the current campaign and is off contract this year.

While midfielder Nicholas Pennington will also miss the Mariners match through suspension, Italiano will have captain Alex Ruger and fullback Tim Payne back from judicial stand-down.

"Last game, you could tell we missed [Rufer], we missed a leader on the park," he said. "The fact that Rufs is back now gives us a little bit more control in the middle.

"In hindsight, it's probably a good thing they haven't played those stretch of games. I think it's maybe a bit of a godsend, because we’ve got these next two very important games."