LUKE Wilkshire was a reluctant coach.
The former Socceroo talked into taking over the role at the Wollongong Wolves, a squad featuring Milton-Ulladulla's Chris Price, after returning home at the end of an illustrious career.
Success was immediate, Wilkshire leading the side to a drought-breaking NSW NPL premiership in 2019 before they took out the national final in an extra-time thriller.
Now he has caught the bug, so much so that the Albion Park product has committed to a further three years in charge of the Wolves.
It was an easy decision, he told Australian Community Media.
"We started on a journey to really move football forward and the club forward in the right direction," Wilkshire said.
"I feel we're making that progress.
"It's about really building for the future and building a better pathway for the kids in our region.
"Along with the backing of Tory (Lavalle) and the board, we really want to create a legacy and put this club on the map again."
Wilkshire was forced to leave Wollongong as a teenager in order to pursue his footballing dreams.
A stint at the Australian Institute of Sport in Canberra was followed by a move to England, the defender eventually finding a long-term home in Russia.
When he returned to the Illawarra 20 years later, very little had changed.
There still remains no opportunity for the region's youngsters to play professionally in Wollongong.
It's something Wilkshire is desperate to change, the coach leading the push for the Wolves to gain a spot in the A-League or national second division.
"This is where I'm from," he said.
"I'm passionate about the region, as are the people involved in the club.
"Having been away and come back and having family here, I want to help improve things here for young talented players that are desperate for an opportunity, to make that pathway easier and better than what I had.
"I've said all along, the goal is to get the Wolves in a national competition.
"How and when remains to be seen.
"I'm invested into that and it's a big reason in my wanting to come back and go for another three years."
While Wilkshire has a clear long-term focus, he also has his sights set on a more immediate goal.
The Wolves presently sit second on the NSW NPL ladder with one game to play.
Equal on points with first-placed Rockdale, Wollongong are three goals back on for and against.
The competition leaders face ninth-placed North Shore on Sunday, while the Wolves host Manly United.
Both games kick off at 3pm.
While Rockdale sit in pole-position to secure the premiership, Wilkshire is confident his side will ultimately lift the trophy.
"We've always said we wanted to go back-to-back," he said.
"This squad has been through a lot, on and off the pitch.
"If there's any team that can score five or six or seven goals, it's this team.
"If we can play like we did the first half last week for the full 90 minutes, God help whoever we play at this level.
"I've said all season, we haven't had a full 90 minutes of concentration, quality and ruthlessness.
"The chances we've been creating all season, game in, game out. If we can be more clinical, winning this title is in our hands."
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