Heading into the Summer of Football period, Western Sydney Wanderers defender Robbie Cornthwaite says the Hyundai A-League has gone to another level since he last played in the competition.
After six seasons in the K-League with Jeonnam Dragons then with Selangor in Malaysia, the goal-scoring defender is back home and revelling in football’s growth in Australia.
And while the former Adelaide United hero biding his time at Wanderers, the 31-year-old is enjoying seeing the league’s standard go through the roof.
“Definitely the level of fitness [across the league] has gone up and level of football.
“By attracting the likes of Tim Cahill and at our club with Jumpei [Kusukami] and Nico [Martinez] the level in all areas you can see has increased.
“I’m at one of the most professional clubs set ups in the league,” he told www.a-league.com.au.
The Caltex Socceroo returned to Australia in July inking a two-year deal with the red and black.
And he began the season in Round 1’s blockbuster Sydney Derby at ANZ, in front of over 61,000 fans.
And while the tall centre back has started a modest four games for Tony Popovic’s side he has a passing accuracy of 77.8% and he’s won 72.7% of his aerial duels.
He’s hoping by the time January 14 comes around, he’ll be back in the starting XI for the second derby of the season, this time at Allianz in Round 15.
“The first derby was an amazing atmosphere but spoilt by the result. We need to make amends, Western Sydney need to win a derby especially for the passionate fans.
“First and foremost we’ll be focussed on the upcoming matches but then turn our attention to the derby.”
A Malaysian club move is one a number of returning A-League players like Cornthwaite have made.
Taylor Regan is back in Australia with the Reds after his time captaining Negeri Sembilan in the Malaysian Premier League.
Shane Smeltz, formerly of Kedah FC, signed with Phoenix this week and ex-Negeri striker Andrew Nabbout is lighting up Newcastle Jets’ forward line since his return home this season.
“The Sydney Derby was an amazing spectacle but the Malaysian fans are very passionate too," said Cornthwaite.
“I played in the Malaysian Cup Final in front of 90,000, which was the best atmosphere I’ve played in.
“Just ask ‘Smeltzy’. He’s played in a final as well over there.
"He’s a fantastic player and his return reignites the [A-League] all-time goalscorers’ competition with Berisha.
“And Nabbout wound up in Malaysia and he was fantastic over there, scoring for fun.
"But as things are in Asian football, a lot of politics and other things involved but now he’s come back and set the league on fire – and he’s still only 23.”
Cornthwaite’s Wanderers face in-form Brisbane Roar this Friday night to kick off Round 12 in Harvey Norman Friday Night Football.
It is the first of 10 games in 11 days as the Summer of Football kicks off.