The Wollongong Wolves are on the hunt for a new coach after Luke Wilkshire announced he will stand down at the end of the NSW National Premier Leagues season.
After a hugely successful four years in charge, the 40-year-old will join the Central Coast Mariners as head of youth development.
It's a role that will see the Albion Park talent work closely alongside another former Wolves star, and current Mariners head coach, Nick Montgomery.
Wilkshire signed on to lead his junior club as a reluctant coach in 2019, achieving immediate success in his rookie season.
The former Socceroo led the Wolves to a historic NSW NPL premiership before they also claimed the National Premier Leagues final.
A return to the NPL semi-finals followed in 2020, while the 2021 season was abandoned due to COVID.
The Wilkshire-led Wollongong side has also made an impact at the national level, reaching the round of 16 of this year's FFA Cup, ultimately falling to Montgomery's Mariners.
Wilkshire acknowledged it was a tough decision to leave his home town, however he's looking forward to the opportunity to develop the next generation of A-League stars.
"Becoming a coach and a manager wasn't something I aspired to," Wilkshire said. "However, the Wolves gave me an opportunity and it's something I will always be grateful for. Tory Lavalle, and everyone of influence at the club have been fantastic.
"The club and its people will always be special to me. I hope to come back one day when the club is in the A-League. But at this moment, this opportunity with the Mariners is exciting and one I need at this stage of my career."
Wilkshire's departure leaves a significant hole for the Wolves to fill, with new CEO Strebre Delovski set to start the hunt for a replacement.
Delovski was disappointed to see his coach leave Wollongong, but congratulated Wilkshire on the opportunity to progress his career.
"Everyone at our club is grateful for the work and influence Luke and his family has had," Delovski said.
"We are certain he will go on to achieve more success. We all sincerely thank Luke and wish him and his family success and happiness.
"From the club's perspective, there is no doubt that there will be a lot of interest in the vacant role and we will go through a process to identify the best person to take us forward.
"The next couple of years of football in Australia will bring significant change. We will find the right person to guide us into the next era."
Wilkshire's announcement comes on the back of Friday night's 3-1 victory over Blacktown City at WIN Stadium.
It's a result that proved his side will be a force to be reckoned with throughout the second half of the NSW NPL season after a tough start to the year.
The match turned in the 72nd minute when the visitors were reduced to 10 men after Daniel Collins received his second yellow card.
Wollongong made their opponents pay, Leroy Jennings handing his side a 2-1 lead before Lachlan Scott put the game to bed in the 82nd minute.
The win comes just days after a youthful Wolves side dismantled Western Rage 6-2 in their fourth-round Australia Cup fixture and Wilkshire is confident his team is finding form at the right point in the season.
"We knew it was an important game for us," Wilkshire said. "There's moments in games that can shift momentum and moments in seasons that can shift momentum. To win like that, in the way we did, can be that moment.
"We know this team is good enough to beat any team in this league. We've shown that, now it's about consistency.
"It was good to score three goals and stay unbeaten at home. It's very important we enjoy that win, take confidence from it and focus on next week."
Sports reporter at the Canberra Times
Sports reporter at the Canberra Times
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