Last year’s W-League saw the arrival of some impressive young players and Bryleeh Henry emerged as one of the most dangerous attackers in the league.
The 18-year-old went from debutant to starting striker and is looking forward to another season in red and black.
After re-signing with Western Sydney Wanderers for another campaign, she spoke to Kick360 about the factors that make her one of the most promising young players in the game and her hopes for the Wanderers next season.
Western Sydney had a slow start to the 2020/21 W-League but they began to gel and hit from in the closing rounds. Their mid-table finish does not do justice to a team that ended the season strongly.
Looking back, Henry sees the making of a successful side.
“We came so close to making the finals,” she says of her team’s sixth-place finish.
“If the season was just that little bit longer we might have got there, we really did improve each week..hopefully, this year we can make the finals and bring home a trophy.”
Henry announced herself as a rising star with a brace and an impressive attacking display in a 4-0 win over Melbourne City. Her two goals were obvious highlights but her movement in the box opened up space for Rosie Galea to score.
“That game definitely was a big booster, a big turning point,” recalls Henry.
“I had a couple of opportunities before then to score some goals and I sort of just missed or wasn’t clinical enough.
“We went into that game feeling confident. we knew we weren’t going to make finals and wanted to finish the season on a high.
“It gave me the confidence that if you work hard and trust the team and coaches around you the results will come.”
Western Sydney had an impressive brigade of young players but they supported them with experienced senior teammates. For a young striker like Henry, the mentorship of Leena Khamis was instrumental.
“She definitely had a big impact,” she says of the former Matilda striker.
“She took me under her wing. I learned a lot from players like her, Georgia Yeoman-Dale, and Caitlin Cooper. They’ve all played professionally and been in The Matildas before.
“Seeing what they do, made me see what it takes to be a professional footballer.
“The way they train…you always hear it but when you’re there and see it, it really has a big impact…to show you that’s how you need to train to get to where you want to be.”
Khamis was one of the few experienced goalscorers in the Wanderers squad and it initially raised some eyebrows that Henry was picked ahead of her, but the talent and potential was abundantly clear to anyone who watched her play.
Henry’s role models are not limited to her surroundings. As a direct, pacey Australian attacker, naturally she wants to emulate Sam Kerr.
“She plays in my position,” she says of the Matildas captain.
“I love the way she plays and how she conducts herself.”
There are similarities between the two, Henry has speed and a good goal sense. She is dangerous playing off the shoulder of the last defender and also attacks a cross fearlessly.
For her two goals against Melbourne City, she met the ball at full pace, with good timing, and showed the technique to turn it into the goal.
They were her only two goals of the season, but that performance was the culmination of weeks of ominous improvement and Henry is working to improve her output next season.
“I want to work on the technical side of my game. Becoming more clinical in front of goal, becoming more reliable when I get the ball and becoming more unpredictable in one-ones, and getting behind defenders.”
Henry’s technique was honed on the futsal court. She credits the five a side game with helping her adjust to the pace of the W-League.
“It makes you faster, you need to make a decision in an instant or the ball will be taken off you.
“It’s the same with the W-League (or) if you want to play for Australia, one bad touch and poor decision and you’re going to get punished for it.”
The Penrith native is delighted to re-sign with her local club and continue her development with new coach Catherine Cannuli.
“Every coach is different, but I think she’s going to do an amazing job,” she says of the former assistant who has taken over from Dean Heffernan.
“She was definitely a big factor in how I grew as a player and as a person and I think she’s going to do great things with the club this year.
“Our goal will be to make the finals and I think that we can definitely do that under her.”
When asked what made her excited about re-signing for her second season as a Wanderer, she was quick to answer.
“The culture is amazing, which is a big factor in how you play. When you feel comfortable it definitely brings out the best in you.
“Wanderers is a real family based club. They take care of their players and the culture that I experienced there is probably one I never experienced before.
“The players and the coaches are so welcoming, they take you under their wing.”
Henry is ambitious for the club and describes playing for Wanderers as “an absolute honor.”
As a member of the Young Matildas program, she takes inspiration from club teammates who have become senior internationals. Her confidence on field is backed up by a humility and work ethic that make her strive to be the best player possible.
“I know I have a long way to go and a lot of hard work to do. When you see players like (Olympic squad member) Courtney Nevin…a friend that I’ve known for a couple of years, that makes it real. if you work hard it can definitely happen.
“On a personal level, I want to work as hard as I can to be the best player possible for my team.”
Wanderers fans should be excited about the prospect of Bryleeh Henry leading the line for them again. If she keeps improving, more goals and highlights will surely follow.
The future is bright for Henry and for Western Sydney.
If both can continue on the trajectory they started last season they could light up the league and potentially force a finals position.