He’s not there just yet, but Labinot Haliti is excited by the prospect of joining a select group of Newcastle Jets players to have made 100 or more Hyundai A-League appearances for the Club this weekend.
Haliti has racked up 99 Hyundai A-League games, including 15 goals, since making his debut for the Jets in the first ever match of the competition all the way back in August 2005.
In a 1-0 loss to Adelaide United at what was then known as EnergyAustralia Stadium, Haliti replaced Matt Thompson in the 66th minute of the contest in front 13,160 supporters.
“I had the same hairstyle (as I do now),” Haliti told local press regarding his memories of his Jets debut following training at Ray Watt Oval at the University of Newcastle earlier this week.
“I remember a good night, a Friday night, and while we did end up losing 1-0 I remember the people turning up at the Stadium and realising that it (Newcastle) was a good place to be.”
“Funny enough 12 years later I am still here,” he said.
Or back here - twice - as it is.
After his first 27 games for the Club Haliti returned to the continent of his birth - Europe - for spells with sides in Croatia, Albania and Poland.
Following his season with ŁKS Łódź in Poland Haliti re-signed with the Jets in 2009 and it was then, in his mid-twenties, that the Pristina-born poacher produced his best form for the Novocastrians.
Scoring a goal every five games for the Club between 2009 and 2012 ensured Haliti earned cult-hero status with the Jets faithful.
“It’s not about me & it’s never been about myself,” he said. “I’ve always just enjoyed seeing the fans celebrate. Sending them home happy is the best experience.”
After leaving the Jets in 2012 Haliti enjoyed a fruitful spell with Western Sydney Wanderers. He won the 2012/13 Hyundai A-League Premiership with the then foundation Club, and featured in two losing Grand Finals (2013 and 2014).
But undoubtedly his greatest achievement for the red-and-black came in 2014 when Wanderers shocked Asia to win the 2014 AFC Champions League. Haliti played regularly throughout the inter-continental success, including in both legs of the Final against Al Hilal from Saudi Arabia in Parramatta and Riyadh.
In 2015 Haliti headed to the Hunter once more, joining the Jets for the third time in his career. Unfortunately, the attacker’s 2015/16 campaign ended in just the second match of the season after he ruptured his anterior cruciate ligament 15 minutes into the Club’s home game against Sydney FC.
Determined not to let injury finish his playing days, Haliti, now 31, completed 12 months of rehab to return to fitness for the 2016/17 season. Saturday’s showdown with the Sky Blues at Allianz Stadium will mark Haliti’s sixth match of the season should he make it onto the pitch, but more importantly bring up a century of competitive appearances for a Club he holds dear.
“Only the people that have been through with me, my family and the people at the Club obviously, know what I have been through,” he said.
“It’s going to be emotional (reaching 100 appearances) that’s for sure. I think I am only the seventh player to reach that and it means a lot.”
“I have to get there first but it has been a long road and it means a lot to me.”
“Remo (Nogarotto) was in charge with George Liolio and Con Constantine in the early days. Through them I first got to come here and there have been other changes throughout my time here and everyone has played a part so I really appreciate it and I will never forget them,” he said.
Should he feature at Allianz Haliti will join Ben Kantarovski (139 appearances), Tarek Elrich (134 appearances), Matt Thompson (121 appearances), Ben Kennedy (114 appearances), Jobe Wheelhouse (106 appearances) and Adam D’Apuzzo (102 appearances) in the Jets’ 100 Club.
Whether or not Haliti moves higher up the Club’s all-time appearance list as a Newcastle Jets player next season remains a question for the crystal ball. Regardless, minutes against the Sky Blues at Moore Park would ensure that the name Labinot Haliti is forever inscribed in the Club’s record books.