It’s a massive fixture for the Newcastle Jets – RAAF Round and an F3 Derby rolled into one.
There’s also room to be made up in the race for the top six, a chance for a handful of Jets to impress, and the third-last home fixture of the season.
This Saturday night at McDonald Jones Stadium, it’ll all unfold with a RAAF F/A-18 Hornet set to light up the skies just prior to kick-off.
A split round means the Jets have enjoyed a weekend’s break following their fantastic 2-0 victory over Melbourne Victory in Geelong on Saturday 2 March.
That win made it five unbeaten in the league, with the Jets taking at least a point in six of their last seven Hyundai A-League fixtures.
When the AFC Champions League is thrown in that mix, the Jets have lost just two of their last nine matches – not a bad record coming into the finals.
It’s one which will need to be maintained though, if the boys are to crack into that top six – and the Central Coast Mariners are next on Ernie Merrick’s hitlist.
After an 8-2 loss to Wellington Phoenix last weekend, our F3 foes parted ways with Mike Mulvey and have installed former Matildas boss, Alen Stajcic at the helm.
Despite their being at the bottom of the ladder, a new coach always invigorates a side and the Mariners will have plenty to prove on Saturday night.
There are three outs this weekend, with youngsters Joey Champness, Johnny Koutroumbis, and Ivan Vujica all in Cambodia on Australia U/23s duties.
Joining them on the outs list is Ben Kantarovski, who is sidelined with a calf complaint he picked up in training.
While they will be missed, it’s a big chance for a number of other names to step up and do the job with Ernie Merrick signalling that Lachlan Jackson will come into the starting XI.
Likely to join him in some capacity is Kwabena Appiah, who could make his Club debut on Saturday – against his old team, the Mariners, no less.
Following some red-hot form displayed in that Victory match, and indeed the past six weeks, Jair will look to step up to the plate once more this Saturday.
From the boss
“I’ve only met Alen [Stajcic] a couple of times, but I think he did an absolutely wonderful job with the Matildas,” Ernie Merrick said.
“Our focus is on their structure, how we combat it, and how we attack and play. There’s no doubt there’ll be a good team put out against us, and we’ve just got to back ourselves to play well these next few games otherwise we won’t be in the finals.
“We’re creeping up, we’re four points outside the top six now… Ronny Vargas wasn’t supposed to come back until the Wellington game but he could be on the bench, it’d give us a pretty strong bench.
“In our last seven, we’ve only lost one match. It’s been good for the boys, but to have the break has been first-class and another break after the weekend will be good for us.
“I think we are flying under the radar a little bit, we’re playing good football and we look good in training. We’ve still got a good chance of making the finals, and it comes down to how well we play.”