Newcastle Jets boss, Ernie Merrick has called upon Newcastle Jets supporters to get down to Maitland Sportsground this weekend for the Club’s final pre-season friendly ahead of the 2018/19 Hyundai A-League season.
With FFA-Cup Semi-Finalists Western Sydney Wanderers heading north for the hit-out, it’s sure to be an entertaining and valuable match ahead of our October 21 season opener in New Zealand.
Coming off some solid pre-season form and with a near full-strength contingent to pick from, Jets Members and fans can expect to see as many as three new faces take to the pitch for the first time in Newcastle Jets colours.
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With Kaine Sheppard joining the boys in training on Wednesday, Lewis Italiano putting pen to paper the same day and Jair working towards full fitness, every player will be at their best and looking to impress.
Ernie Merrick has nearly a full contingent of players to pick from this weekend: only Jake Adelson, Kosta Petratos and Joe Champness are unavailable for selection.
With so many players to pick from, it’s giving Merrick some real headaches as the race for a spot in that starting XI begins to ramp up.
The midfield is a key area in that battle for spots, with Merrick naming five players – Ben Kantarovski, Steven Ugarkovic, Matt Ridenton, Nick Cowburn, and even Angus Thurgate – as those fighting for two spots at the base of the midfield.
A fairly settled defence will provide the platform for continued success this season, with the likes of Glen Moss, Nikolai Topor-Stanley and captain, Nigel Boogaard set to play key roles.
One tussle for the starting striker’s strip in the opening weeks to keep an eye on is that between Newcastle junior, Jason Hoffman and Brazillian import, Jair.
Hoffman has worked his way up the pitch from full-back to striker and is relishing his time at the point of the attack, while Jair is making his way to full fitness and beginning to showcase just what he’s capable of.
“I’m told by some of our supporters who come up and chat on a regular basis at friendly games, which is a good thing, that as a junior in Newcastle Jason was a central striker and top goal scorer,” Merrick said.
“I think he’s got a lot more belief in his abilities, he knows where the goals are. He scored with his head on the weekend, he’s shooting with his left and his right foot, he’s loving the freedom he has as a striker.
“There’s no doubt that when Jair first arrived that he was lower level fitness then we anticipated, but he’s had a great attitude towards training. He’s driving the trainer, Chris Smith, asking him to do more and do extras.
“Jair is already goal scoring here at training, it’s a different level. I wouldn’t say that either player has the spot locked down with four weeks to go, but either of them could do that…we’ve got a few options now, but those two are vying for that central role.”
Saturday will go a long way towards deciding who edges ahead in that battle for the starting number nine position. While there’s still some time left before the season kicks off, Merrick’s team is focussed on one thing.
“We’re at the stage of the pre-season, it’s about winning. We’re after a winning game, but at the same time we want to continue to develop our creative play, our build up from the back,” Merrick said.
“Hopefully we get a good crowd up to Maitland, it’ll be our last formal game in these last four weeks.”
To grab a ticket to this weekend's pre-season friendly head to maitlandevents.com.au
Newcastle Jets v Western Sydney Wanderers
Saturday 29 September – kick-off 12pm (AEST)
No.1 Sportsground, Maitland