After what has felt simultaneously like an eternity and no time at all, the Newcastle Jets are back in action this Sunday.
The Jets will head across the ditch to open their Hyundai A-League 2018/19 campaign against the Wellington Phoenix, and the boys will be looking to get three points on the board at the first opportunity.
It’s the first time the Jets have played in the Hyundai A-League since the Grand Final defeat to Melbourne Victory and it’s felt like an age since their last competitive match: the 1-0 FFA Cup loss to Melbourne City, back on August 29.
FIXTURE FACTS: The numbers ahead of Sunday's season opener
For Wellington, they’ll be looking to show the competition that the new-look side (from coach Mark Rudan to eight new signings) are a force to be reckoned with.
The Jets played the Phoenix three times last season, with two wins and a loss. They’ve won once in both New Zealand and Australia, but went down in our other home match.
The highlight of Newcastle’s clashes with Wellington last season was the 3-0 win in Newcastle, with Roy O’Donovan scoring a brace and Andrew Nabbout curling in an effort from outside the box.
There are four players who are looking at potentially making their debut for the club: Mitch Austin, Kaine Sheppard, Jair, and Lewis Italiano.
In line for a first Hyundai A-League appearance in Newcastle Jets colours is Matthew Ridenton. He’s already played two competitive matches for the club, albeit in the FFA Cup.
Two men who are set to definitely miss out are Roy O’Donovan, who is suspended for eight matches, and Angus Thurgate, who is currently on international duty with the Young Socceroos.
Joey Champness (foot) and Jake Adelson (ACL) are both ruled out of this one, with the pair still on the comeback trail from injury.
The jury is still out on Kosta Petratos (knee), but he’s a chance of making the trip to Wellington.
From the Boss
On getting underway
“Boy, am I looking forward to it. 16 weeks of pre-season, and it’s the longest pre-season since I’ve been in the club because they’ve set it back with the FIFA window. We’re ready to go, it’s been a really good pre-season for us.
On Wellington Phoenix
“They’ve recruited several strikers, midfielders, and a couple of defenders, [former Newcastle United player] Steve Taylor, so they’ve brought in good experience.
“I think it’ll be a very tough game, knowing that everyone that crosses over the ditch and plays at Westpac Stadium does it tough.
“We anticipate that, and we’re better prepared with the two tours of China and Spain, the FFA Cup matches, the friendly matches. We’re physically, technically, and strategically ready to go.
“We’re really looking forward to it.”
On the players
“They’re a very positive, upbeat lot, and I think they have a lot more belief in themselves having done so well last year and played in that grand final.
“The goalkeeper and the centre-back are virtually set, so that means we’ll look at Lachlan Jackson playing different positions because he was outstanding on those two overseas tours.
“Jair is definitely in the mix; he’ll have some game time off the bench. He’s trained really well, above and beyond expectations. I thought he’d be another two or three weeks before he’d get a run, but he’s in good shape.
“I expect a little bit more from the goal scoring area from Ronnie [Vargas] but the fact that he only played three full games last year means that he’s like another signing.
“Ronnie and Dimi [Petratos] have combined so well in all our pre-season preparation games, it’ll be a big year for Ronnie and he’s keen to get back into it.”
“Everyone has taken a step forward this pre-season… our new signings are doing really well, Angus Thurgate is away with the under 20s but has been outstanding. Nick Cowburn and Matt Ridenton have also done really well.”