It’s been on the cards for a few weeks, but could this Saturday night mark a Hyundai A-League debut for one young Jet?
After missing out on a spot in the gameday squad against Melbourne City back in Round 19 following his naming in the 18-man squad, Jack Simmons could make his professional debut this weekend.
It’s what Ernie Merrick has signalled today, as he looks to use the backend of this season to blood some youth and cast an eye towards next season and beyond.
An Australia U/17 representative, Simmons has earned hefty praise from many in footballing circles and is often lauded for his composure on the ball and ability to read the play at his young age.
They are attributes which he’s shown plenty of times in Jets colours - both for the youth and the first team. Simmons played a role in 2018/19 pre-season trips to Haikou and Hong Kong, even getting himself on the scoresheet.
His performances overseas for the Jets saw then-Youth Team Coach, Lawrie McKinna, draw comparisons between Simmons and former Central Coast Mariners product, Mustafa Amini.
The youngster might get his chance to demonstrate his wares at a first-team level once again this weekend against Brisbane Roar, with Ernie Merrick believing he's ready to take the next step.
“He’s very coachable and improving every week, so much so that I think the time is right for him to have a debut," Merrick said.
“I initially saw him play at NPL level and he seemed very capable and confident, despite him being so young.
“He manages to get off school to come to training two days a week with the first team … he’s been training with us since he was about 15.
“Initially he was a little bit intimidated and the step up in quality took some getting used to, but when he settled in he coped with that physical pressure so well and start to show how good he is in attack.
“His vision and passing range belies his age because he is really aware of who is around him and the options he has available.
“If you looked at our training sessions – apart from his physical appearance and size – you wouldn’t be able to tell that he’s yet to make his debut.
“It’s hard to find 16 or 17 year olds that have his technical ability or game awareness – it’s as good as anything I’ve seen for a player of his age."
Already, Merrick has looked to the young blood amongst his squad and the potential inclusion of Simmons this weekend could mark the first time Newcastle put out five youth internationals.
U/23 representatives, Ivan Vujica and Joey Champness are among the youngsters earning starts in recent week while fellow Olyroo, Johnny Koutroumbis continues to cement his starting XI position.
Angus Thurgate, an Australia U/20 representative, came off the bench and scored his first Hyundai A-League goal a fortnight ago against Western Sydney Wanderers.
It’s not a bad crop of youngsters to have coming through the ranks, and this weekend could be a real window in the future of the Newcastle Jets.