The rise of the Newcastle Jets’ W-League side was evident for all to see in the 2017/18 Westfield W-League season, as they came to within arms reach of a long-awaited Grand Final berth.
While the season 10 of the W-League was typified by the heroic fightback in the semi-final against Sydney FC, the season itself was a huge step forward for Craig Deans’ chargers, after a spate of near misses for finals qualification.
For three straight seasons the Jets had faced heartbreak in the final round, missing golden opportunities to qualify for the playoffs, albeit with young and inexperienced lineups.
This year, the Jets were able to secure that elusive spot in the final four, and while the semi-final defeat will hurt, the team has well and truly captured the interest of the community and women’s football in the Hunter is set to be the beneficiary of the deeds of their local W-League side.
Building a Strong Foundation
The season began with the unveiling of four key recruits; Katie Stengel, Tori Huster and Brit Eckerstrom along with returning Matilda, Emily Van Egmond, who joined previous import Arin Gilliland at the club, and it didn’t take long for all five to make their presence felt as the Jets flew out of the blocks to start the season.
Stengel was superb in the front third, going on to score ten goals and finish second in the golden boot race, while Huster and Van Egmond controlled the midfield right across the campaign.
Gilliland continued from where she left off during the 2016/17 season and was arguably one of the Jets’ best, while Eckerstrom showed her class in goals, none more so than in the semi-final in Sydney where she kept her side in the match.
A Bright Start
Katie Stengel marked her Newcastle debut with their first goal of the season against her former club Western Sydney in the opening round, in front of Newcastle’s largest home crowd of the season, of 4,168 fans.
Just when victory seemed sewn up Newcastle conceded inside the final 15 minutes, but when Jenna Kingsley equalised a minute later it was clear that the Jets were a side who meant business as they went on to win 2 –1.
The Turning Point
After a win against Sydney in round two, the Jets were brought back to earth by consecutive defeats to City (5 –2) in Melbourne and then a frustrating 2 – 1 defeat at home to Canberra in which Newcastle dominated the bulk of the match.
The defeat at home proved the catalyst for a stunning run of form where the side went undefeated in five matches – including a 3 – 0 victory over eventual Premiers, Brisbane Roar – where Gilliland scored a hat-trick and Van Egmond had the ball on a string.
Newcastle’s fighting spirit was clear in round ten when they fought back from two goals down to draw 2-2 with Sydney FC, however just as a finals spot locked all but locked in, a disappointing defeat at home to Adelaide brought them back to earth.
A week later though, and finals were cemented for the first time in nine years as Katie Stengel starred with a hat-trick in their 5 – 1 demolition of Canberra United.
The Jets finished the regular season with defeat to City, but that was a mere blip on the radar as they prepared for a huge finals match in the Harbour City.
The finals clash would follow a similar storyline to their round ten tussle, as the Sky Blues took a 2-0 lead. But, this time the Jets were reduced to ten players, as Hannah Brewer was sent off before half-time.
What happened next will go down as one of the greatest fightbacks in Jets’ history, as Simon set up Gilliland to head home a corner, and then as calm as ever Katie Stengel turned and teed up Tara Andrews to equalise in stoppage time.
Meanwhile at the other end of the ground, Brit Eckerstrom made countless saves in goal, while Tash Prior – playing in her first W-League season – showed the composure of a veteran to put a stop to numerous attacking raids from Sydney.
In the end, Lisa De Vanna would have too much pace for a fatiguing Jets side in extra-time as she raced away to slot the winner, but all the talk post match would be about the Jets’ fightback which earned them plenty of new fans across the league.
The Wash Up
The season for the Jets was superb in an attacking sense, and the best in all ten seasons of the W-League for a Newcastle side – with 26 goals in 12 regular season matches.
While the four US imports, along with Emily Van Egmond provided the Jets with plenty of class, youngster Tash Prior was a standout, leading the defence in her first season in the W-League.
Clare Wheeler was ever-present in the midfield as she continues her rise, while Cass Davis' switch to the backline continued to prove a master-stroke from Craig Deans.
While the off-season is a lengthy one, another season will be off and running before we know it, and the Jets will be chasing the next step in their journey in season 11 – that elusive Grand Final berth.