A game 10 years in the making for Newcastle Jets
The Newcastle Jets are gearing up for their biggest game of football in over 10 years in the Hyundai A-League.
You have to go back to the Hyundai A-League 2007/08 Grand Final to find a greater occasion.
On that late February Sunday a decade ago, Mark Bridge’s second-half goal against the Mariners was enough to see the Jets lift their first Hyundai A-League Championship.
As ecstatic Newcastle fans celebrated in the sunshine while their heroes paraded the trophy around Stadium Australia, few of them could have imagined they’d have to wait so long for another visit to the Big Show.
They made the Finals Series again two seasons later, losing in extra-time to Wellington.
Since then, it’s been seven long years without finals football for the Hunter Valley faithful.
But now, Newcastle are perched 90 tantalizing minutes away from a long awaited return to Australian domestic football’s biggest occasion.
And they haven’t just squeaked into the top six this season.
They’ve roared in.
In a quite sublime campaign, the Jets have won more games, scored more goals and acquired more points than ever before.
Finals football was confirmed several weeks before the end of the regular season and a top two spot was secured with a month left to play.
In the time since, the club has been planning assiduously for this night.
And what a night it promises to be when Melbourne City come to town on Friday for a blockbuster semi-final.
The likes of Dimi Petratos, Ronald Vargas, Roy O’Donovan, Joey Champness, Patricio Rodriguez and Riley McGree are ready to fire the bullets which could send the Jets back to The Promised Land.
Behind them, Steven Ugarkovic, Ben Kantarovski and Wayne Brown are steeling themselves for the midfield exchanges.
And Nikolai Topor-Stanley, Daniel Georgievski, Jason Hoffman, Lachlan Jackson, Jack Duncan and possibly even recovered skipper Nigel Boogaard are meticulously prepared to repel City’s wide array of attacking threats.
Unsurprisingly, tickets have been flying out the door.
Newcastle’s record home crowd is the 24,338 who came through the turnstiles for the Hyundai A-League 2006/07 finals series visit of Sydney FC.
That number is well and truly under threat with a sellout being touted to cheer on Ernie Merrick’s men on Friday evening.
The waiting is almost over.
Ten years of hurt could be about to end.