Branko: GCU the team to beat

In a veiled swipe at the club that axed him, Newcastle coach Branko Culina has placed Gold Coast ahead of minor premiers Sydney FC as the team to beat in the Hyundai A-League finals.

In a veiled swipe at the club that axed him, Newcastle coach Branko Culina has placed Gold Coast ahead of minor premiers Sydney FC as the team to beat in the Hyundai A-League finals.

Culina, who's faltering Jets play Gold Coast in Saturday's 3 v 6 semi-final at Skilled Park, fears the league newcomers above all due to their playing roster and style of football.

Pushing the credentials of Sydney, who sacked Culina midway through last season, and runners-up Melbourne to one side, Culina told Sportal at Monday's finals launch: "I don't think you can fault them (Gold Coast)."

"To finish third in their very first season - even though they've got a star-studded side - is a very good achievement."

"On their day they are the best team when you look at the individuals and the way they play their football."

"Don't forget how they were playing early on in the season."

"They were outstanding. No team has played as well since then."

"I congratulate Sydney FC for what they've achieved but Gold Coast, at its best, beat them three times."

"So that's how good Gold Coast can be, but let's hope they're not like that on Saturday."

Newcastle will limp rather than sprint into the finals on the back of four consecutive losses and a long injury list.

But that places all the heat on Gold Coast, according to the wily Culina.

"It's going to be very difficult as we've got a number of blokes still injured but it is finals time and they will be under pressure as well," he pointed out.

"They won't enjoy facing us. They've had a couple of ordinary weeks."

While United, led by Culina's son Jason, will start red-hot favourites, the combative Jets boss refuses to concede an honourable defeat will suffice following an amazing rise on the table from last to sixth place.

He declared: "It's always disappointing when you lose and you're unable to continue on."

"We came from dead last so to make the finals is a great step for the club."

"We should be satisfied without being over-satisfied because I'm one who always aims as high as you possibly can."

"There were doubts halfway through the season but credit to the players and the club for sticking strong and coming out the other side of it."

"That's why it would be disappointing to bow out in the first round."

"I don't think it will happen."