Club Preview - Newcastle Jets

To say a year is a long time in football, would be the biggest understatement for most Newcastle Jets fans.

To say a year is a long time in football, would be the biggest understatement for most Newcastle Jets fans. The ecstasy of winning the Hyundai A-League Grand Final in 2008 was very quickly washed away with a season to forget. The last 12 months has seen the club go to the depths, courtesy of finishing in last position at the end of the 2008/09 season, but slowly rise again with a promising AFC Champions League campaign, where they were knocked out by Korean club Pohang Steelers in the Round of 16 last month. That disappointment was soon followed by the shock announcement of Head Coach Gary van Egmond quitting the club, which understandably didn-t go down well with the hierarchy at the club, so close to season kick-off. They didn-t waste anytime announcing a successor though with former Sydney FC coach Branko Culina stepping into the breach from his Technical Director role he had at the club.

The drama at the club has also coincided with many of their big names moving on - captain Jade North initially deciding to go to North Queensland Fury as their marquee player, before then going to Korea; the Griffiths brothers moving - Joel on loan to Beijing Guoan, where his other brother Ryan plays, while Adam has joined the Gold Coast revolution; Ante Covic flew back to Sweden, while Mark Milligan also liked the look of China and signed a 3-year deal with Shanghai Shenhua.

The ACL saw a host of new players signed with the most notable being that of Saso Petrovski from Central Coast Mariners and former Qantas Socceroo Ljubo Milicevic, while Dutchman Donny de Groot and Italian Fabio Vignaroli were signed with the latter particularly impressive in that competition. It appears as though Vignaroli has agreed to stay on for this season as their marquee player and if he can stay away from injury could be one of the buys of the season. Others to fly in are Adelaide-s Ange Costanzo and Perth Glory defender Nikolai Topor-Stanley, while Brodie Mooy and Sean Rooney earned full time contracts after impressing in the ACL and during the latter half of last season. Given Newcastle-s late pre-season preparations, Culina is still to finalise his squad and has a number of trialists at the club.

The Jets have one of the youngest squads in the competition and players with huge potential. Tarek Elrich is such player, while Ben Kantarovski is a special talent that has a huge future in the game. Kaz Patafta might also finally fulfill his potential under Culina. One problem that Culina could face is a number of players that are in contention for the Qantas Young Socceroos squad to play at the FIFA World Youth Cup, with Jason Hoffman, Kantarovski, Jason Naidovski, Marko Jesic, Rooney and Mooy all potentially in line for the squad.

The pre-season has been a short one for Newcastle, with their final ACL game played in late June and as such they have played the fewest pre-season friendly matches of any club. Results haven-t been flattering for the Jets, but given where they are at not totally unsurprising.

Culina will be thankful for the longer season this year (27 rounds), as he might need a few games before his team really warms up. Whether they can warm up sufficiently to make a challenge on the top six might be another matter. If Vignaroli and Milicevic are on their game then the Jets could surprise many, but hard to see them repeating their feats of two seasons ago.

Current Squad: Angelo COSTANZO, Adam D'APUZZO, Donny De GROOT, Tarek ELRICH, Jason HOFFMAN, Marko JESIC, Ben KANTAROVSKI, Ben KENNEDY (gk), Ljubo MILICEVIC, Brodie MOOY, Jason NAIDOVSKI, Shaun ONTONG, Kaz PATAFTA, Sasho PETROVSKI, Sean ROONEY, Jin-Hyung SONG, Matthew THOMPSON (c), Nikolai TOPOR-STANLEY and Jobe WHEELHOUSE.

Re-signed: Jobe Wheelhouse (2 years), Kaz Patafta (2 years).

In: Angelo Costanzo (Adelaide United - 1 year), Donny de Groot (De Graafschap, Netherlands - 1 year), Ljubo Milicevic (Melbourne Victory - 1 year), Brodie Mooy (Newcastle Jets NYL - 2 years), Sasho Petrovski (Central Coast Mariners - 2 years), Nikolai Topor-Stanley (Perth Glory - 2 years), Sean Rooney (Sydney FC NYL - 2 years).

Out: Ante Covic (IF Elfsborg, Sweden), Adam Griffiths (Gold Coast United), Joel Griffiths (Beijing Guoan - On loan), Jesper Hakansson (released), Antun Kovacic (Ulsan Hyundai , Korea Republic), Mark Milligan (Shanghai Shenhua, China), Jade North (Incheon United FC, Korea Republic)