Elrich on the verge of stardom

Newcastle Jets defender Tarek Elrich is a definitely one to keep an eye on for the future.

When it comes to players to watch out for on the horizon of international stardom, Newcastle Jets defender Tarek Elrich is a definitely one to keep an eye upon.

Twenty-one-year-old Elrich had a stellar Hyundai A-League season in 2007/08. He worked hard to solidify a regular starting spot and was an integral part if the side's Grand Final victory over the Central Coast Mariners.

He capped the year off with a call ups to the Australian Under 23s team and the Socceroos, virtually playing the year through without taking a break from football. For most players, this would leave them slightly jaded at the start of the new season, but Elrich sees it as a blessing.

"I didn't have a much of an off-season this year being involved in the Australia Under 23s, but I didn't really want to have much of a break," he said

"I think I finished off the season in good form and I didn't want to start from scratch again this season. Usually at this time in the start of the season I am still trying to find my legs but I at the moment I am feeling great."

"I even got a call-up into the Socceroos squad for the match in Singapore and then got called up into the Olyroos but unfortunately I didn't make the Olympic team but life goes on."

"But I have had a taste of the Socceroos and that is the next national team level for me and is obviously the next goal. I will be working as hard as I can both on and off the pitch and giving myself every chance to make that squad."

A prolific junior who enjoyed stints Parramatta Eagles in the Youth League and Sydney Olympic before finding his 'home' at the Jets, Elrich has seen his career blossom over the last twelve months and gives plenty of credit to the coaching staff at the Newcastle club.

"I worked hard and the coach (Gary van Egmond) showed the confidence in me to play me," said Elrich.

"Both Gary and Mark Jones (assistant coach) have helped me heaps and the last off-season (just before Season 3.0) they asked me what I wanted and they gave me the work to do - like getting the right technique, using my body more and getting stronger on and off the ball, so that helped me heaps."

"Mark Jones is very technical, he likes everything to be done right and I think I did that. At training I worked on it a lot and I also did a lot of extra training behind closed doors that no-one knew that I was doing and I think it paid off in the end."

"Last season particularly. I had a lot to play for as I was coming off contract and I had to make a point of making that right back position my number one goal last season and I think I achieved it and hopefully I will go on to bigger and better things."

One of the first things van Egmond changed about Elrich was his position. He came to the club as a speedy right winger but has found his niche playing in defence.

"Gary always knew I had something in me as a right back," said Elrich.

"Naturally I was a right winger, but he thought because I have the engines and that I was a good defender that he could put me in defence and then when I did go into attack I had a nose for goal so that works for me as well. He knows what my game is."

"I don't mind it. It is much easier for me I get to see the game for a different perspective. I get to see everything that is happening in front of me. Left wingers and left strikers the last thing they want to do is chase a left back up and down the line all the time - it takes it out of you in attack. So the fitter I get the easier that position is going to get for me."

One the reason Elrich has warmed to his new role is the fact that he feels ‘at home' in Newcastle. Although when he arrived at the coastal town from the hustle and bustle of Sydney, he wasn't so sure he would fit in. But after sharing a famous 'Darby pie' (an iconic lunch fare in Newcastle) with then Jets midfielder Stuart Musalik, he knew he would grow to love the place.

"After growing up in Sydney and coming to Newcastle - at first I was a bit dicey about it and I didn't know what to expect," he retold.

"But after I got here the people of Newcastle welcomed me and words can't explain it. Stuart Musalik's mum took me under he wing, she was like my mother away from home. But the beaches, the nightlife and the people here have been great. A simple 'hello' is like a million bucks to them and for me it is simple as making a new friend. No-one gets into your business and it is a relaxed lifestyle. It is cruisy and is good for my football."

Elrich's relationship with Musalik grew over the years and even though the Novocastrian has transferred to Sydney FC, the two remain good friends.

"Everytime I am in Sydney he comes over to my parents' house and when he is up here he comes over and stays at my place. I speak to him at least once a day to see how he is doing."

"From day one when I first came to Newcastle, we went and got a Darby's pie together and started talking and form there it was an instant click and we were both single and that is why and I have said if ever get married he will be my best man."

And the pair even shared some friendly banter ahead of this weekend's vital clash between the two sides at EnergyAustralia Stadium.

"I told him yesterday I know your passing game is good but don't try to put any balls behind me because with my speed I will make you look a bit silly."