With a huge crowdd expected, Newcastle Jets defender Jason Hoffman rates Sunday’s clash with the Central Coast Mariners as the biggest F3 Derby in recent years.
In a clash that will have major ramifications for both sides' Hyundai A-League finals hopes, the Jets take on their neighbours from down the freeway in the final match of round 21.
A very big crowd is expected at McDonald Jones Stadium due to the membership initiatives between the clubs, which allows full-season ticketed members to attend away fixtures free of charge.
Of course, the two clubs have a fierce rivalry dating back to the start of the competition, with the 2007/08 grand final – won by the Jets – the biggest of them all.
But with both clubs hovering near the foot of the ladder in recent seasons, there’s has been a sense the F3 Derby has lost some of its appeal over the last few years.
Now with both eyeing a charge to the top six in the 2016/17 Season, Hoffman believes Sunday’s match will be like the good old days and have a finals-like intensity.
“All week in training and come match day, I’m that extra little bit fired up," he told reporters.
“Being a Newcastle boy, I understanding the history behind it.
“This is a derby that is important regardless of the ladder situation. That [finals hopes] just adds to the importance of it."
Worryingly though for the Jets, coach Mark, Jones has some tough decisions to make over his starting side with skipper Nigel Boogaard, Englishman Wayne Brown and import Ma Lei Lei out through suspension.
It does however offer others the chance to step up and write their own headlines.
“It will have almost a finals football feel to it and you feel that whoever can bounce back and get a result after the last week, when we both had poor losses, it will push them into positive momentum into the last six matches and hopefully into finals football.
“We’re confident the way we’re preparing this week we’ll be winners on Sunday afternoon."
It’s been seven years since the Jets played in the finals and their chances took a hit with last week’s 1-0 loss to the Reds in Adelaide.
Jones’ men are currently seventh, three points behind the Wanderers in sixth.
The Mariners also still believe they can make the playoffs, currently two points further back in eighth position.
It all adds up to what is almost a must-win clash for both sides.
“Whenever we play the Mariners, whether it’s a pre-season friendly or a league match, they are always massive games,” Hoffman added.
“They are important to the playing group and also to the fans. For the Newcastle fans to say that we beat the Mariners will be a massive thing all month until will play them again.
“With the ladder position the way it is this is obviously one of the most important derbies we’ve had in recent years.
“There’s finals football around the corner, we haven’t been there in a few years so there’s that extra bit of tension that can creep in.
“The good thing is the boys are level headed and understand it's the performance first and the points will be there at the end.”
Hoffman himself has an exceptional record in the F3 Derby, losing just one of 12 clashes against the Mariners in Jets colours.
“For me the biggest derby I have played in is the ‘07/08 grand final and we won that game.
"From my first year as a professional I’ve understood how important it is for the Newcastle Jets to win the F3 derby," Hoffman added.