Griffiths ready for milestone

As he approaches his 50th HAL game, Newcastle striker Joel Griffiths chats about his colourful career.

As he approaches his 50th HAL game, Newcastle striker Joel Griffiths chats about his colourful career.

As far as strikers go, Joel Griffiths fits the bill perfectly. He's brash, flashy and loudmouthed. Home fans love him and opposing crowds loathe him, but there is no doubting he has plenty of talent.

He enjoyed stints in Switzerland and at Leeds United in England before returning to the A-League for the start of the 2006/07 season, going on to score seven goals in that campaign. Last season he collected the Johnny Warren Medal as the league's Best & Fairest Player and also won the Golden Boot for the most goals in the season with 14 strikes to help Newcastle to a fairytale championship title.

This weekend's Hyundai A-League clash against Adelaide at Hindmarsh Stadium marks the 50th appearance in the league by the enigmatic forward and, as usual, he is looking for a goal to mark the occasion.

"It is a bit of a milestone and I am on 24 goals so if I can put one away this weekend I will have 25 from 50 which is not a bad ratio," he said. "It is something that I am playing for but the three points is definitely more important."

The chances of a goal for Griffiths in Saturday night's match are high. He poked home his third of the season to lead the Jets to a 1-0 win, their first victory in their title defence, against the Queensland Roar last weekend.

It was Newcastle's fifth win in five games over the Roar at Suncorp Stadium and more importantly for Griffiths, it was his sixth goal in eight matches against the Queenslanders.

With the 29-year-old's contract expiring at the end of this season, the Jets are so keen to retain the talented striker that they are considering making him their marquee player for the next four years. It will please the Jets faithful, who treat the blonde-haired Griffiths as a god in the coastal city.

"I have always been happy here (at Newcastle) I haven't had one dull moment and I get on well with the people in charge of the club," he said

"To be honest it has been hard for me thinking about playing for another team but we are in talks at the moment and hopefully I can stay."

He has become an integral part of the Jets squad both on and off the field. Newcastle's Young Socceroo Jason Hoffman revealed last week that Griffiths had pulled all the team's strikers aside after normal Jets training to give some extra 'striker work' before the Roar match, imparting his wisdom in front of goal and sharing his enthusiasm with the rest of his team-mates.

And while the talented striker agrees he is often the target for the jeers from opposing teams' fans, he is happy to give plenty back to the Newcastle community. This week he visited a bunch of ill children in Newcastle's John Hunter Hospital, happily signing autographs and posing for photographs.

"It is always good to put a smile on the kids' faces," he said. "If I could I would like to do it every week. They are not so fortunate and hopefully they can say we made their day and it is a credit to the club to organise things like that."

"But other fans booing me doesn't really bother me - I have a job to do and that is; score goals and win games, if fans hold a grudge towards me that is part of it."

"Gary van Egmond said something to me; the opposition fans will always boo the best player, so you have to take that as part and parcel of the game. I would worry more if they weren't booing more to be honest."

While jeering opposition fans are one thing, attracting the derisions of footballing hierarchy is never advisable. Griffiths got himself into hot water earlier this year when his comments on Australia's match against Qatar were interpreted the wrong way in the press. (He said a State team could have beaten the Middle Eastern national team).

National coach Pim Verbeek said at the time he didn't mind Griffiths' comments, it showed fire and determination and as long as he backed it up on the field with good performances. As a former Qantas Young Socceroo, Griffith is desperately keen to be part of Verbeek's Socceroos squad and has been working hard in all facets of his game to give himself a chance of selection.

"I have spoken to Pim a couple of times about what I can do to help my chances and he has given me a few good pointers and I have really tried to work on those and he has been great," he said.

"He is a really great coach and we have got a really good squad. Even if I am in the squad or not I am always going to support the Socceroos because I have so much passion for them."

"Hopefully we can win the qualifiers and get through to the World Cup and I think we will with the squad we've got. But I have to keep playing well and something might come up."

To give himself a better chance at selection and to keep his good form going, Griffiths spent the last Hyundai A-League off-season in Japan with former Sydney FC coach Pierre Littbarski's side Avispa Fukuoka. He believed the experience will hold him in good stead, especially as the Jets embark on the Asian Champions League next season.

"I think it has helped me. It is those experiences that help your career," he said. "We have the ACL coming up and I think that experience will benefit me."

"It was very different in Japan, not as fast as here. I think it is a bit more tactical and technical and players are really quick and sharp and like to take a lot of touches. I learned a lot off Pierre Littbarski and he was great towards me and I learned a lot off him. You are always learning, you never know what is going to happen after football as well."

In the meantime though, Griffiths, who plays alongside his twin brother Adam in the Jets, is solely focus on this weekend's game against Adelaide and getting Newcastle's title defence back on the rails after a lacklustre start to their season.

"The signs are positive," he said. "If we win ugly like we did last weekend hopefully we can start winning pretty and start knocking in goals and start creating a chance for ourselves to be thereabouts.

"Obviously the benchmarks are Sydney and Melbourne - on paper they are great attacking sides and we are not there yet but hopefully we are on our way."