Newcastle Jets returned to pre-season training on Friday, well-rested after what was an almost eight-week break stretching back to their Hyundai A-League grand final defeat.
That break has left the Newcastle squad itching to get back out on the training pitch and work towards going one better in a Hyundai A-League which is looking as competitive as it has ever been.
The squad were keen to remind Jets coach Ernie Merrick just what they’ve got which earned them a place in last year’s decider – but it certainly won’t be a relaxed feel.
“I’ve always believed that the tougher and more horrible for the players the pre-season is, then they really look forward to starting the season and having a good year,” said Merrick.
“I’m very big on a very tough pre-season, and this year because I guess we did so well getting to the grand final we’ve had no problems arranging friendly trial matches against other A-League clubs and two tournaments overseas.
“We’re off to China next week, and later on we’ll be off to Spain which is a really good pre-season.”
Newcastle has the advantage of keeping a fairly settled squad with Andrew Nabbout, Riley McGree, and Pato Rodriguez the only key departures from last season’s squad.
There’s a wide spread of players which the Newcastle Jets recruiting team are looking at to join last season’s second place side.
Just one player, Matt Ridenton, has linked up with the squad so far this season but there's room for at least two more additions.
“I think it’s really important to recruit twelve months a year, so you’re always looking [and] if a player leaves suddenly you’ve got someone ready to step in,” said Merrick.
“First and foremost we look at our young academy players, up and coming boys so we’ll be taking three of those over to China.
“We’re always looking to recruit from the NPL, and Northern NSW first before other areas. We’ll be taking a trialist, James Virgili, we’ll also be looking at maybe taking someone from down in the NPL in Melbourne who we’ve been referred to.
“Joel, I and Lawrie are looking at overseas players to fill Andrew Nabbout’s spot.”
There were just two players who weren’t at training today – marquee man Ronny Vargas remains on break in Belgium, while Dimi Petratos is being urged to take some time off after spending time in Russia with the Australia squad.
“He arrived back this morning from Russia, I’ll try to insist he takes the next two weeks off not so much for his body but for his mind,” said Merrick of Petratos.
"I think you’ve got to freshen up mentally, be really keen to get back into pre-season training, and I think it’s such a good thing to have a break as all the boys had.
“I can see today they’re running full of energy and we’ve got to get all our players into that condition.
“Dimi needs to have a break, he’s the sort of person that will want to come down to training, he just loves training, but hopefully he’ll take a bit of a break for a week or two.
“[Vargas] has had his pin out of his ankle, he’s working with his physio in Belgium and following the training program that Chris Smith has set.
“He’ll probably join us in Spain, he’s telling us he feels really good. No after-effects from the injury, no pain, full movement, and he’s getting really strong again.”