Hyundai A-League 2017/18 Season preview: Newcastle Jets

Last season’s cellar-dwellers have undergone a major off-season clean-out with more than a dozen players leaving, along with coach Mark Jones.

Ernie Merrick has arrived with close to 250 games of Hyundai A-League coaching experience under his belt and has been charged with returning the glory days to McDonald Jones Stadium.

Ins and outs

Ins: Daniel Georgievski, Mario Shabow, Roy O’Donovan, Kosta Petratos, Glen Moss, Dimi Petratos, Nikolai Topor-Stanley, Jake Adelson.

Outs: Andrew Hoole, Iain Fyfe, Morten Nordstrand, Joel Allwright, Labinot Haliti, Ben Kennedy, Ma Lei, Daniel Mullen, Prio Nielsen, Mateo Poljak, Tomislav Arcaba, Kristian Brymora, Aleksandr Kokko.

The burning questions

Can Ernie Merrick complete his roster with a high-quality overseas player?

Will Roy O’Donovan remain a prolific Hyundai A-League goalscorer after his move up the F3?

Can Nikolai Topor-Stanley help shore up a leaking Jets defence?

Roy O'Donovan

Lesson learnt from last season

Don’t let the wheels fall off: An Andrew Nabbout brace against Melbourne Victory took the Jets into the finals spots at the end of January and things looked rosy.

Instead, they capitulated, earning just two points in their last ten matches and not scoring at all from open play in the last six.

The road ahead

The F3 derbies are always highly anticipated and Newcastle open and close their season in that fashion, both times in Gosford, with the Jets’ home derby scheduled for round 15.

In the season’s first month, Newcastle host Perth Glory and Western Sydney while also paying a visit to Brisbane Roar.

Expected strengths

The Jets should certainly be better at the back than they were last season.

The arrival of Nikolai Topor-Stanley – and his partnership in central defence with Nigel Boogaard – will be key to that, as will other new additions Glen Moss, Daniel Georgievski and Jake Adelson.

Potential weakness

The only out-and-out strikers in the squad are Roy O’Donovan and the unproven Kosta Petratos and while at least one of the remaining roster spots is likely to be an attacker, time is running out to integrate them effectively before the season starts.

If last season’s top-scorer Andrew Nabbout fails to fire and O’Donovan doesn’t score the goals, who does?

Tactical approach

There’s no secret about the way Ernie Merrick encourages his teams to play.

He likes possession-based, front-half football with players creating as many opportunities as possible and midfielders getting into goalscoring positions.

Sturdy defence isn’t always as highly treasured though.

Breakout star

Steven Ugarkovic: The talented midfielder started 24 of Newcastle’s 27 games last season and won the club’s Player of the Year award.

He scored just one goal, but it was a cracker against Brisbane, and the 23-year-old is set to take his game to another level in what is a big season for him in the Jets engine-room. 

Steven Ugarkovic

Best-case scenario

Simple, really – a return to finals football for long-suffering Jets fans, who have been starved of post-season action since 2009/10.