Newcastle Jets season preview: Starlet destined for Caltex Socceroos call-up, says Griffiths
After making the Hyundai A-League Grand Final 12 months earlier, last season’s seventh-place finish was a disappointment for those associated with the Newcastle Jets.
But Ernie Merrick-coached teams rarely – if ever – miss the finals two years in a row, meaning there’s cause for optimism in the Hunter heading into the new campaign.
We caught up with the club’s former striker Ryan Griffiths to preview the road ahead. Read on as Griffiths gives his verdict on Merrick, the Jets’ squad strength, along with a daring prediction or two.
Last season: Seventh
Ryan Griffiths’ predicted position: Top six
A-League.com.au’s three things to look out for
1. Millar crosses F3 divide
There was plenty of fury midway through last season when the Jets snatched live-wire wing-back Matthew Millar from under the noses of rivals Central Coast Mariners.
Millar felt he needed a move to take his game to the next level, which didn’t go down well with those in Gosford. The Jets’ first game of the season just happens to see them travel down the F3 to take on the Mariners.
2. Can the Jets get back to the finals?
Many expected the Jets to be serious contenders last season after the heroics of 2017/18 but their campaign just never got going.
One poor season can be forgiven, but there will be pressure on for Newcastle to perform and – at least – qualify for the Finals Series this season.
3. Arroyo the striking saviour?
To lead the attack for Panama at last year’s FIFA World Cup in Russia, Abdiel Arroyo obviously has the potential to light-up the competition.
If he can keep building on the glimpses we’ve seen from him in the FFA Cup, the Jets might just have a real X-factor in their squad.
The first five fixtures
Central Coast Mariners (a)
Adelaide United (H)
Sydney FC (a)
Perth Glory (H)
Western United FC (a)
Griffiths' match-ups you can't afford to miss
“The F3 Derby is fun but Sydney FC is the real derby.
“It always brings a fantastic atmosphere to the game.
“And the Wanderers as well. They have a great following and if they can bring it to the games it always makes for a good spectacle.”
Griffiths' players to watch
1. Matt Millar
“I honestly think he’s a gun. Such a good pick up and I’m glad he’s come to the Jets.
“I’ve got big tickets on him, I can see him breaking into the Aussie team in the next couple of years if he keeps his head down.
“He has a really bright future. No one really gets up and down and can really whip a ball in like he can.
“You can’t score as a striker unless you have that delivery and he’s got it.”
2. Nick Fitzgerald
“He’s always been good but never been an absolute standout.
“I think what the Jets can do with players like that, especially with Ernie, they can really go to another level.
“It was the same with Andrew Nabbout a couple of years ago and he got a move to one of the biggest clubs in Asia and played for the Socceroos. I think Ernie can have that effect on Nick and hopefully he can really fire up.”
Pat Langlois (promoted, youth team) Story
Matt Millar (Central Coast Mariners) Story
Nick Fitzgerald (Western Sydney Wanderers) Story
Abdiel Arroyo (Arabe Unido - loan) Story
Wes Hoolahan (unattached) Story
Bobby Burns (Hearts, loan) Story
Griffiths' squad verdict
“I think there’s a really good mix of youth and experience there now. They've done pretty well in recruiting, especially Bobby Burns, I think he’s a really good pick up.
“Matt Millar, I’ve been watching him the last few years and he’s unreal. He’s so good and hasn’t even come into his own yet.
“Nick Fitzgerald is a player that’s so good but doesn’t know how good he is. He’ll really fit in with the Jets with the lifestyle and the way Ernie plays that attacking style off football. I’d like to see him be more direct and score a few goals. I think that’s what Ernie might be able to do this year.
“From what I’ve seen of Arroyo so far he’s always Johnny on the spot. We need a player that will be there and just score goals, just out-and-out strikers that will score 15 goals a season, that’s what any successful team needs.
“Obviously the injury to Hoolahan is a blow but I think there’s the making of a really good squad there.”
Newcastle Jets’ 2019/20 Squad
Glen Moss, Lewis Italiano, Noah James, Nigel Boogaard, Johnny Koutroumbis, Lachlan Jackson, Matthew Millar, Nikolai Topor-Stanley, Patrick Langlois, Jack Simmons, Matthew Ridenton, Jason Hoffman, Ben Kantarovski, Steven Ugarkovic, Angus Thurgate, Dimi Petratos, Joseph Champness, Kosta Petratos, Kaine Sheppard, Nick Fitzgerald, Abdiel Arroyo, Wes Hoolahan, Bobby Burns
The boss: Ernie Merrick
“Sometimes I think he has to be a little crazy to be coaching as long as he has.
“But he will have that experience and composure to be able to get the team focused for this season after what was a bit of a write-off last season.
“He definitely still has the drive to be successful and he has a great ability to get everyone on the same page and pushing in the same direction.”
“I really think they’ll be in the top six. They have the players this year to be in the finals.
“They have kept a good core of the squad and haven’t really lost too much.
“The key players they've lost, I think they've replaced them with some good experience and some good legs there. And they all seem to be at a pretty good age so I think there’s some really good signs there.”
The Jets unveiled three different playing jerseys for the Hyundai A-League 2019/20 Season.
The home strip is the club's traditional blue and red colours in vertical stripes, while their away kit is white with a blue and red sash.
The Jets' third kit is the all black jersey which the club wore their way to the FFA Cup 2019 Quarter Finals.
NEW STRIPS: Every club's kit for the new season