Newcastle midfielder Mateo Poljak says his side are rightfully favourites for Sunday's F3 Derby and he hasn’t given up hope of a finals spot, drawing inspiration from Perth and Adelaide’s late-season surges.
Bottom-placed Mariners host their neighbours in Gosford with their own finals hopes dashed, but the eighth-placed Jets still dreaming of a spot in the six.
This despite Perth Glory being five points clear of the Hunter club in seventh and in a strong run of form that could potentially see them move into the six this weekend.
The Mariners meanwhile would love nothing more than put a crimp in the Jets' finals hopes on Derby Day.
“We know we are able to get into the top six so it’s a big game for us. Every single game till the end of the season is big,” 26-year-old Poljak told reporters on Wednesday.
“[Now] we are aiming every single week for a win.”
And the Zagreb-born ACL winner with Wanderers is hoping Perth and Adelaide’s recent runs can show the Jets the way to a spot in the business end of the season this April.
“Adelaide started slow, and are on a 12-game unbeaten run and Perth especially after a slow start are playing some excellent football, so we could be the third team...”
Jets’ run-in includes the Mariners twice (this Sunday and in the final round) but the remaining sides they'll face are all currently above them on the ladder going into Round 21.
Crucially, Jets face Glory twice in their run-in with the first meeting a week after Sunday's F3 clash. A season-defining clash it may well be in Perth on Monday March 7.
And with the Jets picking up seven from a possible nine in their last three games, with the added boost of new signings striker Morten Nordstrand and mobile midfielder Steven Ugarkovic, confidence is suddenly surging back in Newcastle’s camp.
The former Wanderer put it down to knowing each other better and implementing training ground ideas better on game day.
“First time in a while we’re recognised as favourites [against Mariners]. That’s deserved. Not because of position [on the ladder] but because of how we play.
“We’ve shown against better opponents we can deal with them and hurt them.
“It’s now up to us to meet the challenge of playing against a lower-placed team, which are the hardest because everyone expects us to win.”
The hard-working Croatian central midfielder, signed this season, enjoyed an enforced rest last week due to suspension.
He had played every minute of every game up till then, but says having a rest at this time of the season is an advantage for him.
The Jets will hold a final training session on Saturday with fans invited to turn up and give the team a lift ahead of Sunday’s clash.
“It gives you a bit extra spark when fans come to see you train… and hopefully they can celebrate with us after the game [on Sunday],” added Poljak.
Hyundai A-League Round 21
Central Coast Mariners v Newcastle Jets
Sunday 28 February, 5:00pm (AEDT)
Central Coast Stadium, Gosford
Click here to purchase tickets