|By MARK HUGHES
The form of Michael Bridges has forced the Newcastle Jets into a rethink, with the veteran forward handed a one-year contract extension just one month after being told he was not required next season.
Bridges was used sparingly for much of the first half of the season, as coach Gary van Egmond implemented his youth policy.
But the former England Under-21 international has been a key member of the Jets' push towards the finals in the latter half of the regular season, and has landed a new deal despite being told he would not be re-signed for the 2013-14 season in February.
It has come as a delight to Jets fans, who had been calling for his inclusion alongside countryman and fellow former English Premier League player Emile Heskey at the point of Newcastle's attack.
"I'm delighted to be able to spend another season playing at the Jets," Bridges said in a club statement on Thursday.
"My family and I are very happy in Newcastle and we love the lifestyle here, so it's great to settle down and have my future sorted."
Bridges' agreement includes a development role with the Emerging Jets junior program in the Jets off-season.
"We are delighted Michael has re-signed with the club for next season, and in addition, to have him involved with our juniors is a major boost for our region," chief executive officer Robbie Middleby said.
After reversing a decision to retire late in 2011, Bridges, 34, said he has never felt fitter and is confident he can continue to be a big contributor to the Jets both on and off the park.
"I'm my biggest critic and I've said since day one of pre-season that I've never felt this fit, never felt this strong," he said.
"Thankfully I got the chance to show that. I'm playing better football and looking leaner and fitter than I was when I arrived three years ago.
"Hopefully I can pass on some wisdom and some knowledge and help bring our younger players along."