'We're playing the U16's' - ACL qualification the priority for Jets

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Newcastle will field a much weaker side in the A-League on Friday night before next week's clash in Japan

After seeing off Indonesian side Persija Jakarta 3-1 in an Asian Champions League qualifier, Newcastle Jets coach Ernie Merrick confirmed he'll play a much weaker side in the A-League on Friday night against Melbourne City.

That game will be followed almost immediately by a trip to Japan where the Jets will play last year's ACL winners Kashima Antlers for a spot in the competition's group stages.

Set to be their third game in eight days, Merrick is clearly prioritising next Tuesday's match - despite Newcastle still chasing a finals spot in the A-League.

"We’re playing the U16’s against Melbourne on Friday," Merrick said post-game to Fox Sports prior to his press conference. 

"It’s going to be tough going to Kashima to play the Antlers, so Friday night will be a different team.

"As far as I know, we have no new injuries but there’ll be plenty of sore bodies tomorrow.

"Most of the boys will get a rest on Friday now and won’t play until next Tuesday. Even though we’re not playing our best football, we’re in good form and getting the results.

“It was a tough game. Two very fatigued teams out there to go 120 minutes, but it was an important win. We’ve won three, drawn one, and lost one of our last five."

Whether the Jets can get a result on Friday night against City with a much-changed starting side will be another big test for Merrick's men, who are eight points outside the A-League top six with nine games remaining. 

Following that match, a clash against Kashima looms as an even greater test with Newcastle captain Nigel Boogaard fully aware of the challenge that awaits.

"Massive, massive task, but we've got to go into every match with belief," Boogaard told Fox Sports.

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"Last year's champions are going to be a tough proposition, but these are the ones you want to play in.

"At the end of the day we're playing Champions League, this is a fantastic opportunity to play on the world stage.

"It's huge to play against the best teams in Asia - adrenaline should get you through that regardless."

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