Newcastle Jets will be hoping for greater consistency in the upcoming A-League season after a series of disappointing performances last term saw the side succumb to a last-placed finish with just five wins and seven draws.
Things bode well early on the wooden spooners, though, with the club having recently undergone a major squad overhaul whilst the appointment of experienced coach Ernie Merrick will certainly have diehard fans confident of more success to come.
2016-17 finishing position: 10th
Coach: Ernie Merrick
INS AND OUTS
Ins: Kosta Petratos, Daniel Georgievski, Mario Shabow, Roy O’Donovan, Glen Moss, Dimitri Petratos, Nikolai Topor-Stanley, Jake Adelson, Ronald Vargas
Outs: Ben Kennedy, Joel Allwright, Daniel Mullen, Andrew Hoole, Mateo Poljak, Labinot Haliti, Harry Sawyer, Ma Leilei, Morten Nordstrand, Tomislav Arčaba, Kristian Brymora, Aleksandr Kokko.
STAR PLAYER - Ronald Vargas
Newcastle Jets' signing of Ronald Vargas is, if anything, a sign of the club’s ambition for the season ahead.
Indeed, there has been little for Novocastrians to cheer about over the past couple of years with the side having failed to qualify for the A-League finals for the past seven consecutive seasons.
Their greatest obstacle towards consistency has undoubtedly been their inability to pose a threat in the final third, epitomised by their struggles in front of goal last season with 28 goals scored in 27 matches.
In Ronald Vargas, the Jets have a lively forward who has the potential to be a menace to opposition defences. He has quite the CV too.
The Venezuelan international rose through the youth ranks of Caracas and featured as part of the first-team for two seasons before becoming one of the most expensive Venezuelan players when he moved to Club Brugge in 2008. He remained there for three seasons but a series of injuries scuttled further development after his arrival at Anderlecht in 2011.
His two seasons at AEK Athens, where he scored 14 goals in 50 appearances in all competitions, offered glimpses of his true potential when fit and firing.
His ability on the ball to set up and score goals will prove to be invaluable, he has proven to be versatile and can operate in wide positions as well as a no.10, and his overall physicality should see him adapt well to the physical demands of the game.
"He's got that vast experience in that front third; that's the excitement area, that's where goals are scored," Merrick said.
"He not only scores goals, but creates goals ... he's really a typical No.10 but can play wide on the right side as well."
There’s little doubt that Vargas looks like a superb signing, on paper anyway. Time will tell, though, if he can really have the impact on the pitch that the Jets desperately crave.
BREAKOUT PLAYER - Joe Champness
Whilst Vargas is the present, Joe Champness is the future of the club and his undoubted talent has been reflected in the club’s shrewd signing of the youngster on a three-year deal.
The 20-year-old, fresh from a loan move to Portugal’s second division, has settled in nicely at the Hunter, scoring the opening goal in their 3-1 win over Melbourne City, netting a brace against Canberra Olympic and also bagging the winner against Wellington Phoenix.
"As a player, he’s got fantastic attacking ability, speed, creativity and a knack for finding himself in goal scoring opportunities,” Merrick said.
If the winger can nail down regular game-time this season, he could prove to be an absolute handful for defences this season.
Ernie Merrick’s possession-based philosophy has often seen his previous side’s exposed at the back. But, this time around, the club have done well to shore up their defence with the resources available.
The arrival of former Western Sydney Wanderers skipper Nikolai Topor-Stanley is a significant boost for a side who shipped a whopping 53 goals last season.
The 32-year-old brings strength and experience to a side which has lacked leadership in the back previously and should link up well with Nigel Boogard.
Meanwhile, their latest additions of Daniel Georgievski, Glen Moss and Jake Adelson provide other adequate options in defence.
The Scottish tactician will have a lot of work to do, though, if he is to have his attacking firing on all cylinders this season.
The club will most likely start with Andrew Nabbout prominently in the attacking third. The 24-year-old was arguably the side’s best player last season scoring eight goals in the process.
Veteran striker Roy O’Donovan will also feature heavily in Merrick’s plans this season and whilst patience will be needed for Vargas as he looks attempts to integrate himself more fully into the side.
FINAL PREDICTION - 9TH
The Jets will undoubtedly be eyeing off a position in the A-League finals this season. This, though, is easier said than done, of course, particularly with a side who have almost forgotten what it’s like to win.
Whilst the club have done well to overhaul their side and appoint a coach who has experience, vision and solid philosophy, it would be unrealistic to expect too much this season.