VETERAN striker Michael Bridges has taken the first step towards gaining Australian citizenship, a move he hopes will lead to a contract extension at the Newcastle Jets.
Bridges is one of nine players, including fellow regulars Jeremy Brockie, Tarek Elrich, Francis Jeffers, Byun Sung-hwan and Ali Abbas, whose careers are in limbo after the Jets season ended with the 3-2 loss to Sydney FC on Sunday.
Football Federation Australia plans to reduce the number of overseas players each club is allowed to four next season. Clubs have opposed the move and the issue is expected to be finalised at a meeting between the club chairmen and FFA on March 29.
Regardless, Bridges hopes to follow the footsteps of teammate Abbas and become a fully-fledged Aussie.
Closing in on his third year in Newcastle, Bridges, his wife Kate, and five-year-old twins Riley and Sadie were granted permanent residency in December, 2010.
They own a home in Bar Beach and are partners in a Darby Street restaurant, factors Bridges hopes count favourably.
‘‘We have filled out some preliminary paperwork and now the season is over we will investigate further,’’ Bridges said.
‘‘That will be the focus for the next couple of months. There are certain requirements to be met. We have been here three years now and I also had a stint in Sydney. Hopefully they take that all into account.’’
Either way Bridges has no intentions of sliding back into retirement.
‘‘There is no way I’m hanging the boots up,’’ the former Leeds United star said. ‘‘I am as fit as I have ever been.
‘‘I spoke to [former Socceroos] Steve Corica and Spider [Zeljko Kalac] after the game on Sunday and they told me I looked lively and to keep going. I had something to offer.’’
Bridges was called into the starting side against Sydney on Sunday morning after Jeffers withdrew with a quadriceps injury.
He scored a goal, his second of the campaign, and was the most threatening of the Jets’ front three.
‘‘I have wanted more game time but am not the type to kick up a stink. I just get on with it,’’ Bridges said.
‘‘It was nice to score a goal and get us back in it, but at the end of the day we got beat.
‘‘It was very disappointing. To get so close yet be so far away.
‘‘We put a good run of games together and to lose those final two games was gut-wrenching.’’
Hindered by a long-term knee injury, Bridges retired in April to take up a two-pronged position as business development manager with the Hunter Sports Group and part-time coach of Newcastle’s young strikers.
However, he was back training with the squad in September and when Abbas was granted citizenship in November, freeing up a visa spot, he returned to the roster.
Since then he has featured in all but two games, making 17 appearances off the bench and four in the starting side.
‘‘Since I have come back I haven’t missed a training session. It has been fantastic,’’ he said.
‘‘Credit to the medical staff. It took a lot of hard graft to get my body right, and it is just as hard to maintain it. But I realise I made the wrong decision last time and now I just want to play.’’
Jeffers also hopes to extend his stay and held talks with management last week.
Before the quad injury, he had started in the past nine games and was man of the match in two.
Coach Gary van Egmond has added young blood to the attacking stocks in Adam Taggart and James Brown but said last month he ‘‘needed a few old pros’’ in the squad.
Apart from Ryan Griffiths, who signed a new two-year deal this month, Brazilian Tiago is the only player over 26 on the Jets books.
Korean under-20 international Do Dong-hyun arrived yesterday for a week-long trial.