THE Central Coast Mariners have thrown down the gauntlet to arch rivals Newcastle with a taunting Twitter message in the lead-up to Saturday's showdown at Bluetongue Stadium.
The A-League's reigning champions claimed bragging rights yesterday before the 26th F3 derby, posting on their official Twitter account a table of statistics that highlighted their overall dominance.
Daring the Jets to "catch us if you can", the Mariners noted that:
■ They are top of the A-League's all-time regular-season ladder with 334 points. Newcastle are sixth with 267;
■ They have won two minor premierships to the Jets' none;
■ They have featured four times in the Asian Champions League to Newcastle's one;
■ They have qualified for the A-League playoffs six times, twice more than the Jets;
■ They have never collected the wooden spoon, an ignominy the Jets suffered in 2008-09;
■ The two clubs have won one championship apiece, after the Mariners ended their cursed grand final run with victory last season against Western Sydney Wanderers.
Surprisingly, the Mariners did not point out in their "handy head-to-head reference guide" that they also hold the upper hand in their direct clashes with the Jets, having won 10 games to Newcastle's nine, with 11 draws.
The cheeky one-upmanship is likely to prompt a vocal response from Newcastle supporters, who usually travel in strong numbers to the closest away game on the fixture list.
If Jets fans needed more motivation, the return from suspension of Mariners skipper John Hutchinson, a player they love to jeer, should have them at fever pitch.
"You always get fantastic crowds and a great atmosphere when Central Coast play Newcastle," Central Coast coach Phil Moss said yesterday.
"There is a fierce tribalism between the two clubs and the two sets of supporters.
"The F3 derby is a game that everyone wants to be involved in, and there is without doubt a little bit of extra feeling in these games . . . I am sure our fans can create a hostile atmosphere for Newcastle on Saturday night, and no doubt the fantastic support that we've been getting this year will get the boys over the line."
Moss and his Newcastle counterpart, the newly appointed Clayton Zane, will be coaching in their first derbies.
The last time the teams met, in a 2-all draw in round four, Graham Arnold and Gary van Egmond were the men in charge.
"I know that our players are really looking forward to the challenge, and Newcastle have gone through a bit of turmoil this week with Gary moving out and Clacka moving in to take charge, so I am sure all their players will be very keen to impress their new boss," Moss said.
"That's something we have to be aware of, but . . . we pride ourselves on Bluetongue being a fortress and in particular against our local rivals in the F3 derby. I'll be out to make it as uncomfortable as possible for Clayton's debut as coach, but I'll shake his hand and give him a bit of a bear hug after the game."
Moss was hopeful the derby would retain its traditional label, despite the stretch of road separating the regions being renamed the M1.
"I know our staff met with the Jets and Football Federation Australia last year and everyone agreed that the F3 derby name should stay.
"As far as I am concerned it will always be the F3 derby. That's what it started as nine years ago and that's what I still look at it as. I know the supporters feel the same and certainly the players do."