Northern coach rates Jets fitter, faster, better

STATE League Select coach Damien Smith believes Gary van Egmond’s young Jets team are a class above last year’s line-up and will be the ‘‘surprise packet’’ of the A-League after watching them demolish his side 6-0.

Smith, a former national league player who also coached the Northern NSW State League representative team last September when they lost 3-0 to Branko Culina’s Jets, was gushing with praise after Wednesday night’s rout at Darling Street Oval.

‘‘They are looking very sharp and very fit, they’re very mobile and very organised and I’ve been impressed by them,’’ Smith said.

‘‘The Select boys felt at half-time they’d been hit by a tornado. Everything they do is at pace.

‘‘Last year when they were under Culina, I thought they were too predictable. I felt comfortable playing against them, even though we were the Select side.’’

Smith coaches state league leaders Broadmeadow Magic, who lost 3-1 to the Jets in a trial three weeks ago.

‘‘I told the [Select] boys at training on Monday night, after watching them against Magic, that these guys are very sharp, they’re all competing for a spot, they are all technically very good and everything they do is at pace,’’ he said.

The three-time grand final-winning coach believed the fitness levels of the current Jets crop were superior to last year’s squad.

‘‘It’s hard to maintain that pace,’’ he said.

‘‘I’d be interested to know their fitness levels, because compared to last year these guys are a lot sharper and a lot fitter.’’

The Jets, who narrowly missed the finals last season, are on the second-last line of betting with most bookmakers to win the A-League in 2012-13.

But Smith believes Newcastle can find success quickly with their youthful side.

‘‘I think they’re going to be a surprise packet,’’ he said.

‘‘Obviously experience does come into it when you’re playing against A-League sides, and it will be interesting to see how they go against A-League opposition in trials.

‘‘But I might have a quiet wager on them early in the season.

‘‘They’re young boys and it’s hard for them to perform consistently.

‘‘You don’t see many young teams winning the comp.

‘‘However, in one or two years I reckon the side will definitely be top-two material.’’

In the corresponding trial game last year, the state league side kept the Jets scoreless until half-time before going down 3-0 to three goals inside six minutes midway through the second half.

That game came two weeks before the A-League season started and Culina’s sacking, whereas van Egmond still has 12 weeks left to prepare his team.

Smith said this year’s Select side were not as well prepared as last season’s team, when they had six sessions together after their club commitments were finished, compared with two light runs mid-season this time around.

However, he believed van Egmond’s youthful side, brought together to play his up-tempo, possession-focused style, were a marked improvement on the 2011 line-up.

Some of the Jets’ young recruits, including hat-trick hero Craig Goodwin and forward James Brown, continued to impress.

‘‘I always felt we would be up against it on Wednesday night, whereas last year I felt we could give them a good run,’’ Smith said.

The Jets smashed the Canberra representative side 9-1 last week.

Smith and co-coach Steve Piggott will prepare the state league squad for another shot at the Jets on August 8 at Jack McLaughlan Oval.

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