WELLINGTON Phoenix captain Andrew Durante expects the young Newcastle Jets squad to give his side their first real test of fitness and football skills tonight at Weston Park.
The former Jets central defender, who was man of the match in Newcastle’s 2008 A-League grand final triumph, arrived in Sydney yesterday with the Phoenix squad.
Wellington will treat the game at Weston as a hit-and-run assignment because they fly out of Sydney tomorrow for a tour of India where they will play four games in 10 days.
Durante said Gary van Egmond’s young, new-look Jets line-up would be a stern test for Phoenix, who have played only two trial matches so far against local opposition.
They have beaten state league opponents Lower Hutt 4-0 and Miramar Rangers 9-0.
The 30-year-old said the first two games had been about building match fitness, which would be tested tonight.
‘‘I think they’ve played five or six games already and done well so they’re far more advanced than us in that respect,’’ Durante said.
‘‘Dutchy has put together a squad of really young boys and we expect them to be really tough.
‘‘They will be fit and lively and trying to play a really nice passing game, which is obviously what Dutchy is trying to instil there. It’s going to be a good test for us.’’
Durante expected Wellington to start their strongest available line-up tonight and make the most of playing A-League opponents.
‘‘Playing a team like Newcastle we will starting working on the football side of things more, but there is still a long time before we kick a ball in the A-League so fitness is still a priority,’’ Durante said.
Although only Jobe Wheelhouse and Ben Kennedy remain at the Jets from his days with the club, Durante said the trip to Newcastle was always one he enjoyed.
‘‘It’s always good coming back to Newcastle. My wife’s family are from there so it will be great to catch up with them even though we won’t have long,’’ he said.
The match today will be the Jets’ first against A-League opposition, after victories over Broadmeadow Magic (3-1), Canberra Rockets (9-1), Northern NSW Select (6-0 and 2-1) and Rockdale City (2-1).
The match, which will kick off at 5pm, will be Newcastle’s last effort before a week’s rest, and van Egmond is expected to field his strongest available side.