COMING off one of her most challenging times on and off the field, Newcastle captain Gema Simon admits she was “a little bit burnt out” before this W-League season even started.
But with help from the Newcastle staff and a deeper Jets squad around her, the foundation player is eyeing a long overdue finals appearance this year.
Simon returned from a stint with South Korean club Suwon over the winter to again lead the Jets, who are atop the table ahead of their round four game against Canberra at McKellar Park on Saturday from 4pm.
The one-game Matilda helped keep superstar Sam Kerr and her Perth side at bay in a 1-0 success at McDonald Jones Stadium last week, which followed a 4-0 win over Melbourne Victory and 1-0 loss to Melbourne City on the road.
The 26-year-old and Rhali Dobson are the only survivors from Newcastle’s inaugural W-League squad of 2008-09, which was the last Jets side to make finals.
Simon believed the current line-up, including American trio Jen Hoy, Megan Oyster and Arin Gilliland, were “heading in the right direction” to repeat that effort.
“We’ve definitely got more depth in the squad this season and everyone seems to get on quite well, so if we keep doing the little things right and improve each week, we should be able to push for a finals spot," Simon said. “It’s a long way off, but it’s definitely the goal for us this season.”
The promising start to the season for Simon came after a lucrative but difficult off-field experience in South Korea. Simon said she went through the entire season without a translator, making it like “a big game of charades for eight months”. She also had no help from a physiotherapist.
“It was really tough, and it’s probably one of the most challenging things I’ve been through as a person and a player,” she said.
“I learnt a lot about myself and I came back a more mentally tough person. The football side was good, I enjoyed that. The lifestyle side of it wasn’t my favourite. But it was what I wanted in terms of playing full-time football, training everyday. Sometimes it was too much but I’d rather be training than not. Being in a non-English speaking country, so far away from home, that was probably the hardest part.”
She said catching up with other Australians in the league “kept me sane" and, despite the obstacles, she took a “lot of positives” out of the experience.
“I was a little bit burnt out when I came back, but they are looking after me while I juggle a few niggles and try to play some good football and do my job for the squad,” she said.
Simon said the Jets would have to improve on their effort against Perth, where they struggled to maintain possession.
“We got the three points, but the way we did it wasn’t the way we wanted,” she said.
“I suppose we have high expectations on ourselves. We definitely didn’t play great last week, but it’s definitely a positive we can play that way and get away with a win.
“We’re definitely going to have to tidy it up a little bit and be better the rest of the season.”
On Saturday, Simon said the Jets would be on guard for the Canberra attack, which has lost Jasmyne Spencer (ankle) but still contains the likes of Michelle Heyman, Hayley Raso and Ashleigh Sykes.
“They are always going to be competitive and they have a very attacking side this year,” she said.
“I think that’s where their strengths are this season and we have to combat that, and be smart with what we do and how we play.
“We’ve gone over some video this week and we’re going to be more aware of their attacking threats.”
Newcastle have lost goalkeeper Kelsey Wys (knee) for the season and have brought in 15-year-old Annalee Grove as a back-up to Claire Coelho.