The Newcastle Jets’ five big signings to date all have one thing in common – they have proved themselves in the A-League.
New coach Ernie Merrick is closing in on his target of 16 reliable, “battle-hardened” pros who will make up the core of his squad for the 2017-18 campaign. Five of those are off-season signings Dimi Petratos, Daniel Georgievski, Roy O’Donovan, Nikolai Topor-Stanley and goalkeeper Glen Moss, a group with loads of A-League experience.
Only Moss and Topor-Stanley have signed since Moss joined the Jets in May, but together the quintet’s arrival marks a new direction for a club which has too often recruited poorly from overseas.
Newcastle can sign two foreigners to fill their last two vacancies but may not necessarily look overseas for both.
Regardless of who else comes in, they have already started to solve some of the problems that plagued them in last year’s wooden spoon campaign.
On paper, the squad looks like it will be harder to beat. Topor-Stanley and Georgievski give the back four a more robust look, although a question mark still hovers over 30-year-old Nigel Boogaard’s fitness.
The incumbent captain was hampered by ankle and hamstring injuries last year and was dropped to the bench for a home game against Brisbane in early March.
Left back has been a merry-go-round at the Jets since Lee Ki-je left in 2015. Georgievski prefers right back but won the Joe Marston Medal playing on the left in the grand final last month.
If he and Jason Hoffman fill the wide roles, Hoffman, at 28, would be the youngest member of a back four boasting 656 A-League games between them, a figure that would be far higher had Georgievski not played most of his career in Europe.
In midfield, Steven Ugarkovic was the Jets’ player of the year last season, and Petratos scores spectacular goals with both feet and won the league with Brisbane in 2014.
Newcastle also have the versatile Wayne Brown, teenager Mario Shabow and Devante Clut, a Scott Miller signing who gets the chance to win over a new coach after falling out of favour under Mark Jones.
But this looks the most likely area Merrick will want to strengthen. A commanding partner for Ugarkovic could be on his shopping list, and Petratos could player wider if the boss signs another No.10.
Andrew Nabbout will be a lock on one wing despite his form tailing off in the last two months of last season.
He and Andrew Hoole, now at the Mariners, were used as counter-attacking weapons by Jones, but Merrick has said he wants his team to play “on the front foot”.
The boss will need Nabbout to regain his confidence quickly and provide some service to striker O’Donovan.
The Irishman’s form and fitness will be crucial as his only obvious back-ups are Aleksandr Kokko, who has been told he is free to find another club, and 19-year-old Kosta Petratos.
The regulars shown the door at the end of last season were Daniel Mullen, Andrew Hoole, Mateo Poljak, Morten Nordstrand and Ma Leilei. In are Moss, Georgievski, Topor-Stanley, Dimi Petratos and O’Donovan, plus two to come.
Merrick may fall a couple of players short of his core 16, but Newcastle appear to have strengthened at both ends of the field.
His back four looks solid and O’Donovan, Nabbout and Petratos give them some punch up front.
Who fills the middle may hold the key to the club’s fortunes.