THE Newcastle Jets have their first home-grown skipper after handing the armband to Toronto-Awaba junior Jobe Wheelhouse yesterday.
Wheelhouse admitted his appointment had come as a pleasant surprise after he was preferred to senior player Kasey Wehrman and defender Nikolai Topor-Stanley – both of whom captained Newcastle at various stages last season – and Brazilian import Tiago.
The feisty midfielder follows Ned Zelic, Paul Okon, Jade North, Joel Griffiths, Matt Thompson and Michael Bridges, who have all preceded him in the lead role.
‘‘I wasn’t really expecting to be named captain this year, but it’s something I won’t take lightly and I’m looking forward to,’’ Wheelhouse said.
‘‘I’m stoked. I’m a local boy and I know the history and stuff, so to say the least I’m very proud.’’
A teenage prodigy who made his National Soccer League debut as a 17-year-old, Wheelhouse is the first Novocastrian to captain Newcastle since Robbie Middleby in the last NSL season of 2003-04.
Middleby, now the Jets’ chief executive, said he knew from early in his career that Wheelhouse was made of stern stuff when he stepped up to take two penalties as an 18-year-old.
‘‘We had a lot of experienced players in that team, but I looked in his eyes and he just wanted to take them,’’ Middleby said.
‘‘I just remember how he was as a young kid. He just had such presence and confidence about him.
‘‘It’s a bit of a shame his career had some injuries that set him back, but he’s still got his best years ahead of him.
‘‘I think it’s a great decision.
‘‘Being able to captain my home-town team was the biggest thrill of my career, and I’m sure it will be for Jobe as well.’’
The decision to show faith in Wheelhouse represents a vote for the future.
At 26, he has at least five or six years good football ahead of him, and that may have been a deciding factor in his appointment ahead of 34-year-old Wehrman, who is Newcastle’s oldest player.
Wehrman, who has been sidelined for most of the pre-season after ankle surgery, said last week he did not regard the captaincy as a big issue.
He also singled Wheelhouse out for praise after his efforts during the A-League’s longest pre-season.
‘‘I think the pre-season that Jobe Wheelhouse has had has been one of the best I’ve seen,’’ Wehrman said last week.
‘‘He’s been the rock of the team.
‘‘If anything, he should be the first player picked, if you ask me ... without injury, you can see the type of player he can be.’’
Wheelhouse said he doubted that being handed the captaincy would change his game too much.
‘‘I probably have to wear the armband and be a little bit more vocal, and probably have to deal with the media a bit more.
‘‘But I’ve been happy with my pre-season personally and also how the team has performed, so hopefully we can carry that into the season,’’ he said.
Wheelhouse’s appointment was warmly received by about 1500 fans who attended the Jets’ season launch at Ausgrid Stadium yesterday.
He will have his first run as full-time skipper tonight when the Jets play their final pre-season trial game against the Northern NSW State League Select side, from 5pm at Darling St Oval.
The Jets Youth League side play their Northern NSW counterparts in the curtain-raiser from 2.15pm.