NEWCASTLE Jets’ marquee man Ronny Vargas feels fit and strong and ready to start against the Central Coast Mariners in the season opener in Gosford on Saturday if given the nod by coach Ernie Merrick.
Vargas, 30, hasn’t missed a beat since arriving from Brussels nearly three weeks ago.
“Every day you are working to improve yourself,” Vargas told the Newcastle Herald. “The fitness is close now. I feel I could start. We will see. Everything is up to the coach.”
The Venezuelan international has shown his class and mobility in two intraclub trials, scoring goals and providing assists in each.
“For only two weeks being here, I already feel a good connection with the players which is nice,” he said.
Vargas worked with a personal trainer in Brussels but has not played a competitive game since starting for AEK Athens in a play-off match in May.
Merrick has been impressed with the progress of the clever No.10 but stopped short of declaring him a starter.
“Ronald is a really professional player,” the coach said. “His work in the off-season was very thorough. We could see that from the strength tests we put him through and his turn of speed. We have got him lots of touches on the ball and he is really keen to play this weekend. He is the sort of player who could play 90 minutes and wouldn’t want to come off. We have to assess the injury risk if we over play him. It will be a tough decision between Ronald and Wayne Brown, but I like that situation. We have certainly signed the right player in Ronny Vargas.”
In the end, the call on Vargas will come down to which role Merrick believes the South American can have the biggest impact.
“Do you bring him on at the start when it is important but the game is frenetic or do you wait until the pace is off the game in the second half,” Merrick said. “I like to have those decisions and we will choose carefully.”
Brown, who is in his second season at the Jets, played the majority of the pre-season as an attacking midfielder.
“Wayne is a very good player, an industrious player,” Merrick said. “He is a ball winner and plays short, sharp passes and gives the ball forward as early as he can. He is tenacious, gets in their face and makes life difficult.
“With Wayne he could play any position in the midfield and do a good job. Ronny is more of creative player who can not only get into goal scoring positions but is really good at playing the final pass, the deadly pass, into the penalty box and into the feet of strikers.”
Vargas, regardless of his role, is looking forward to opening the season with a derby.
What’s more, he hopes for a repeat of his heroics in the Athens derby between his previous club AEK and Greek powerhouse Panathinaikos.
“In Greece the first year, I was lucky they say,” Vargas said. “I scored in all the derbies and we win. This was very important because this was a club who came up from the second division. It was a big club before but they came from second division at this moment. To play against Olympiakos, to play against Panathinaikos and be at the same level as them, this was something special for them. And we win these games, we win 1-0 and the goal was from me. It was very special and it was made more special because the people their are fanatical.
“Now I am looking forward to this derby and hopefully I can score.”
Apart from the attacking midfielder role, the rest of the Jets XI is settled.
“For the boys to be as fit as they are and injury free is a credit to our staff and physiotherapist,” Merrick said. “We are ready to go. I’m really looking forward to the game against the Mariners on Saturday and hopefully we will have a big Jets crowd behind us.”
Jason Hoffman, who has a minor quad issue, is the only player unavailable.
“He has put his hand up to play but unless he has completed a full week of training he won’t play,” Merrick said.
Glen Moss had been in doubt with an ankle injury but Merrick said scans had cleared the keeper of major damage. He hasn’t trained with the main group this week.
“He will be available, we are just wrapping him up in cotton wool at the moment,” Merrick said.
Jets (likely): Jack Duncan; Daniel Georgievski, Nigel Boogaard ©, Nikolai Topor-Stanley, Ivan Vujica; Steve Ugarkovic, Ben Kantarovski; Ronny Vargas; Dimi Petratos, Roy O’Donovan, Andrew Nabbout.