A-League: Nigel Boogaard says Newcastle Jets primed for shot at top six

READY, SET GO: Newcastle Jets captain Nigel Boogaard (second from right) believes this season's squad is the best balanced in his three years at the club. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers

READY, SET GO: Newcastle Jets captain Nigel Boogaard (second from right) believes this season's squad is the best balanced in his three years at the club. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers

NIGEL Boogaard was desperate to “achieve things” when he returned home to Newcastle from Adelaide to lead the Jets.

EXPERIENCE: Coach Ernie Merrick at Jets training. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers

EXPERIENCE: Coach Ernie Merrick at Jets training. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers

​After two years of heartache and drama, the whole-hearted defender believes the Jets finally have the personnel and the preparation to end a seven-year absence from the finals.

Buoyed by the most settled pre-season in the club’s history, the Jets kick off the new campaign against arch enemies Central Coast at Gosford on Saturday.

PLAYING FOR KEEPS: Jets goalie Jack Duncan. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers

PLAYING FOR KEEPS: Jets goalie Jack Duncan. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers

“On a personal level, I probably haven’t contributed as much as I wanted to,” Boogaard said. “I really wanted to come back here and achieve things. This year, for me, there is no excuses. It’s the first time I have been able to complete a full pre-season and get as much game time as the rest of the boys. It’s the best I’ve felt.”

Boogaard has been joined in defence by seasoned campaigners Nikolai Topor-Stanley and Daniel Georgieski, who both won titles at their previous clubs. They are among five fresh faces to line up against the Mariners.

“I think it is the most balanced side we have had since I have been at the club,” Boogaard said. “There is a mixture of experienced players, who have been around the league and know how to achieve things. That coupled with some young and exciting players, who are probably going to get an opportunity this year. Also, having a head coach who has been there and done that, and has experienced success in the past. Put those things together and there is a recipe for us to be successful.”

Boogaard has been equally optimistic in the previous two campaigns, only for the Jets to stumble and finish last and in eighth place

“At the start of every year, you think you can achieve the six,” he said. “But on the balance of the squad, the stability we had during pre-season, I think this is our best chance to make a good play for the top six. From there anything can happen.”

The Mariners have also recruited well, adding experience and quality in imports Alan Baro, Wout Brama, Tom Hiariej and Asdrubal.

Like the Jets, they have benefited from a strong pre-season, highlighted by a 2-0 win over Melbourne Victory, and are confident of climbing up the ladder.

“We want to get off to a good start, and the fact that it is a derby makes it extra special,” said coach Paul Okon. “We have shown the new players footage of previous derbies and explained what they mean to the Mariners.”

Marquee Ronny Vargas is expected to make his debut for the Jets as part of turbo-charged strike force.

“They are very threatening in the front third,” Okon said. “Vargas, the Venezuelan import, we have seen footage of him. If he does start he will be a big threat and I know he will be a very important player for Newcastle this season.”

Boogaard expects Vargas to receive extra treatment but said the Jets would ensure the classy playmaker was protected.

“That is the nature of the league, it is very physical,” Boogaard said. “It is everyone’s duty to make sure people are looked after.”