A-League: Ivan Vujica marks starting spot his own for Newcastle Jets | photos, video

Newcastle Jets defender Ivan Vujica started just twice in the second half of last season. 

In 2017-2018 the 20-year-old has already matched that mark and now he wants to hold onto his preferred left back position.

The former Croatian under-19 representative worked hard over the break, staved off competition from fellow squad members and earned the satisfying first XI call up from experienced A-League coach Ernie Merrick earlier this month. 

“I can’t even properly explain it,” Vujica said.

“It’s all hard work you put in for the 15 weeks of pre-season. Every player wants to play so when you finally get that spot it’s very rewarding.

“If my goal is just to be a back up, I don’t think that’s right.”

And after picking up one Alex Tobin Medal point from his performance in the weekend’s 2-all draw with Perth Glory at home, there’s no reason why Vujica wouldn’t stay put for Sunday’s third-round showdown against the winless Roar in Brisbane.

Vujica was replaced with nine minutes remaining last start, and only because of cramp according to Merrick. 

"Ivan has been outstanding,” Merrick said.

“He will continue to hold that position until he needs a break. He was one of our best players on the weekend. I’m pretty sure he thinks he would have got man of the match had I not taken him off.” 

Vujica could come face-to-face with Brisbane’s new French signing Eric Bautheac, who was officially unveiled by the Roar at Suncorp Stadium on Thursday. 

Roar coach John Aloisi said the former Ligue 1-winning winger was in “pretty good shape” and would “definitely play some part of the game”.

Vujica said he welcomed the challenge Bautheac brought to Brisbane’s table along with the likes of former Socceroo Brett Holman, Massimo Maccarone and Fahid Ben Khalfallh.

“We know the Roar are always dangerous even though their first two games didn’t go according to plan, especially up front with the new signings they’ve got,” Vujica said.

“That front four on paper is very experienced and know what they’re doing, but me personally I like the big players.

“I much rather mark Diego Castro [Perth Glory] and Bautheac. One because I like to test myself against them and two it’s always a learning curve. The harder people I mark the easier it will be for me later on and as I go forward.”

Vujica’s brother-in-law and Jets teammate last season Mateo Poljak is currently back in Sydney after returning to Australia from a stint with Romanian club Astra Giurgiu.

Vujica said there’s been regular contact with Poljak, his sister Katarina and almost one-year-old niece Mia.

Meanwhile, the third-placed Jets named an unchanged 18-man squad on Thursday after training at Ray Watt Oval and off the field former Roar chief executive officer David Pourre has returned to Brisbane but as managing director following the sacking of Mark Kingsman on Monday.  

Kick-off is 5pm (ADST). 

NEWCASTLE JETS: 1 Jack Duncan (gk), 3 Jason Hoffman, 4 Nigel Boogaard, 5 Ben Kantarovski, 6 Steven Ugarkovic, 7 Dimitri Petratos, 8 Ronald Vargas, 9 Roy O’Donovan, 10 Wayne Brown, 12 Mario Shabow, 13 Ivan Vujica, 15 Andrew Nabbout, 16 Nick Cowburn, 17 Daniel Georgievski, 20 Glen Moss (gk), 22 Lachlan Jackson, 24 Joe Champness, 44 Nikolai Topor-Stanley.

BRISBANE ROAR: 1 Michael Theo (gk), 2 Dane Ingham, 3 Luke Devere, 5 Corey Brown, 6 Avram Papadopoulos, 9 Massimo Maccarone, 10 Brett Holman, 13 Jade North, 14 Fahid Ben Khalfallah, 16 Mitchell Oxborrow, 17 Matt McKay (c), 18 Joe Caletti, 19 Jack Hingert, 21 Jamie Young (gk), 22 Eric Bautheac, 25 Rahmat Akbari, 26 Nick D’Agostino, 33 Petros Skapetis.

PREVIOUS: Family ties between Jets pair

START: Ivan puts best foot forward on debut

SIGNING: Vujica joins Newcastle from Croatia