NEWCASTLE Jets face the first test of their depth, with defender Daniel Georgievski ruled out for three games and in-form midfielder Ben Kantarovski struggling with a thigh injury.
Already minus marquee midfielder Ronny Vargas (broken ankle) until at least April, coach Ernie Merrick will need to promote one player, and possibly two, for the visit by his former club Wellington Phoenix on Saturday night.
Jason Hoffman will start at right back in place of Georgievski after scans revealed the in-form defender had a grade-one tear in his right hamstring.
Kantarovski has a bad cork and although he will be given “as long as possible” Merrick rated the enforcer only a 50-50 chance of being fit.
“Ben will be touch and go for the weekend but we are optimistic that he will be right to play,” Merrick said. “We would need to see him do something [at training] on Friday. I thought at the weekend Ben was really strong towards the end of the game. He is tough and played on despite having a pretty bad cork. He is having a very good year and I’m hoping he is available. We have always got back-up plans. That is why you have such an extensive pre-season to learn which players can play where.”
Nick Cowburn has been used off the bench twice as a late replacement for Kantarovski this season. Johnny Koutroumbis is also an option but the most likely scenario would be for Wayne Brown to drop back to a defensive role. That would also open the way for Joe Champness to be promoted on the right wing.
Merrick said on Tuesday that he “hadn’t decided on a line up” but hinted at a start for Champness, after the attacker’s match-turning cameo in the 1-all draw with Wanderers.
“We need people up front who want to score goals,” Merrick said. “Joe has demonstrated that every time he has come on. He is pretty confident in his ability and wants to score goals and he gets in the right areas to do that. It is something we are looking at closely.”
Wellington are in seventh place on two points and gave up a 3-0 lead to draw 3-all with Brisbane Roar at home last round.
“Wellington are desperate for a win,” said Merrick, who spent three seasons in charge of the Phoenix. “There is no doubt they are going to come at us. They have signed a lot of players and up front they will be determined to cause us problems. They are a different team to the one I coached. We will have a good look at them but we will focus on our strengths.”
Merrick hopes to have Georgievski back for the visit by Melbourne Victory on November 23.
“Daniel has a grade-one hamstring tear, that is why we took him off early against Wanderers,” Merrick said. “We weren’t going to risk it. Had we, it could have been a six-to-eight week injury. We have got it early and are hoping it will only be three weeks.”
In a welcome boost, Vargas was back at training on Tuesday for the first time since breaking and dislocating his left ankle in the 2-1 win over Brisbane 10 days ago.