JETS coach Ernie Merrick expects his players to be re-energised for Saturday’s clash with Wellington Phoenix at McDonald Jones Stadium after a much-welcomed eight-day turnaround.
Newcastle emerged from their most taxing phase of the season – four games in the space of 15 days – with a valuable 1-0 victory against Brisbane Roar on Friday night.
Merrick admitted the mid-season schedule had taken a toll on his men, more so physically than mentally.
“Despite us playing three nights ago, I thought the boys did a wonderful job [against Brisbane],” Merrick said.
“They’re very, very tired.
“It’s really hard to switch yourself on for 95 minutes when you’re that tired, but I thought they did a great job and I think they’ll do a much better job after eight days of recovery.”
Wellington are last on the ladder, one rung lower than Brisbane, but Merrick was confident second-placed Newcastle would not allow complacency to stand between them and another three competition points.”
“I’ve found the boys very focused, very keen to always improve,” Merrick said.
“We look forward to teams putting out their best team because we feel that’s the best way to improve.”
The Jets expect Argentine import Pato Rodriguez to be fit for his third game since joining them, despite suffering an ankle injury in an incident that Merrick felt warranted a closer inspection from the match officials.
“He was nailed early on in a tackle,” Merrick said.
“His sock is all ripped and he’s hurt his ankle. He struggled to run but I didn’t want to take him off. It was a two-footed tackle that I thought was disgraceful, but they didn’t refer it to the VAR to have a look at it.
“He was nailed properly.”
Rodriguez was described on Sunday as feeling “tender” but Newcastle’s medical staff were confident he would recover in time to play on Saturday.
After stints of 35 minutes and 45 minutes off the bench, Rodriguez appears likely to start against the Phoenix.
Merrick said “we’re hoping that he’s going to have 60 minutes in him”.
Midfielder Ben Kantarovski is hoping to return for Newcastle after missing three games with a back-muscle injury.
“He’s not far away,” Merrick said. “It’s a very, very small tear, so he should be available next week.”