JETS coach Craig Deans has rejected talk that his squad are inconsistent and has backed them to rise to the occasion again when they take on Sydney for a W-League grand final spot on Saturday.
Third-placed Newcastle clash with the second-placed Sky Blues at Leichhardt Oval in the Jets’ first finals appearance in nine years.
Newcastle have defeated Sydney 2-0 and drawn with them 2-2 this season but have had mixed results in recent weeks. They lost 2-1 to last-placed Adelaide before trouncing Canberra 5-1 to secure a top-four spot and losing 3-0 to Melbourne City in the final round.
Deans, though, believed his side could use the play-offs excitement to get back to their best.
“I’ve read a few times this week that we’re inconsistent, but I don’t think we are,” Deans said. “We’ve had a five-game period in the middle of the season where we were undefeated and, OK, we had a bad result last week and against Adelaide, but it doesn’t mean we’re inconsistent.
“We just need to get back to playing with some energy, enthusiasm and confidence and use the nerves and excitement of a final in a good way.”
Asked if he would invite anyone in to provide a pre-match speech, Deans said his side had shown this year they needed no added inspiration to win crucial games.
“They don’t need to be motivated by anyone, sometimes not even by me,” he said. “The players understand when things need to happen and at what level and I think in the big games when we’ve really had to get something happening, we’ve managed to do it.
“Against Canberra away, against Brisbane away and also Adelaide away, where we didn’t have a great performance but had to win, they came to the party and got the job done and tomorrow is no different.
“Sydney have got a really good team and we’ve had two pretty good results against them this year. The win was a good one and the draw, we didn’t play as well as we could and we still got a draw. So we can be a little bit confident, but if we don’t do everything to the best of our ability, we won’t win.”
Deans said towering centre-back Natasha Prior would return to the starting side after missing the City loss with a foot injury. The change will mean Sophie Nenadovic will drop to the bench and Hannah Brewer will switch to right-back.
He said Sydney, with the pace of Matildas stars Lisa De Vanna and Caitlin Foord up front, hurt Newcastle on the counter-attack last time around, meaning Gema Simon and Brewer would have key roles in defence.
“They are dangerous in wide areas with Lisa on one side and Caitlin on the other, so we’ll have Hannah and Gema, two of the most experienced players in the team, on them, and they have pace as well,” he said.
The Jets’ only injury concern was US midfielder Tori Huster, who has battled groin tightness this week.
“We’ll take her down and she’ll start, but if it looks like it’s going to get worse, we won’t risk her,” Deans said.
“But fingers crossed, she’ll hopefully be OK.
“She had a big season in America and she’s played a lot of games here and she hasn’t had a break, so need to be careful with the amount of training she does, and she has to go straight into another season when she gets home.”
The Jets this week reviewed their last clash with Sydney and Deans said they needed to show better awareness in defence on Saturday.
“The last game we made a good start and had chances early, but we didn’t take them and they hit us on the counter,” he said.
“They are a quite strong counterattacking team, so we need to make sure we see the moment there’s an opportunity for them to do that and transition quickly and get people behind the ball.
“From set-pieces, they can counterattack quickly through Caitlin Foord and Lisa De Vanna so we need to be ready for those things and make sure when we’re in our defensive third we don’t give them time to face up and start running at us, because that’s their strengths.”
As for the message to his squad, Deans said he wanted them to embrace the excitement of the game and attack.
“You can go two ways,” he said.
“You can feel the pressure and let it affect your performance in a negative way and become inhibited and play without freedom.
“But from our point of view, we need to do the opposite and use the excitement and adrenaline the girls will have to just play and have energy in the performance.
“To use the nerves they’ll have in a positive way, and just use it to attack and be positive in the game and just keep doing what we’re doing.”