Wheelhouse to  take centre stage for Jets

 CLOSE:  Jobe Wheelhouse is expected to play on the Melbourne road trip.   Picture: Peter Stoop
CLOSE: Jobe Wheelhouse is expected to play on the Melbourne road trip. Picture: Peter Stoop

NEWCASTLE Jets coach Gary van Egmond hopes skipper Jobe Wheelhouse will make a welcome return from injury in Friday night’s showdown with Melbourne Victory.

Wheelhouse has missed three games since straining the medial collateral ligament in his right knee on December 4.

But the midfield general was moving freely at training last week and, providing he comes through sessions today and tomorrow without mishap, is likely to feature in some fashion during Newcastle’s Melbourne double-header.

The Jets play the Victory on Friday and Melbourne Heart on Tuesday, both games at AAMI Stadium.

The other wounded Jet who could be available is attacking midfielder James Brown, who had a cortisone injection last week after being hindered by a lingering ankle injury that required off-season surgery.

‘‘Jobe’s doing really well,’’ van Egmond said.

‘‘We just have to have a good look at him. Hopefully he’ll be fine.

‘‘And the other one is James Brown, who’s been dogged by this ankle.

‘‘But we’re hoping that we’ve got to the end of it.

‘‘He’d be a real bonus if he can capture the form he had last year. He’d be a real asset for us.’’

Youngster Josh Brillante played soundly in Saturday’s 2-1 win against Sydney in the absence of Wheelhouse, but the skipper’s experience and work rate will give Newcastle an extra dimension.

In the early weeks of the season, the 27-year-old’s partnership with Ruben Zadkovich provided Newcastle with authority in the centre of the pitch.

Unlike last season, when the Jets trained on Christmas Day after suffering a 5-2 loss to Wellington two days earlier, van Egmond rewarded them with the day off yesterday after their morale-boosting win against Sydney.

‘‘There’s no Grinch here,’’ van Egmond said with a smile.

Newcastle will resume training today and tomorrow before flying to Melbourne, where they will spend six nights.

Van Egmond said the mid-season team camp would be a great chance for the players to bond and set themselves for the business end of the season. 

‘‘It’s fantastic from the club to do that,’’ he said.

‘‘They’ve backed the playing group and given the players the best opportunity to win these two games.’’

Friday’s game will be van Egmond’s 100th as Newcastle’s coach.

He assumed the reins in 2006-07 when he replaced the sacked Nick Theodorakopoulos, coaching Newcastle for the balance of that campaign and two more seasons before accepting a position at the Australian Institute of Sport.

He returned in November last year when Branko Culina was dismissed and recently signed a contract extension that ties him to the club until the end of next season


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