Jets prepare for post-North era

NEWCASTLE captain Jade North will play his last game for the reigning A-League champions on Friday but is confident the Jets will cope with his departure.

North will link up with K-League club Incheon United in South Korea two days after the Jets' Boxing Day derby with Central Coast Mariners at Energy Australia Studium.

And although Newcastle are languishing at the bottom of the table, North is confident their title defence is not a lost cause."There's still a lot to play for, you've only got to look at Perth and see what they've done," North said.

"We can do the same. There's a lot of points on offer, so we've just got to do the same.

"If we don't end up making the four we'll certainly have to pick ourselves up for the Asian Champions League, but I'm confident we can still make the four."

North is an inaugural member of the Jets and Friday will be his 80th game for the club.

Before the start of the 2007-08 season the 26-year-old became the first indigenous Australian to captain an A-League club, and six months later he held aloft the city's first national soccer league premiership trophy.

"I was always grateful to play for Newcastle and I have a lot of great memories, and the biggest one was to win the championship," North said.

"Some of the football we played that year I won't forget.

"It was a bit more special winning a title when you're the captain and especially with the team we had it was an unbelievable achievement for all of us."

The man who made North captain, coach Gary van Egmond, has high praise for his skipper's ability in charge.

"He's managed to get himself in the Australian team while playing at Newcastle, one of the few players who is involved in World Cup qualifications when the so-called big boys from Europe come back," van Egmond said.

"So you can see how good a player he's been, and he's represented the club with real distinction and real leadership in that captaincy role."

North hopes his move to Incheon United will only cement his spot in the Socceroos team for the 2010 World Cup.

"That was one of the things I had a look at," North said.

"If I can't get to Europe right now, maybe this is the perfect chance to go to Asia where everything is quite professional."

Incheon United began in 2003 after the Incheon Munhak Stadium was built for the 2002 World Cup.

They finished seventh in the recently completed K-League season.

Incheon will be a massive cultural change for the boy from Taree. It is South Korea's third-largest city with a population of 2.5 million.

After the medical next week North will return permanently to South Korea next month for pre-season training in preparation for the start of the K-League in March.

Van Egmond conceded finding a replacement for North in central defence will be difficult.

"There's a few players we've been talking to, so hopefully we can stem that," van Egmond said.

"Whichever way you go he has big shoes to fill, and the next player who comes in has his work cut out."

And as far as finding a replacement captain, van Egmond is keeping his cards close to his chest.

"I haven't thought that far ahead right at this moment," he said.

"We have a number of contenders in mind, all the boys from the leadership group.

"It might be a case where we rotate captains, so we'll have to have a look at that."

Leadership group members include Joel and Adam Griffiths, Ante Covic and Noel Spencer.

Adam Griffiths is on his way to Gold Coast United, Spencer is likely to retire, Covic is still unsigned for next season and Joel Griffiths's latest brain snap, where he was red-carded for kicking Wellington's Karl Dodd, could count against him.

North said any of the leadership group and last Friday's hat-trick hero Matt Thompson were worthy of wearing the captain's armband.

"You only have to watch the game he [Thompson] played on the weekend," North said.

"Thommo has come a long way this year and last year, and he's certainly a player who could be in the leadership in the future."