NOW that Ernie Merrick has added some much-needed experience to the Newcastle Jets, the canny coach has started looking to the future.
The Jets on Wednesday locked in promising attack Joe Champness until the end of the 2019-20 season in what Merrick said was both a reward for the player and protection of the club’s investment.
Champness is one of three scholarship holders at the Jets. The 20-year-old will continue in that role until the end of the season before a two-year senior contract kicks in.
“It is just reward for the way he has been performing at training and in trial games,” Merrick said.
“He scored against Melbourne City, Canberra Olympic and again against Wellington. He has worked really hard and is getting better all the time.
“We have a good starting XI with experienced players. We don’t have a lot of depth in experience but we have a lot of talented youngsters who will be the future of the Newcastle Jets. We are going to try and lock in these good young players. There is no point investing in them and letting them go.”
Champness was grateful for the faith that Merrick had shown in him and relieved to have his future mapped out.
“It was always my focus to make an impact from the start and show what I can do,” he said.
“I’m grateful that I got the opportunity to play under the boss, and to now sign makes me really happy. Looking around the team, there is a lot of talent and a lot of players I can learn from. To be able to get to this point is something I don’t take lightly. I have a long way to go as a player but the opportunity in front of me is exciting.”
Dimi Petratos, Roy O’Donovan and Andrew Nabbout have a mortgage on the front-three positions at the Jets but Merrick said Champness was a “good chance of being on the bench” for the season opener against Central Coast in Gosford on October 7.
“He is very quick and very strong and technically very good,” Merrick said. “He is one who has stood out because of his goal scoring. That is what the team desperately needs.”
The lanky winger, who was born in New Zealand, moved from the Roar to the Jets on an 18-month scholarship deal early this year. He spent two days in Newcastle then jetted off to Portugal with Antonee Burke on a six-month loan spell at second division club Academica.
“My time in Portugal taught me a lot about adjusting to a new environment,” he said. “I had a little taste of senior football beforehand but going over there it showed me a different side of the game. The physicality of the game and all that. It was a really good experience.”