RONNY Vargas has his swagger back.
The Venezuelan midfielder will make his long-awaited return from a broken ankle off the bench for the Jets against Wellington Phoenix in Auckland on Saturday.
It has been nearly five months since Vargas suffered the horrific injury against Brisbane in round three. The marquee playmaker had been the talk of the A-League before the mishap.
Jets coach Ernie Merrick doesn’t expect to see the best from Vargas until the finals, but he has been encouraged with what the No.10 has produced on the training pitch.
“He already has that swagger back,” Merrick said. “He is a very confident player and gets lots of touches on the ball. Sometimes I don’t coach some of the youngsters, I just say watch Ronny and do that because he is such a good player.”
Merrick said Vargas could play “up to a half” against the Phoenix.
“He has been training very hard,” the coach said. “It is about giving him more and more game time as the weeks progress.”
Joey Champness will lead the attack after the departure of Andrew Nabbout to Japan. The rookie has played predominantly in a wider role up to now.
“He is playing well, scoring goals, and the good thing about Joey is that he is very coachable,” Merick said. “Once you ask him to do something in particular, he is really good at learning to do that and do it well.
“Technically he is very good. Physically he is very strong, he is lightning fast and he knows where the goals are. The three high strikers all interchange and it won’t be a big change for Joe.”
The Jets, 11 points clear in second, can all but wrap up a home qualifying final and a place in the 2019 Asian Champions League with a win.
“We are heading for finals football and it is about us preparing for finals football,” Merrick said. “Our expectation is to win all our remaining games, or at least play a style of football where we can take all three points. You have no other option when you get into finals.”