Jets coach Ernie Merrick expects Nigel Boogaard “will play some part” in the grand final qualifier against Melbourne City on Friday night after the skipper came through training unscathed on Monday.
All eyes were on Boogaard and Ronny Vargas at Ray Watt Oval as the Jets prepared for the do-or-die clash at McDonald Jones Stadium, which will be the club’s first A-League final since 2010.
Boogaard, who with Nikolai Topor-Stanley has formed the A-League’s best centre-back pairing this season, suffered a compression fracture of his tibia and tore his calf in the round 22 win over Sydney on March 3.
The 31-year-old was expected to miss up to 10 weeks on the sidelines but will be back playing inside eight if he takes the field against City.
He came through a closed intraclub trial on Friday and was rated by Merrick as a 60 per cent chance to play.
Boogaard grimaced at times and appeared to slightly favour his injured left leg at training on Monday but he completed the session.
Merrick said Boogaard and Vargas, who is back from a groin injury, “did really well so they’ll definitely be part of the squad” to take on City.
“I would suspect they will play some part in the game,” Merrick added.
“The only one out is [Ben] Kantarovski, but Ronny’s looking good, Nigel’s looking very good and this is their second week of fairly hard training now. That was a harder session, although that wasn’t very hard today, but we’ll just ease off and taper for Friday night.”
As for what Boogaard had to do this week to show he was right to start the game, Merrick said: “This game’s really about competitiveness, isn’t it?
“It’s about who’s the most competitive, who’s keener to make it into the starting 11. And that shows up at training and their attitude and sticking to the game plan and doing the job offensively and defensively.”
Asked when he would make a call on the returning pair’s places in the starting side, Merrick said: “We know the formation and the game style that we’ll play and I just, for the first half of the session, I use some players and second half I use other players, so they’ve all got their chance to step up and be a part of that starting 11.
“There won’t be too many changes from the last game obviously after scoring eight goals against the Mariners.
“But there’s always places up for grabs, but it’s good to see both Nigel and Ronny training so well.”
Wayne Brown also completed training as he returns from a calf injury aggravated shortly after coming off the bench against Perth in a 2-0 loss on April 6.
Merrick said Brown was unlikely to play again this season after the loss because of the risk of again aggravating the injury.
Asked on Monday about Brown’s chances of featuring again, Merrick said: “The boys really keep surprising me. They are as tough as rugby league players, but not quite, but Nigel’s come good at the right time. Wayne Brown’s come good. Ronny is looking good and Kantarovski is no doubt going to put his hand up to play tomorrow.”
Vargas, who has overcome a horror ankle injury to return this season, was also a casualty in the loss to Perth.
Kantarovski was filling in for Boogaard at centre-back when he tore his left hamstring late in the first half of the 8-2 final-round thrashing of Central Coast and he will miss the play-offs. Merrick was happy with how his squad was shaping up.
“I’m really just excited about playing a semi-final here and having everyone fit except Ben Kantarovski,” he said. “We’re in a really good position.”