THE Newcastle Jets won’t be catching anyone by surprise this time around.
That is the expectation of Newcastle coach Ernie Merrick after his team’s giant-killing heroics of last season, when they transformed from wooden spooners to grand finalists in the space of six months.
They may not have won the title, after a heart-breaking and highly controversial 1-0 loss to Melbourne Victory in the decider at McDonald Jones Stadium, but Merrick has no doubt the Jets are now a prized scalp for rival teams.
“We’re not blindsiding anyone this year,” Merrick said.
“It will be a tougher year for us. We’ve now had success, making a grand final and surprising a few, and now teams will know what to expect.
“They’ll know how we play, and who our key players are ... but the good thing is we’ve had a very low turnover of players and so we’re definitely in a better position than we were this time last year.”
Newcastle Jets: Your photos from the A-League grand final
Merrick was confident his team’s mindset would not change, regardless of whether they were hunters or the hunted.
“For me, mental fortitude is crucial for a team,” Merrick said. “I think we’re getting pretty strong in that area.
“It was really noticeable towards the end of last season, when we lost three games in a row and conceded 10 goals.
“Then we showed that was just a blip by winning the last game of the year 8-2 [against Central Coast] and then beating Melbourne City in the semi-final, to go into the grand final.
“That showed again when we played Gold Coast Knights [10 days ago] and beat them 1-0 in the FFA Cup.
“The boys had just come off five tough games in China and Spain and flown straight to the Gold Coast.
“They were dying out there, out on their feet, but they got the job done.”
Merrick doubted his players would glean any motivation during the FFA Cup from Roy O’Donovan’s 10-game grand final suspension.
FFA Cup fixtures count towards that suspension, so were Newcastle able to reach the final, the Irishman would have only five A-League games left to serve.
“I’m the type of person that believes if you need any extra motivation for a game, you should join another club,” he said. “To me, it’s about having a winning mentality every single time you step on the field.”
Merrick said the Jets were “in a pretty good position”, given that the vast majority of their players have been with the club for at least 12 months and are familiar with his preferred playing style.
Their next pre-season test will be against the Mariners in Maitland on Saturday week, followed by their FFA Cup round-of-16 clash with Melbourne City at AAMI Park on August 29.
“We’re not far from becoming a pretty good team,” he said.
“We just need to add [new recruits] to up front, especially with Roy out, and another good-quality goalkeeper that can push Glen Moss, even though Glen has been outstanding for us in the pre-season.”
While you’re with us, did you know The Herald is now offering breaking news alerts, daily email newsletters and more? Keep up-to-date with all the local news - sign up here.