JETS coach Ernie Merrick says it’s a case of when, not if, teenage striker Angus Thurgate makes his starting debut in the A-League this season.
Thurgate, the 18-year-old from Port Macquarie, made seven appearances for Newcastle last season, all as substitute, and none for longer than 27 minutes.
He enhanced his claims for more opportunities by scoring in the 2-1 loss to Sydney in Wednesday’s pre-season friendly against Sydney, producing a performance that Merrick labelled “quite outstanding”.
While Merrick’s strike force in the early rounds is expected to comprise proven performers Ronny Vargas, Dimi Petratos, Jason Hoffman and possibly new Brazilian signing Jair, the veteran coach expects to blood Thurgate in his starting line-up sooner rather than later.
“I have no doubt that he’ll start a game in the A-League this year,” Merrick told the Newcastle Herald.
“No doubts whatsoever. He’s just getting better with every game.
“He’s come back from the Australian under-20s team full of belief in his ability.”
Asked if Thurgate was in contention to start the season-opener in Wellington on October 21, Merrick replied: “He’s up against it, but I have to say he had an outstanding game yesterday against a very good team and a strong defence.”
The Jets are still hopeful of adding two attacking players to their roster before the season kicks off, both Australian, which would leave an overseas-import position vacant in case they need to reinforce their ranks during the January transfer window.
One of those is likely to be former Melbourne Victory speedster Mitch Austin, who has been trialling with Newcastle for the past three weeks.
Merrick was unsure if Jair would be ready for game time in a trial match against Northern NSW NPL champions Edgeworth on Saturday week.
“Jair, we’ll make sure his fitness is really right before he comes in … he’s come here with a great attitude,” Merrick said.
“He’s really keen to work hard and that’s the type of player that we see on the videos that we’ve been looking at.
“I wouldn’t throw someone in that I didn’t think was really ready to play, so we’ll monitor it.
“Already his progress at training has been stepped up. He’s going to be training five, six days a week, many of them double sessions, but limited amount of running.”
Merrick said considering the players Newcastle had unavailable against Sydney, he was satisfied with their all-round display against a quality opponent.
As well as Jair, Petratos, Roy O’Donovan, Ben Kantarovski and Lachlan Jackson were all sidelined with injury, but Merrick was hopeful all would be fit for some game time against Edgeworth.
“Overall I’m pretty happy with the way the squad is developing, and the level of fitness we’re developing,” he said.