Newcastle assistant coach Clayton Zane feels the Jets are in better shape than 12 months ago as competition for starting spots between Jair and co. heats up ahead of next weekend’s A-League season opener.
The Jets are set for an intra-club trial on Friday, marking their last hit out before round one against the Phoenix in Wellington on October 21, and Zane knows the training fixture marks a crucial chance for players to make a last impression.
Whether or not the new Brazilian import features somewhere in the first XI remains unknown at this stage, but Zane said he’s certainly in the mix and looks likely to at least feature off the bench.
“That’s the luxury [Jets head coach] Ernie [Merrick] has got at the moment,” Zane said after training at Ray Watt Oval on Thursday.
“There’s probably six or seven front-third players all staking a claim for a positions and on the injury front [outside Joey Champness] we’re looking very good as well. I think it will come down to these last 10 days.
“Sharpness will obviously be a factor and we’re starting to see that from him [Jair] now, but I think we’ll definitely see Jair in some part throughout that first game.”
“He [Jair] has been coming in two, sometimes three times a day with the conditioning staff doing extras,” Zane said.
“He has gone above and beyond expectations, which is what you want from your foreign players because ultimately they can be the difference throughout an A-League season.”
Jair, New Zealand international Matthew Ridenton, Melbourne Victory striker Mitch Austin, former Everton youth product Jake Adelson, Victorian NPL forward Kaine Sheppard and goalkeeper Lewis Italiano are those brought into a relatively unchanged Newcastle squad.
And with 10 of May’s grand final side re-signed, including Socceroos representative Dimi Petratos and skipper Nigel Boogaard during the last fortnight, the Jets have “stability” not always experienced between campaigns.
Zane said, following the pre-season platform, “we’re in a lot better position going into round one than we were last year … Now it’s about who the best man is for the job and competition for spots”.