NEWCASTLE Jets have finished the physical part of the pre-season, but coach Ernie Merrick wants Ben Kantarovski to get through more work before deciding if the experienced midfielder will be involved in the A-League season opener away to Wellington on Sunday week.
Kantarovski has been hampered by calf and hamstring niggles in the final stage of the pre-season.
He and Kosta Petratos (knee) didn’t participate in an XI v XI game on Friday and instead trained under the care of strength and conditioning coach Chris Smith.
“Ben’s hamstring and calf are fine,” Merrick said. “It is just a case of whether we decide to take him [to Wellington] or make sure he is 100 per cent. We don’t want to bring him back too early when we could give him another week or so and make him really strong. He is unlikely but not entirely ruled out. Ben is such a good player, I might put him on the bench. The way Matthew Ridenton has been playing and Nick Cowburn. We have Steve Ugarkovic, Dimi Petratos and Ronny [Vargas]. We have plenty of defensive and attacking midfielders.”
Ridenton appears the frontrunner to partner Steve Ugarkovic at the base of midfield against Phoenix. Both played well in the intraclub game.
The combination up front Jason Hoffman, Jair, Dimi Petratos and Ronny Vargas was also impressive.
“We can break forward and score quickly through our counter attack and we are also very good at building up, which is the thing we didn’t do too well last year,” Merrick said. “I got out of it [the game] what I wanted and I didn’t want to push them because their work loads have been high. Chris Smith has done a great job with the fitness and Nathan Renwick on our health. The hard physical work is completed. Everything we do now is fairly short and sharp. We will taper down next week and look at the strategy for the Phoenix game.”
Merrick said they would play another intraclub game to finalise preparations.
“They are all dress rehearsals,” he said. “We have practised playing a team with 10 men, against a back-five, a back four, three high, two high etc. You are looking at different combinations.”