NEWCASTLE coach Ernie Merrick has questioned the value of developing young players as he monitors the workload of three Olyroos ahead of the Jets' must-win away clash against Wellington Phoenix on Saturday.
John Koutroumbis, Ivan Vujica and Joey Champness are likely to feature for the Olyroos against South Korea in Vietnam on Tuesday night - the last of three games in five days.
They will reunite with the Jets at Sydney airport on Thursday and be part of an 18-man travelling squad.
"It complicates selection a little bit," Merrick said. "Ivan has already played two full games. If any of them play close to 90 minutes on Tuesday night it is questionable as to how fit they will be on Saturday. We will find out how much they have played, look at the games if we can, our medical and fitness staff will speak to the Olyroos staff ... the bottom line is if they have played a lot of minutes in those five days, they are not going to be at their best. We just have to take extra players and be prepared for that."
The Olyroos thumped Cambodia and Chinese Taipei 6-0 each, but will face a far more intense clash against unbeaten South Korea. They they need a point to guarantee a spot at the Asian under-23 Championships in January.
The trio missed the Jets' 3-2 loss to the Mariners due to an Olyroos' training camp in Kuala Lumpur before travelling to Vietnam.
"I understand the role of the national coach and what he is trying to achieve," Merrick said. "I thought the FIFA window would mean we didn't need to lose players. Once again, the bigger teams sign good players - sometimes they get assistance in the form of $1.5m to sign an extra marquee player - and the teams who are developing young players are the hardest hit."
Although concerned about the fitness of the young guns, Merrick is confident they have the depth to cover.
"We just have to win and that is what we intend to do," the coach said. "And we have the players to do it. Ben Kantarovski is back, Nick Cowburn is fighting fit and Angus Thurgate is good as well."
The Jets, who are five points adrift of sixth-placed Adelaide, resumed training on Monday after a three-day break.
Unhappy with the intensity, Merrick met with the senior players after the session.
"It was pretty sluggish," he said. "That is fairly normal after a bit of time off. I spoke to the senior players at the end of the session about demanding higher standards from the players. It doesn't always have to come from me.
"We really have to switch on. Not only in training but in games. They are the on-field leaders and they have to lead and raise the expectations on the park."
However, the Jets will be without one of their most influential players on Saturday after Ronny Vargas aggravated a hamstring injury.
"He has pulled up a bit sore and his hamstring is not going to be ready," Merrick said. "It was my decision to bring him in early against the Mariners. I think, he will be right after this game."
Vargas, 32, is off contract and the marquee midfielder has attracted interest from clubs in Belgium, where he has played at Club Brugge and Anderlecht.
"It is an on-going thing for coaching and administration staff - signing players,retaining players, looking at budgets," Merrick said. "Generally the most expensive players you look at more towards the end of the year. We have signed a lot of players. We will be looking at who we need to sign moving on, and we are negotiating with some as we speak. But I prefer not to talk about who is getting signed and when. We just announce signings as they come along."