NEWCASTLE Jets gave a belated glimpse of what might have been with a 6-1 thrashing of Brisbane Roar at Suncorp Stadium on Saturday night.
In the penultimate round of the season, a dead rubber for both teams, given neither can qualify for the finals, Newcastle attackers Roy O'Donovan and Joey Champness led the rout with two goals apiece.
O'Donovan, the Irish target man, missed the first eight games of the season through the well-documented suspension he incurred after last year's grand final.
Champness did not play until round 14 after breaking his foot in the pre-season, and he missed further games with Olyroos commitments.
Together Champness and O'Donovan terrorised Brisbane's defence, scoring a goal apiece in each half. Newcastle's other scorers were Dimi Petratos and substitute Kwabena Appiah.
O'Donovan's brace took him to 11 for the season and 20 in his 34 games for Newcastle. Only Joel Griffiths (31) has scored more A-League goals for Newcastle.
The 33-year-old's performance against Brisbane has surely only strengthened his bargaining position as he weighs up whether to accept Newcastle's offer to re-sign for next season.
Newcastle have five wins and a draw from their past six games against Brisbane, and Saturday's victory was their 13th in 20 visits to Suncorp.
Jets coach Ernie Merrick fielded a new-look team, resting Nigel Boogaard, Ronny Vargas, Ben Kantarovski, Glen Moss and Jair.
He included six players under the age of 21 in his squad, including 17-year-old debutant Jack Simmons, who became the third-youngest player in Newcastle's history, after James Virgili and Kantarovski a decade earlier.
Patrick Langlois, 19, also received his first taste of A-League action, while Merrick described another 19-year-old, Angus Thurgate, as "outstanding" in only his second appearance in Newcastle's starting line-up.
"He looked like a senior player," Merrick said of Thurgate. "When I've brought him off the bench he's always done a job, but tonight I thought he ran the show."
Merrick said he "particularly targeted" the Brisbane game to blood some up-and-comers.
"I talked about rebuilding this team," Merrick said.
"This was our first night, really. Given that there were six players under-21 in this squad, I think it was a good sign. We played the sort of football we played regularly last year, and finished really well."
Merrick declared there were more "good quality players" coming through Newcastle's academy and youth-team systems.
The senior players who were omitted for the Brisbane game could well be reinstated for Newcastle's season-ending clash with second-placed Sydney FC at McDonald Jones Stadium on Saturday. "We're looking at all our players for the last game ... they're all in contention for next week," Merrick said. "We want to finish on a high note."