ON THE BALL: James Virgili and Ruben Zadkovich train at Ray Watt Oval yesterday. Picture: Ryan OslandTHE Newcastle Jets will open their pre-season campaign against Northern NSW minnows Plattsburg Maryland.
The Bulldogs, who play in the third-tier Zone Football Premier League, is the junior club of former Socceroos striker and Jets youth team coach Clayton Zane and has also produced former national league regulars Peter Juchniewicz and Brad Wieczorek.
The Jets assembled yesterday for the start of the first main phase of the pre-season. The game against Plattsburg is on June 26 with a venue yet to be confirmed.
Marquee striker Emile Heskey is not due back from England until July and the Jets’ four Young Socceroos, Connor Chapman, Josh Brillante, Adam Taggart and Andrew Hoole, will be at the FIFA Under-20 World Cup in Turkey.
The rest of the squad are expected to play some part.
‘‘We will go into games pretty quickly, starting with lesser opposition and building up as we have done previously,’’ Jets coach Gary van Egmond said yesterday.
‘‘We have a game against Plattsburg and we want another game against similar opposition.
‘‘We will be working the players pretty hard in this phase and they will be fatigued.
‘‘We still want to play reasonable football against a team who is going to want to do well.’’
Plattsburg player-coach Mal Hinchliffe, who works for Zane’s InZane Football academy, said his players were ‘‘buzzing’’ when told about the friendly.
‘‘We are looking at it as an experience, a game of footy they will never forget,’’ Hinchliffe said.
‘‘It is not often you get these experiences, the opportunity to play against the likes of Michael Bridges, who has played so many games in the English Premier League. A lot of them were in disbelief.’’
Plattsburg are sixth on the ladder with two wins from seven games and are still alive in the State Cup.
‘‘We have had a bit of an unlucky start to the season,’’ said Hinchliffe, who returned to Newcastle after nine years in Germany.
‘‘There are some good players, but they can’t commit to training three times a week with a state league club. Most of them are former Wallsend High boys. They are hard workers and fight to the end.’’
The Jets have opened their account against Northern NSW State League clubs in previous seasons.
Van Egmond said they would still face state league rivals as they approached the season, which begins against Sydney FC at Allianz Stadium on October 11.
‘‘We have divided the pre-season into three stages of about six weeks, which is similar to last season,’’ the coach said.
‘‘We are looking at going to the AIS in Canberra again, Tamworth again, and there is some talk about going to Townsville and maybe Coffs Harbour.
‘‘We want to take the game regional, from a Northern NSW point of view, and interstate if we can.’’
The Jets have at least three places to fill on their roster.
Blackburn Rovers and former North Queensland Fury goalkeeper Seb Usai and Adelaide shotstopper John Solari began a trial yesterday for the No.3 spot vacated by Jack Duncan’s exit to Perth.
Usai, 23, has spent the past 18 months at Championship club Blackburn Rovers. He featured on the bench but did not play a first-team game.
Solari, 20, plays for Adelaide Premier League club White City and is still eligible for youth league.
The Jets had 10 contracted players on deck yesterday.
Craig Goodwin has been given an extended break, while Ben Kennedy (knee) and Josh Mitchell (knee) are recovering from surgery.