Is Ernie Merrick the Jets’ best ever pilot?

Chris Matthews-Darby Roar Rookie

By , Chris Matthews-Darby is a Roar Rookie

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    Life is good in Newcastle at the moment. The Newcastle Interchange just opened, Supercars is weeks away, and it looks like Big Al’s restaurant is returning.

    Oh, and it looks like the city finally has a decent football team.

    Aside from Ronald Vargas’ likely season-ending injury, Newcastle are sitting pretty after three rounds, and coach Ernie Merrick is quickly vanquishing memories of predecessors such as Phil Stubbins and Nick Theodorakopoulos.

    It might be early days, but for a club that hasn’t made the finals since 2009-10, he could easily be the best coach they’ve had, and this could easily be the best team they’ve had.

    Newcastle have scored nine goals after three rounds, which is a league high so far this season. It is also the most the club has scored at this stage of a season. The Jets scored seven goals after three matches last season and five in 2012-13.

    Roy O’Donovan has started his Newcastle career with a bang, netting five times in the first three rounds, which is the most ever scored by a Jets player at this stage. Nine players have scored twice after Round 3 but never more than that until the former Central Coast Mariner walked through the door.

    As a club, 38 goals is the most they have scored in a season, that was the 2011-12 campaign. In the past three seasons they haven’t scored more than 28, they are very much on track to best that tally this season.

    The combination of O’Donovan, Dimitri Petratos, and Andrew Nabbout is arguably the strongest front line Newcastle have fielded in A-League history. Unfortunately it appears we will not get to see Venezuelan Vargas’ full potential but there is enough fire in the squad to deal with the setback.

    Newcastle currently sit in second place on seven points, which is their best position ever after three rounds. They have had six points on three occasions and five points on two occasions, but never seven. Newcastle won 36 points in the 2013-14 season, which is the most they have won. While they are still 29 points shy from that record, if they continue in this vein of form they’ll surpass it with ease.

    Ben Kantarovski Newcaslte Jets

    (AAP Image/Darren Pateman)

    Merrick has always had an eye for talent, particularly from Central and South America, but most Jets fans will be surprised with how well Ben Kantarovski has started the season.

    The 25-year-old is Newcastle’s most capped player with 143 but hasn’t really accomplished much since debuting in 2008. But the Scotsman’s magic touch seems to be working on the Newcastle native.

    Just take a look at his stats to begin the season: 149 touches, 118 passes, 14 duels won, eight interceptions, six tackles, and one goal.

    The same can be said about Ivan Vujica, the left back had his season cut short due to injury in 2016-17 and he’s making up for lost time in the first three rounds.

    His stats are: 76 passes, 14 interceptions, eight clearances, seven chances, two crosses, one assist.

    The crowds are coming back to Hunter Stadium, too. Yes, Newcastle have only played one game at home this season, and yes, they gave away a good 6000 tickets for free, but the 14,833 strong crowd in their Round 2 match against Perth Glory was their biggest crowd since Round 5, 2015-16, a 2-1 loss to Western Sydney in November 2015.

    Newcastle will support their club. They’ve supported the Knights through three consecutive wooden spoons, and it’s obvious they have continued to support the Jets through two wooden spoons in three seasons, and seven seasons without a finals appearance.

    The tides are turning in Newcastle, the vibes haven’t been this strong since Ljubo Milicevic left the club. We might only be three rounds into the season, and they might have lost a key player, but Ernie Merrick may be building the best team Newcastle have ever had.