No trophy talk for finals-bound Merrick

Coach Ernie Merrick isn't thinking about the A-League title after Newcastle secured a finals spot.
Coach Ernie Merrick isn't thinking about the A-League title after Newcastle secured a finals spot.

Ten years to the day after their first and only A-League championship, Newcastle Jets coach Ernie Merrick refuses to entertain any talk about another.

But it seems they are the only team with the mettle to challenge runaway ladder leaders Sydney FC this season.

The Jets officially locked away a finals berth on Saturday with a 1-0 win over Brisbane Roar in an enthralling battle at Suncorp Stadium.

It was the perfect way to mark the 10-year anniversary of the club's finest moment - Newcastle's 2008 grand final win over the Central Coast Mariners.

They have only qualified for the finals once since then, with a fourth-placed finish way back in 2009-10.

"We had a tremendous travelling support - we had 200 to 300 people come up for this game, which is fantastic," Merrick said.

"We've increased our crowds by 20 per cent - I think we're the only team to do that, or anywhere near it.

"So we're on a bit of a roll. But I refuse to talk about titles or grand finals.

"We can't be knocked out of (the finals) now... really, what we've got to focus on now is (staying) in the top four and maintaining those type of results."

The Jets take on Sydney FC at home next weekend and although it's almost impossible for them to overtake them on top of the table, second place has its perks.

It would guarantee a week's rest before the finals, a home semi, and a berth in the AFC Champions League for 2019 - one of the major goals of Chinese owner Martin Lee.

Not bad for a team that finished with the wooden spoon last season.

Merrick expects to have midfielder Ben Kantarovski (hamstring) back for the Sky Blues clash while marquee star Ronald Vargas is also nearing a return.

Vargas broke his leg the last time Newcastle played in Brisbane but clocked 10km in training on Saturday and should see game time in their away trip to Wellington on March 17.

Meanwhile, Merrick confirmed the Jets have signed Argentine winger Pato Rodriguez on a full deal for the rest of the season.

Rodriguez was on an injury replacement contract for Vargas but has been brought into the squad proper after the release of Devante Clut and Daniel Alessi.

It means the former AEK Athens teammates should spend time on the park together once Rodriguez recovers from a calf strain, which is expected to sideline him for the next month.

Australian Associated Press