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Sporting Declaration: Follow the Jetstream

AS the Newcastle Knights approach what shapes as one of the more significant seasons in the club’s history, they could do worse than look totheir A-League counterparts, the Jets, for inspiration.
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TEAM SPIRIT: Newcastle Jets players celebrate Steve Ugarkovic’s goal in last week’s derby win against Central Coast. Picture: Getty Images

Our footballing flagshipshave far more in common than just the city they represent and the stadium they share.

There are many other unfortunate synergies.

Both are the incumbent wooden spooners. Both have new coaches after terminating their previous head tacticians.

Both are under the ownership of their respective governing bodies and are operating on stringentbudgets that leave them with little chance of signing established top-class players.

Both were dismissed as also-rans before a ball was kicked in their respective campaigns.

Both have had to deal with the distraction of unexpected, acrimonious player departures that left their roster depleted.

Both have been so dysfunctional for so long that many loyal supporters have walked away in frustration.

And both were owned, for three years simultaneously, by a controversial one-time billionaire who this week was declared bankrupt.

As the Knights prepare for Sunday’s season-opener against Gold Coast at CBus Stadium, the Jets will be flying west to Perth for a clash that shapes as make or break, six games out from the finals.

That the round-ball boys are even in contention for the play-offs is an achievement worth acknowledging.

Last season, the Jets were little short ofan embarrassment.

Given that they scored 23 goals and conceded 55, sacked a host of players and coaching staff mid-season, and were reguarly dealing with the drama of belated monthly wages,it was a minor miracle that they won three of their 27 games.

Even more remarkably, had they won their last-round game against Brisbane, they could have avoided finishing as cellar dwellers.

Since the A-League’s inception in 2005-06, Newcastle have had some lean years, but last season was surely their lowest ebb.

The only positive to emerge was that Football Federation Australia finally stepped in and revoked Nathan Tinkler’s ownership licence, albeit after the franchise had racked up millions of dollars in still-unpaid liabilities.

Then began the process of rebuilding, and nobody was likely to have more influence than the coach.

In the largely unknownScott Miller, who had spent almost a decade on the staff at English club Fulham, FFA took a gamble.

But results thus far would indicate their puntis paying dividends.

Three wins in Newcastle’sfirst four games werebeyond even Miller’s expectations. But then came a form slump that would have tested a wily veteran, let alone a rookie.

The Jets went 10 games without a win and six games without a goal. They came perilously close to breaking the A-League record for the longest scoreless streak.

Even after they emerged with a 3-1 win against Wellington, a 6-1 hammering from Perth the next week provided an abrupt reality check.

At that stage in proceedings, it would have seemed reasonable to form the view that everything was unravelling. A second successive wooden spoon appeared a distinct possibility.

Demands from formerSocceroo David Carneyfor arelease to join Sydney added to the pressure.

When Newcastle eventually granted his wish, they lost their most creative player and received not a dollar in compensation.

Yet just when all was apparentlylost, Miller’s men rallied. Two new signings, Olyroo Steve Ugarkovic and former Denmark international Morten Nordstrand, provided a touch of class, as did Brazilian veteran Leonardo, once he had overcome a lingering knee injury.

Most of all, the Jets did not give up. They kept fighting, and after three winsand a drawin their past four games, they are four points behind the top six.They are still long shots to reach the play-offs for the first time in six years, buta win in Perth could change that.

Theirrevival has been hearteningand sets an examplethe Knights should strive to emulate.

Under new coach Nathan Brown, Newcastle’s NRL team will field the youngest line-upin the competition.

There is a long, hard season ahead for the rookies. Like the Jets, they are likely to struggle at times and may suffer some serious beatings.

But, as was the case in the Knights’foundation seasons, they will quickly gain credibility and respect if they are willing to roll up their sleeves and have a digon a weekly basis. “Competing hard,’’ to borrow a phrase Brown has used often during the pre-season.

Nobody should be expecting Brown’s babes to challenge for the title.

But, like the Jets, they will get out of this season what they put into it.

The Newcastle faithful have been disappointed with their performances of both teams in recent times.

There are no more parochial supporters than Novocastrians, but they need reason to turn up on game day and cheer.

The Jets, for mine, have upheld their end of the bargain. Now it’s time for the Knights to do likewise.

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