It is rare for an Ernie Merrick side to miss out on finals and even rarer for it to happen twice.
After a pre-season riddled by injuries – and a lengthy suspension to Roy O’Donovan – the Newcastle Jets started behind the eight-ball last season and missed the finals after making their first Grand Final appearance in ten years.
It may be a new season but the same problems have popped up for the Jets, who will be without new recruit Wes Hoolahan as well as Kaine Sheppard for at least until 2020.
But midfielder Steven Ugarkovic believes the team has learned from last season’s challenges and is motivated by the highs-and-lows experienced over the past two seasons.
“Injuries are a part of football and I feel we’re better balanced as a squad this year from what we’ve assembled,” he told Breakfast on FNR.
“We’ve got better balance and depth around the park which is a good sign, I believe personally we’re the fittest we’ve been and I can say that about myself too.
“The boys who are injured have been doing the right thing and the boys on the field are doing the right thing to stay there.
“As a club we want to be known as one which is in the finals each year.
“Personally having that first experience of getting to the Grand final drives me to get back in there and do everything we can as a club to give back to the fans, so that’s a big drive for us this year and a is a big goal.”
Ugarkovic is no stranger when it comes to football’s challenges.
The 25-year-old spent the early stages of his career playing in Croatia’s top division before making the move to the Newcastle Jets during the 2015/16 season.
It was during his time overseas where Ugarkovic learned the most about himself and the difficulties many players face in football.
“Being in Croatia was tough and rewarding at the same time,” he said.
“Going through the ups and downs, there were times where I hadn’t been paid for a whole year which I felt shaped me on and off the field.
‘It’s sort of survival mode over there where football is life or death and I took that into my life and took it on board in a positive way.
“We were fighting relegation and I wasn’t being paid so it was as rock bottom as you can get in the football world, anything from there was a positive but it certainly changed my outlook in football and life.”
After having the bye in the opening round, the Newcastle Jets will commence their campaign in the F3 derby against the Central Coast Mariners this weekend.
“It’s not only our first game but it’s a derby, which is an extra bonus,” Ugarkovic said.
“Going down there for the away trip hopefully a lot of the fans come down, atmosphere should be good they’re coming off a 2-1 loss but I thought they played well and were a bit unlucky.”
Breakfast on FNR airs daily from 8am (AEDT) hosted by Athos Sirianos and Nick D’Urbano.