The first, and last, time the Jets played finals football, Gema Simon, Emily van Egmond and Hannah Brewer were the new kids on the block.
It was in the inaugural W-League season in 2008-09 and, after a 1-0 semi-final loss to Canberra with a Newcastle squad that included Matildas royalty Cheryl Salisbury, Joey Peters and Katie Gill, they thought another chance at championship glory would come again soon.
Now, almost a decade later, the trio are set to lead their home-town side in just a second finals series and carry Newcastle’s hopes of a first ever appearance in a W-League grand final.
“I think I definitely took it for granted that season and not playing in finals with Newcastle for the other eight seasons I’ve been here has been pretty hard to take,” Simon said.
“I don’t remember too much about the final. I just remember that we lost and it was very close. But I think I took it for granted because it was my first season.
“We were just so young and when it’s your first season and you get to play in the finals you’re hopeful that it might happen more often than not.”
In that semi-final, a 15-year-old Brewer watched from the bench while then 18-year-old Simon and van Egmond, also 15, took the field.
Not playing in finals with Newcastle for the other eight seasons I’ve been here has been pretty hard to take.- Gema Simon
“That week I was actually away on holidays, thinking I wasn’t playing,” Brewer said.
“I got a text while I was up in Port Macquarie to come back and be on the bench because someone was injured.
“It was an exciting time for me that first year, being so young and we hadn’t established who we were in this league yet.
“But to now have established ourselves in this league and to have a great season back here in Newcastle and to be in the finals is really something special.”
They have travelled different paths since the first season.
Simon, now 27, has played eight of nine seasons with the Jets. The other was with Victory in 2014-15. The Matildas player has also played professionally in Korea and Norway in the past two years.
Brewer, 24, had a season in the United States and played with Melbourne Victory, Melbourne City and Canberra United before returning to Newcastle.
Van Egmond, 24, has gone from being the rising star of Australian women’s football to the Matildas vice-captain with almost 70 senior appearances for her country.
She has played in the US and Europe and had W-League stints with Canberra and Western Sydney but the Jets captain has relished being back in Newcastle.
“Being able to represent a home town in a finals series is something special and … to be able to able to reach the finals this year, in the 10th year of the W-League, is awesome because this year has been extremely enjoyable,” van Egmond said.
“The level has definitely gone up which is pleasing to see and women’s football in general in Australia. It’s just an exciting time.”
Between them, the trio have amassed nearly 200 appearances for the Jets.
It will be crucial experience on the field when Newcastle line up against Sydney at Leichhardt Oval on Saturday in the do-or-die semi-final. The winner advances to the championship decider.
“There’s definitely a belief that we can do it,” Simon said.
“That’s definitely there and I think the girls need to be confident when we go into the game because everyone here can play football and I’m glad I’m here this season.
“We haven’t spoken past this week. Everyone knows how important this game is first.”
The game kicks off at 4.45pm and will be televised live on Foxtel.
Premiers Brisbane Roar host defending champions Melbourne City in the other semi-final on Sunday at Perry Park.
The winners of each semi-final will meet in the grand final with the highest-ranked side hosting the decider.
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