HE arrived in worse shape than expected, but Brazilian Jair will make a much-anticipated debut in the Jets’ final hit out of the pre-season against Western Sydney at Maitland Sportsground on Saturday.
Coach Ernie Merrick confirmed that the 30-year-old, who had been without a club since May, would get “20 minutes off the bench” against Wanderers.
“There is no doubt that when he arrived he was at a lower level fitness than what we anticipated,” Merrick said. “But he has a great attitude towards training. He has been working really hard and has been doing extra sessions with our fitness coach Chris Smith. He has improved a lot and will get 20 minutes this weekend.”
With every session, Jair is showing more of the traits that attracted the Jets to the former K-League star.
“We did our homework on him,” Merrick said. “The way he played in Korea and his ability to win the ball in midfield and still get forward into goal-scoring positions. He is starting to demonstrate that at training.”
The Jets will be without regular striker Roy O’Donovan for the opening eight rounds due to suspension.
Jair can play central or on the left, but faces competition from Jason Hoffman and new arrival Kaine Sheppard.
“Jair has mainly been a left-sided player who cuts back inside on his right,” Merrick said. “None of our front three really play wide anymore. They all focus in towards the goal area. He is a goal-scorer with that right foot and can cross really well with his left. He has two good feet on him.”
Hoffman is likely to start as the No.9 against Wanderers. He scored a double in a 5-0 win over Edgeworth last Saturday and is growing in confidence.
“Jason has loved the switch from right back to central striker, which is a fair move,” Merrick said. “Again he had a terrific game against Edgeworth. I’m told by some of our supporters, who come up and chat at friendly games, that as a junior Hoff was a striker and top goal-scorer. Melbourne City moved him to fullback. I have found that every time I push him further forward he does a good job and gets into goal-scoring positions.”
Sheppard, who played for Avondale in the Victorian NPL grand final on Sunday, will also get time against Wanderers.
The English-born striker won’t be the only new face on display.
Back-up keeper Lewis Italiano is expected to put pen to paper on a one-year contract on Wednesday.
“He is back training Wednesday and I’m hoping he can be our second goalkeeper,” Merrick said.
In another boost, exciting winger Joey Champness is ahead of schedule in his recovery from a fractured foot.
“Joey gets out of a Cam Boot next week and will be running in a week or two,” Merrick said.
The trial against Maitland kicks off at noon.