DEFENDER Johnny Koutroumbis is set to make an inspiring return for the Newcastle Jets on Sunday after missing the first five games of the A-League season because of cancer.
Koutroumbis, the 20-year-old who has appeared in 35 games for the Jets, including last season’s grand final, needed surgery in the pre-season after being diagnosed with a tumour on his thyroid gland.
He will undergo radiation treatment next month but has resumed training and been included in Newcastle’s preliminary squad for Sunday’s clash with Melbourne City at AAMI Park.
Two players will drop out of the 18 named, but it is understood Koutroumbis will take his place on the bench after Jets coach Ernie Merrick said he “did really well” in a youth-team intraclub game last weekend.
Newcastle’s other inclusion is midfielder Matt Ridenton (calf).
Daniel Georgievski (groin) and Jair (hip) are both in doubt after suffering injuries in last week’s much-needed 2-0 win against Western Sydney Wanderers.
Newcastle were boosted on Thursday by the news that City’s predatory striker, Bruno Fornaroli, had been omitted for the second consecutive game.
Fornaroli boasts a formidable record against the Jets, having scored nine goals in eight games against them.
City coach Warren Joyce indicated on Thursday that he was not satisfied with the fitness levels of his $1.5-million-a-season marquee man, who reportedly failed a skinfold test before he was overlooked for last week’s loss in Brisbane.
"Everybody's got a chance every day to compete and force their way into the team ... the demands on Bruno and every other player at the football club are the same every day," Joyce said.
"If they want to be the best player every day, they can be," he said.
"If the standard of training is high every day, there's a pretty good chance it will be high on Saturday.
"If it's poor in training, there's a pretty good chance it will be poor.
“You can't push a magic button.
"That's the level of consistency you expect from the players. We're setting our standards high as a football group, not only to be winners but serial winners.
"When they are in place, you become winners and serial winners."
Fornroli is the second high-profile player to fall out with Joyce in the past two seasons.
Last season Socceroos legend Tim Cahill demanded a release when it became apparent Joyce intended to keep using him as a substitute, rather than in the starting line-up.
Cahill subsequently returned to his former English club, Millwall, but also received limited game time.
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