ATTACKING maestro Dimi Petratos is adamant that the Jets need to be "smart" about player workloads to have the best shot at progressing to the Asian Champions League group stage - even if it means sitting out the visit by Melbourne City on Friday night.
The Jets depart Newcastle en route to Japan at 5.15am Saturday - less than eight hours after the full-time whistle against City - and meet defending Asian champions Kashima Antlers in a sudden-death showdown on Tuesday night.
The Jets set up the date with Kashima after an energy-sapping 3-1 win in extra-time over Indonesian champions Persija Jakarta at McDonald Jones Stadium on Tuesday night.
Midfielder Steve Ugarkovic clocked more than 14 kilometres in the end-to-end affair and a number of other players were running on empty.
Ben Kantarovski, who is recently back from a groin injury, will be rested for the A-League clash. Ronny Vargas, captain Nigel Boogaard and Daniel Georgievski are also unlikely to be risked, while Petratos, Roy O'Donovan and Glen Moss are among a host of regulars in line to have their roles reduced.
Jason Hoffman, who missed the win over Persija, saw an ankle specialist in Sydney on Wednesday and is not expected to travel to Japan.
Coach Ernie Merrick said on Tuesday night that it would be a "completely different team" to take on City, who sit two spots and 11 points above the Jets on the A-League table.
The Jets had a recovery session on Wednesday and the medical staff will further assess the players at training on Thursday to determine who is capable of playing all, part or none of the 90 minutes against City.
"Everybody wants to always play but we have to be smart about it and focus on the Japan game," said Petratos. "You get tired and you get little niggles, but we have great staff here to help us recover. I think we are dealing with it pretty well. It gives other boys an opportunity to play on Friday as well. They have been working very hard and deserve a chance."
Nick Cowburn and Matt Ridenton, who sparked the Jets off the bench against Persija, are set to start in midfield. Lach Jackson, Jiar, Ivan Vujica and Angus Thurgate are in line for more game time, while Kosta Petratos, Jake Adelson and 16-year-old Jack Simmons could earn a place on the bench.
Merrick said the squad rotation was not an indication that the Asian Champions League had priority over the A-League.
"I don't think it is as much prioritising as being sensible about the workloads," he said. "We can't play on Friday, then fly to Japan, play again, then come back and play on the weekend [against Adelaide]."
The Jets will take an 11-hour flight from Sydney to Seoul on Saturday, where they will stay overnight. They fly three hours to Tokyo on Sunday morning and travel by bus up to Kashima.
Captain Nigel Boogaard, who scored the crucial go-ahead goal in the first half of extra-time against Persija, is confident the players will be in good shape come Tuesday.
"As a footballers, these are the games you want to play in," he said. "You want to test yourself against the best teams in Asia. As soon as you step on to that field, and you realise what is at stake, the rest of that goes into the back of your mind.
"You focus on your task. That is first and foremost. It is a knockout game, there is no second chance, and you have to leave everything out on the park. I'm sure the boys will recover well, go over there with confidence and really take it to them."