HE may have lost plenty of star power, but James Pascoe believes his in-form squad could be the best he's coached at Lambton Jaffas.
But he also knows there's bigger tests to come, and Weston on Friday could prove to be one.
The unbeaten Jaffas take on the Bears at Edden Oval from 4.30pm in one of three Good Friday games in round seven of the Northern NSW NPL. Also Friday, Maitland host Edgeworth and Lake Macquarie welcome Adamstown from 2.30pm. On Saturday, Hamilton take on the Jets Youth (2.30pm) and Valentine travel to Broadmeadow (5pm).
Lambton and Weston are on 10 points from four and five games respectively.
The Jaffas have quickly moved on from the loss of experienced trio Joel and Ryan Griffiths and Jobe Wheelhouse, as well as young talent Ben Hay, Marcus Duncan and Ridge Mapu, to show they will be major players this season.
"I heard Aidan Guerra say the ceiling for potential is much higher at the Knights this year and I think the same applies to us," said Pascoe, who's in his fourth season at the club.
"We were limited last year to how we could play with the injuries we had and the age of some of the players, but we don't have those limits anymore, so I think this is going to be the best Jaffas group I've had, if things keep going the way they are.
"But it stays in perspective. We haven't played Edgeworth, Broadmeadow, Maitland or Charlestown. With full respect to the teams we've played, we've had a decent start to the year from a draw perspective and we have bigger tests to come."
Weston would not have been considered among contenders at the start of the season, but they have shown great potential under new coach Kew Jaliens.
"They've got goals in them and are winning games they should win," Pascoe said.
"They are a good side and have only been beaten once, by Olympic, who are a decent side, so I think it has the potential to be a really good game and I don't expect there to be much in it."
Former Jets and Melbourne City striker Braedyn Crowley has spearheaded the Jaffas charge, scoring a hat-trick in a 4-0 win over Valentine last week to move to five for the season.
Crowley was a little below expectations despite scoring nine goals in 16 games last year after linking with Jaffas from City via Bulleen, but Pascoe has seen a change this season.
"He's in a good space on and off the field," he said.
"He's been moving around since he was 16. I got him down from Queensland into the Jets Youth team and he's obviously been to Melbourne from there. But I think Newcastle feels like home for him now. He's got a girlfriend and some steady work and he's living a normal life, and it's showing in his football.
"He's been outstanding and he's been really well backed up. Everyone's fit, sharp and in great touch."
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Weston's Nathan Morris has missed two games with a groin injury and assistant coach Craig Stoker said he was in doubt for the clash with his former club.
Stoker said the rest of the squad was ready for a tough test.
"They are strong across the board and there's not many weakness to them," Stoker said.
"They are well coached and they are going to be tough. They are probably the yardstick of the comp."
James Pendrigh made his debut for Jaffas last week off the bench but fellow Kiwi import Brock Messenger is still on the comeback from a knee injury.