NEWCASTLE Jets fans can expect to see a lot less of Kaine Sheppard this season, but a lot more at the same time.
The English-born striker, who made his A-League debut for the Jets last season and played in 22 games, has shed five kilograms over the off-season in a quest to nail down a regular starting spot.
Sheppard ended last season at a playing weight of 84kg, but returned for Newcastle's new campaign at a trimmed-down 79kg.
He already appears to be reaping the benefits after scoring from a header in Wednesday's intraclub trial match against Newcastle's youth team.
"I had a good chat with the strength-and-conditioning coach and [head coach] Ernie [Merrick] before I left at the end of last season, and I set myself a couple of tasks, to drop a couple of kilos and get my body-fat percentage down," Sheppard told the Newcastle Herald.
"I was able to do that, which I was happy about and the club were happy about, too.
"I did manage to get away on holiday, to Bali with my partner, but I was conscious of the food I was eating and the training I was doing ... maybe there were a couple of extra pounds that were making me not be at my best last year.
"But they've definitely gone now, and I feel a lot better for it."
Sheppard said he paid close attention to timing his meals and portion size, and eventually it became second nature. "Once I got into a routine - and I'm sticking to that routine in pre-season - it was actually quite easy for me," he said.
Born in Northampton, Sheppard played his junior football with Lleyton Orient but qualified for an Australian passport via his mother, and in his late teens decided to try his luck Down Under.
He enjoyed successful stints with Victorian Premier League clubs Heidelberg United and Avondale, and also plied his trade with SJK in Finland, earning a reputation as a consistent scorer before attracting the attention of the Jets, who signed him two weeks before last season kicked off.
The late bloomer showed enough potential in his 22 A-League appearances - seven of which were in the starting side - to earn a new contract for 2019-20.
Now, after the end-of-season departures of overseas attackers Roy O'Donovan, Ronny Vargas and Jair, the Jets need reinforcements up front and Sheppard is primed to improve on his three-goal haul last season.
"Last year was a great learning experience," he said. "It was great just to be part of the A-League, but I feel like this year I can have a real impact for Newcastle and the team.
"I really want to push on and get some goals."