JETS coach Ernie Merrick expects Central Coast Mariners to be vastly improved this season and attributes their turnaround to his opposite number, Alen Stajcic.
Stajcic, controversially sacked as Matildas coach in January, assumed the reins of the Mariners two months later with immediate success, steering the A-League's bottom team to a shock 3-2 win against Merrick's Jets in his first outing.
Central Coast nonetheless finished with their second consecutive wooden spoon, but two of their three wins last season came in Stajcic's six games in charge.
Last week's 2-1 loss to Western Sydney at Bankwest Stadium indicated they would be competitive in this campaign, and Merrick is expecting nothing less in Saturday's F3 derby at Central Coast Stadium - the 48th A-League clash between the two neighbouring clubs.
"He came in and changed, in a very short period of time, the Mariners ... I think he has turned the club around," Merrick said.
"I think they've got a good team, good players, better atmosphere than they've had in a while, since Graham Arnold and Lawrie McKinna's days, and hopefully we're in a similar position.
"We feel last year we just missed out on the finals. We did well the year before.
"We're pretty keen to be in the finals this year, as the Mariners will be."
Merrick said both the Jets and Mariners were "always up against it", given that most of their A-League rivals have bigger budgets and catchment areas.
But both have defied the odds to appear in a combined tally of six grand finals, winning two A-League championships.
"These two teams are the only two provincial teams," Merrick said.
"All the other teams in the league are in the major cities in each state, three of them in Melbourne and two in Sydney.
"So I think, in their time, both the Mariners and ourselves have punched above our weight.
"I've got a lot of respect for the Mariners. Obviously we're battling over bragging rights, but I think it's a good, friendly rivalry ... afterwards we'll be mates. I've got too much respect for the Mariners to be abusive or anything like that."
Stajcic agreed that big-city clubs enjoyed advantages but added that "money doesn't buy everything in sport", pointing to Leicester City's famous win in the 2015-16 English Premier League as an example.
"I'm not saying we're Leicester, but certainly we've both punched above our weight,'' he said.
Stajcic had fond memories of his debut game in charge of the Mariners, which produced a boilover that dented Newcastle's play-off hopes.
"At the time, I think we were all at a low ebb, me personally, and the club," he said.
"We were both in a similar spot. It was just great that the boys could bounce back.
"I'd been there for five minutes, so I'd like to take all the credit, but it was just the way the boys responded that week."