NEWCASTLE'S most-capped player, midfielder Ben Kantarovski, feels ready for a promotion to the starting XI in Saturday's showdown with Perth Glory at McDonald Jones Stadium.
Groin and hamstring issues restricted the 27-year-old during the pre-season and sidelined him for Newcastle's opening game of 2019-20, a 1-all draw with Central Coast.
But he has since played as a substitute in Newcastle's losses to Adelaide (2-1) and Sydney (4-1), increasing his game time from 23 minutes against the Reds to a full second half against the defending champions last week.
Should coach Ernie Merrick feel the need to bolster his midfield, the young veteran of 182 A-League games is confident he can handle the assignment.
"Yeah, I think so," Kantarovski replied when asked if he expected to start.
"We've been just working each week on building those minutes into the legs and getting the body ready. The body is feeling really good, and my job is to make Ernie's job a lot more difficult in picking who's going to start.
"Look, the other boys have been doing well. Matt [Ridenton], Steve [Ugarkovic], even Angus [Thurgate], they've been doing really well ... at the end of day, we'll leave that up to Ernie."
Newcastle are winless after three games and ahead of only struggling Wellington on the competition ladder.
But the Jets are not panicking and believe one good result can turn their season around.
"The confidence is still there," Kantarovski said.
"We haven't actually played poorly in any of the games. Even against Sydney, there was lapses in our defence, and against a quality side you will get punished for that. But in our actual general play, in all our games we've been quite dominant in making sure that we keep the ball in the opposition half and creating chances.
"We've been doing that, it's just we haven't been taking them, and I think that's the key difference.
"As soon as you convert those chances into goals, it will change and our confidence will lift even higher."
Kantarovski said it was "very early" in proceedings and the points table would start to look after itself if Newcastle persevered.
"We really want to look at it with a positive mindset," he said. "We've been playing well but ... once we start scoring those goals, the points will come."
Perth, last season's minor premiers and beaten grand finalists, have produced a mixed start to the season, winning one of their first four games to sit fifth.
But the Glory boast a remarkable record at McDonald Jones Stadium, where they have won on 12 of 21 occasions, including 2-0 victories in their past two visits.
Perth's 57.1 per cent winning strike rate in Newcastle is their best at any A-League venue.
Glory coach Tony Popovic said he was expecting "a very aggressive start from Newcastle".
"There will be a lot of desperation involved with their team ... we are expecting a real tough encounter which you always get in Newcastle," Popovic said. "They're a team that always look dangerous. Unfortunately they haven't got the results they want so far but they're a very dangerous team going forward."