LEWIS Italiano kept his first clean sheet for the Newcastle Jets last weekend, and a repeat performance in Sunday's F3 derby against Central Coast should go a long way towards helping him realise a long-term goal.
Italiano has spent the past two campaigns mainly as Newcastle's back-up gloveman, but the recent calf injury to Glen Moss has allowed his understudy to string together four consecutive appearances, after featuring in six games last season.
With Moss sidelined for at least another week, and having announced he will retire at season's end, the off-contract Italiano has an ideal opportunity to convince Jets officials that he is capable of replacing the 249-game A-League veteran for next season and beyond.
"If I can perform, and do a job in between the sticks, hopefully the Jets won't go looking and they'll stay with me," Italiano told the Newcastle Herald.
"So hopefully I can perform and help out the team as much as I possibly can."
Italiano said he and Moss are "very close", having trained alongside each other since joining forces at Wellington Phoenix in 2013-14.
And as much as he would not begrudge Moss a chance to bow out of the A-League in style, the 29-year-old has no intention of handing over the gloves without a fight.
"Obviously when he's playing, I push him, and when I'm playing, he's coaching me and pushing me in the right direction, because I want to follow in his footsteps," Italiano said.
"For him to announce his retirement, for him to get a few more games and get the send-off he deserves, I'll always be there for him.
"But it's an opportunity for me as well, to follow in his footsteps and to make myself the No.1 goalkeeper. So I obviously need to pursue playing time as well."
Italiano is relishing the rare chance to string together regular games, having made only 29 appearances in the A-League since signing with his home-town club, Perth Glory, in the 2011-12 season.
Unlike outfield players, who might make cameo appearances as substitute, usually reserve keepers are called upon only if there is an injury or send-off.
"Obviously you can go weeks, you can go months, you can spend your whole career on the bench, but to be able to step in and get a few games under your belt, there's nothing better than that," he said.
And while all keepers take pride in keeping their goal intact, Italiano said it required a collective effort.
"Obviously not just for a goalkeeper, but also for the defenders and the team's sake, not conceding goals is a benefit for us," he said.
"It was definitely a step in the right direction."
Sunday will be Italiano's first chance to experience an F3 derby for himself.
"A derby is a big thing," he said. "You're playing the team down the road, so you want to be the winner ... we take every team seriously, although given it is the Mariners, I think you do pump yourself up more for that game especially."