LEWIS Italiano has a chance to finally establish himself as a genuine first-choice goalkeeper in the A-League after signing a two-year extension with the Newcastle Jets.
Italiano agreed to terms last month before the league was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic and chief executive Lawrie McKinna confirmed on Tuesday that a few minor details had been finalised.
The 29-year-old has been in career-best form and an integral part of the Jets' revival under new coach Carl Robinson.
Until now, the West Australian had been predominantly a back-up gloveman and has signed contracts year-to-year since joining Perth Glory at the start of the 2014-15 season.
Indeed, he joined the Jets from Wellington for the 2018-19 campaign and had been the understudy to Glen Moss until the former New Zealand international suffered a calf injury in January.
Italiano was pitched into the starting side against Sydney FC in round 14 and has since barely put a foot wrong.
Moss announced in February that he would retire at the end of the season to take up a coaching role at new club Macarthur FC.
"Lewis has never been able to establish himself as a number one anywhere. This is his chance," McKinna said. "He is such a presence. He controls the penalty box and is good in the air. He is also very, very brave coming off his line. Mossy had been doing really well, but Lewis came in and has taken his chance."
Moss has been to a World Cup with New Zealand and has made 250 appearances in the A-League including what was most likely a farewell five-minute cameo off the bench in the 2-1 win over Melbourne City.
His impending departure, leaves the Jets short of experience in goals.
Italiano has 36 games spread over five seasons. Scholarship-holder Noah James has represented Australia at youth level but is still a work in progress.
McKinna said they would most likely bring in an experienced keeper to provide competition for Italiano.
"We need to look at what is happening with the league in time but he intention is to bring another keeper in," he said. "You want the three keepers pushing each other and creating competition."
Italiano and his young family have returned to Perth during the impasse and is following a training program.
"Lewis' work ethic is exceptional," McKinna said. "He is in the gym at 8am doing his own thing before training. Most days he is one of the last off the pitch. He is a good pro."
Confirmation of Italiano's deal leaves seven players, including Nigel Boogaard, Wes Hoolahan and mid-season arrivals Joe Ledley and Bernie Ibini whose future remains unclear.
McKinna said they were awaiting clarity on if and when this season will be completed and what next season looks like in terms of format and salary cap before committing to more players.
Ledley has returned to Wales to reunite with his wife and three daughters, but McKinna said the midfielder had enjoyed his time in Newcastle and was keen to return.
"Joe was going to bring his wife out because he was loving it that much," McKinna said. "His family was ready to jump on a plane before the league was postponed.
"When I took Joe to the airport he spoke very highly of the dressing room and said it was different class and was also complimentary of the league.
"He said when you are watching the A-League on the television in the UK, you don't realise it is 30 degrees. It looks pretty slow. When you actually come here and are in with the boys, it is a really good standard."
The FFA will on April 22 outline plans for the possible resumption of the season. A July return appears a best-case scenario. The Jets have four regular season games to play.