MARK Natta travelled up the freeway from Western Sydney with the aim of pushing the Jets' senior defenders and giving coach Arthur Papas a selection headache.
The 19-year-old centreback is well on the way to achieving that goal.
Natta started alongside Jordan Elsey in the heart of defence in the Jets' nil-all draw with his former club in a friendly on Saturday. It was a near new back four, with Carl Jenkinson stationed on the right and James McGarry on the left.
It was the Jets' second clean sheet against A-League opposition in the pre-season and followed a 3-0 win over Wellington last month.
The Jets leaked 43 goals last season. Only Sydney (44), Macarthur (45) and Wellington (49) conceded more.
Improving the defence - from the strikers back - has been one of Papas' major focuses.
"In terms of structure, we showed some improvements," Papas said after the Wanderers stalemate. "We restricted them pretty much to set pieces and a couple of counter attacks. That was a positive for us. But there is still a lot of work to do to be ready."
Captain Matt Jurman is still getting up to full speed after a disrupted pre-season and Papas confirmed that Natta was in the frame for the A-League opener against the Central Coast in Gosford on October 8.
"Matty is coming back from a setback," Papas said. "In the meantime, Natta has progressed and they will have to fight it out which is good for them."
Natta played 23 A-League games in two seasons at Wanderers.
After a breakout 2020-21 campaign in which the teenager made 19 appearances and earned high praise from Socceroos coach Graham Arnold, he was hardly sighted last season.
Asked what aspects of Natta's game stood out, Papas said: First of all, he is one of our quickest players. He is very composed on the ball and reads the game quite well. He has a lot of things he can improve, but he definitely has some key attributes for a centreback in the way we like to play."
The Jets will take on Macarthur in a friendly behind closed doors in Sydney on Tuesday. They will play an internal trial at McDonald Jones Stadium on Saturday morning which doubles as a members' launch, before finalising preparations against Melboune Victory in Newcastle on Thursday, September 29.
He is one of our quickest players, he is very composed on the ball and reads the game quite well.- ARTHUR PAPAS
"Ideally, we will go in with strongest 11 against Victory," Papas said. "There were some players who had good performances on Saturday and got some more minutes in their legs. I will see how they progress. A lot can change in three weeks."
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