Jets have engines tuned for A-League assault
A FEW short weeks ago there was a considerable enough gap between the Newcastle Jets and the A-League's top six that Ernie Merrick's men had already been written off for the season.
Skip forward five unbeaten games and newly re-signed defender Nikolai Topor-Stanley will tell you they're still gunning for the title.
If there's a lesson in recent rounds - not to mention last year's extraordinary grand-final run - it's that it may be unwise to discount the Hunter brigade.
The latest result, a 2-0 upset of Melbourne Victory in Geelong, has them two points shy of Wellington in sixth, and they'll be hoping the Phoenix fall to Central Coast during the split round this Saturday so they can crack it next week against the Mariners and start the climb.
Because no team knows better than the Jets that the championship can be won from fourth place.
And no player is more painfully aware of what it's like to lose a grand final than the Topor-Stanley, the man who's lost four in an otherwise rewarding career.
In the days since the 33-year-old signed a new two-year deal, there's been one thing on his mind.
"I haven't won an A-League yet, that's the glaring thing in my CV and I'm looking forward to challenging for that," Topor-Stanley said.
"There's no giving up here. We understand it can go down to the wire. Look at Melbourne Victory last year - they flew under the radar all year and ended up winning the title."
Apart from scoring 11 goals in their past five games, the Jets have only conceded three over that period, and kept a clean sheet against Victory in a dogged defensive display that's built confidence from the back.
"Maybe we relied too on individual brilliance last year when we scored some crackers," Topor-Stanley said.
"Where do you look to when that dries up? We need to build a solid foundation. It's starting to creep back in.
We're not too far out of the six and anything can happen in the finals."
In a promising sign of longevity, Topor-Stanley hasn't missed a single match since returning to the Jets at the beginning of last season and wasn't especially in need of the coming weekend off.
"I'm in a good space at the moment, mentally and physically," he said.
"Compared to my early 20s I feel stronger. I've learnt to pick my battles and put myself in a good position to succeed."