Newcastle Jets stronger than last season, claims Merrick

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Ernie Merrick has pronounced his Newcastle Jets team a superior attacking outfit to that which stormed into last year's A-League grand final.

Now they just have to get their shooting boots on.

Veteran coach Merrick lamented some rusty finishing in their season-opening 2-1 loss to the Wellington Phoenix on Sunday, their first competition match since going down 1-0 to Melbourne Victory in the 2017-2018 decider.

However, his long-term prognosis is positive.

The team from Hunter have become the hunted and Merrick believes they've recruited well enough to cope with swollen expectations.

The return to full fitness of Ronny Vargas is the biggest coup after the brilliant Venezuela playmaker missed most of last season with a broken leg.

Merrick believes the 31-year-old can hone a league-leading creative partnership with Sunday's goalscorer Dimi Petratos.

Around them are key attacking signings in former Melbourne Victory winger Mitch Austin and forwards Jair and Kaine Sheppard.

Converted fullback Jason Hoffman opened the campaign in a central forward role and Merrick plans to persist with that.

The options will further open up when Roy O'Donovan returns from suspension and Joey Champness from a fractured foot, suggesting Newcastle could surpass their excellent 57-goal tally in the last regular season.

"I think we've got a better squad, we've got more depth. I could never bring on strikers last year," Merrick said.

"And (Vargas) is an absolutely outstanding player. When he was involved, it looked like something was going to happen. He and Dimi have got a great understanding."

While Sheppard and Austin were employed off the bench, Jair made a mixed starting debut against the Phoenix, spraying his team's best chance wide when through on goal.

It was symptomatic of the scratchy finishing which cost dearly against Merrick's former team.

"We didn't take our chances and you pay a price for that but for the first game of the season, I wasn't unhappy with that."

Merrick said midfielder Ben Kantarovski is a good chance to return from injury in Friday's match against Adelaide United.

Source AAP