THE environment was different, but the intensity remained the same as Clayton Zane put the Newcastle Jets through their paces at Port Macquarie on Tuesday.
With coach Ernie Merrick over in China on a player scouting mission, Zane took the reins at Regional Stadium as part of the annual Jets Tour of regional New South Wales.
Even though it was a training ground move, the frustration of conceding a goal was evident on captain Nigel Boogaard.
He barked instructions following the move, imploring his teammates to “get goal side”.
Former Port Saints junior Angus Thurgate whipped in numerous dangerous crosses from the left-hand side, most of which hit the mark.
It was a snapshot of what he was capable of doing following a breakthrough year in the Jets 2017/18 A-League campaign.
It allowed Zane to admit the club would want a bit more from the recently turned 18-year-old who they hope will continue to develop into a regular first-team A-League player.
“It’s amazing the transformation (from last year to this year),” Zane said.
“The big difference now is he’s starting to turn into a man; a seasoned professional player.
“He’s had 12 months of that tough training being around seasoned pros and you can see now he’s a lot more competitive.
“He competes a lot better against older players and they’ve taken him under their wing.”
The big difference now is he’s starting to turn into a man; a seasoned professional player.Jets assistant coach Clayton Zane on Angus Thurgate
Twelve months ago, the Port Macquarie product was in the Jets setup, but the focus from those within the club was on giving him first grade experience.
Thurgate had achieved that – and more – by the end of the season when he appeared off the bench in most matches in the second-half of the season.
With players returning from injury and suspension, the former Port Saint missed out on the Jets grand final appearance.
But he had already made an impression and what the coaching staff require from him now is be a consistent performer and make it difficult for coach Ernie Merrick to leave him out.
“This year is a year where he can hopefully get into a position where he looks to start an A-League match,” Zane said.
“He’s come off the bench and made good impact, but now he starts to realise it’s time to become a first-team player.
“That means starting games and putting other players under pressure.”
Half the battle is gaining the respect of his teammates – something he has already achieved.
“The respect he gets from the older players shows the immense talent that he’s got,” Zane said.
“I think we’ll see a big change in his attitude towards believing that he can do that (play in first grade) this year.
Thurgate has shown other budding footballers on the Mid North Coast that anything is possible.
“Coming from this part of Australia, I think it’s massive for our club,” Zane said.
He’s come off the bench and made good impact, but now he starts to realise it’s time to become a first-team player.Clayton Zane
“We’ve tried to really engage as part of the community and the emerging Jets has given Angus that chance.
“Hopefully some of the other kids up here see that it is possible to be an A-League player from a regional area.”