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A-LeagueJets coach Ernie Merrick rates Nigel Boogaard a “60-40” chance of playing in next week’s do-or-die final.

JETS coach Ernie Merrick rates Nigel Boogaard a “60-40” chance of playing in next week’s do-or-die final after the inspirational Newcastle skipper completed an intra-club trial on Friday.
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FLASHBACK: Nigel Boogaard limps off with a knee injury in Newcastle’s 2-1 win against Sydney. Picture: Darren Pateman, AAP

Newcastle held a behind-closed-doors hit-out at McDonald Jones Stadium, at which the fitness of Boogaard and marquee attacker Ronny Vargas were put to the test.

Boogaard hasn’t played since he suffered a fractured bone in knee in the March 3 win against Sydney FC.

It was initially expected he would be sidelined for the rest of the season, but the 31-year-old is making a desperate bid to play in next Friday’s grand final qualifier on home turf.

Merrick said he would have a better idea on Monday if that was realistic.

“He got through the sessionOK,” Merrick said.

“There were more positives than negatives, but it all depends how he pulls up.

“I certainly haven’t ruled him out. I’d say he’s probably 60-40 at this stage, but we’ll see how he is on Monday and probably make a decision then.”

Merrick said if Boogaard was ruled out of the semi-final, it did not necessarily mean he would also miss the grand final, should Newcastle qualify.

“I’m the sort of person who doesn’t look any further than the next game, especially as it’s a knockout game,” he said. “So I’m not thinking about the grand final yet. He’s definitely on the road to recovery, so the longer he has, the better he’ll be.

“And I’m not a coach who won’t necessarilychange a winning team. There are always things you can improve on.”

The prospect of Boogaard returning would be a massive boost for Newcastle, especially as his first-choice replacement, Ben Kantarovski, suffered a torn hamstring in last week’s 8-2 hammering of Central Coast.

If both Boogaard and Kantarovski are out, Lachlan Jackson will partner Nikolai Topor-Stanleyin central defence.

The injury-plagued Vargas, meanwhile, is pushing for a starting berth after showing he had overcome a groin strainthat sidelined him last week.

“I was pretty impressed with Ronny today,” Merrick said.

“He surprised me. He’s a big-game player and because he’s so slim and looks after himself, and doesn’t put on much weight, he always has a high level of fitness.

“I moved him around a little bit [in the trial], but wherever he played, he was pretty good and retained possession of the ball.”

A high-profile signing, Vargas has played in only seven games for Newcastle this season, after suffering a shocking broken ankle playing against Brisbane in round three. The Venezuelan international, who has played for big European teams such as Club Brugge, Aderlecht and AEK Athens, spent almost five months in rehabilitation and recovery.

Merrick will weigh up his experience against the youth and pace of Joey Champness, who has scored five goals for Newcastle in his debut A-League season.

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