• Declan Payne

Veteran Footballer Fighting Fit for the Jets

At age 34, most professional sportspeople would be thinking of winding down and bringing their careers to a close. But that’s not the case for a footballing veteran who’s in the form of his life for the Newcastle Jets. In early-March, Nikolai Topor-Stanley signed a new two-year deal to take him through until the end of the Hyundai A-League 2020/21 season.

It’s an incredible showing of faith in his ability to stay fit – he’ll be 36 by the time his latest deal is done and dusted. As of March 15, Topor had racked up an incredible 63 consecutive appearances for the Jets across two spells with the Club (2009–12 and 2017–present).

In those 63 successive appearances, nearly half of his 131 in total for the Jets, the tough-as-nails centre-back hasn’t missed a minute of football. When asked about the secret to his durability though, Topor joked that if he told you, he’d have to kill you.

“It’s something I learned along the way. You can’t leave any stone unturned if you really want longevity in this game,” Topor-Stanley said.

“It’s something I try to put into practice every day, we’ve got a great staff here, and I can’t take all the credit. They look after me, and they’re keeping me in good shape.”

Despite his nearly-300 games in the Hyundai A-League throughout spans at four different clubs, the four-time Australia representative has amassed a trophy cabinet that would be the envy of many.

Inside you’ll find a Hyundai A-League premiership medal and AFC Champions League medal (both with the Western Sydney Wanderers), as well as three PFA (Professional Footballers Association) Team of the Season gongs.

Missing from the collection is a Hyundai A-League championship medal – despite three appearances in the "big dance". That particular award has eluded him.

His side, the Newcastle Jets, went oh-so-close last year in a memorable decider at McDonald Jones Stadium which was lost in controversial circumstances.

While the side hasn’t quite hit the same heights as it did last season at this point, the finals are still well and truly in reach for the Newcastle Jets – and Topor has the belief.

“I haven’t won an A-League championship yet. That’s the glaring thing missing from my CV, and I’m looking forward to changing that,” he said.

“I’m in a good space at the moment. I feel like compared to my early 20’s I’m stronger; I’ve learned to pick my battles, and I’ve put myself in a good position to succeed.

“Of course [we can still make it]. There’s no giving up here; we understand that it can go down to the wire, and look at [Melbourne] Victory last year.

“They flew under the radar all year and ended up winning the Grand Final, that’s how the league is set up to be.”

And with the way the Hyundai A-League finals series works, it’d only take the Jets sneaking into sixth place to put themselves right in the mix for a shot at glory. There’s been criticism around some parts about performances this season, but things are starting to click at the right time for the Ernie Merrick-coached side.

A run in the league of five games unbeaten throughout February and the beginning of March has all the hallmarks of the one thing which Topor-Stanley has identified as key to cracking the top six. “Consistency. It’s something that we’ve lacked, we’ve dominated in patches but not scored, then maybe been dominated and conceded,” he said.

“It’s a sign of a good team when you can play badly and win, or concede possession and win, and that’s something we did, especially against Melbourne Victory. We stuck to a simple shape, and got our rewards in front of goal.”

The Jets play two games at home in April: Saturday 6 against Western Sydney Wanderers, and Saturday 27 against Sydney FC. Visit www.newcastlejets.com.au for tickets.

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