Midfielder key to Jets' finals push

NEWCASTLE'S attacking midfielder Gema Simon doesn't back down from a challenge - and if the Jets are to have any chance of making the W-League finals this season, they will need the 22-year-old to maintain her combative attitude.

The Jets face Western Sydney on Sunday at Campbelltown Stadium, and while a win would put them back in contention, another loss would leave them well behind the finals contenders halfway through the 12-round season.

''We know we have a tough road ahead of us this season, but it's a challenge that we have to overcome,'' Simon said. ''We really want to make the finals. I miss finals football and after our first win and clean sheet against Adelaide [last Saturday], the group has been great in training. It's really brought us together and the confidence back.''

Simon's footballing career has been plagued by injury, the Armidale-born Novocastrian often battling through persistent pain with tendonitis in her right knee.

However, surgery almost nine months ago, combined with a rigorous rehabilitation, has allowed her to compete pain free for the first time in years.

''It's been a lot of work, I'm not going to lie,'' she said. ''I have an ice bath the day before the game, I get massages during the week, ice every day and all the normal management during the week as well as rehab.

''I feel a lot better than recent seasons, after the surgery I had over 8½ months ago. Since then the body's feeling a lot better and I can finally play pain free which has really helped my confidence.''

Jets coach Wayne O'Sullivan has noticed the difference following discussions with Simon before taking over as co-coach with Peter McGuinness at the start of the season. ''We had a heart-to-heart about where things needed to go in order for her to develop as a football player and it came down to hard work and she's been the epitome of that in pre-season,'' O'Sullivan said.

Simon is dreaming big, and at the age of 22 she still has her best years to come. ''I would like to play for the Matildas, and I definitely want to go overseas and play in a foreign competition in the next couple of years. Possibly America, Europe, anywhere,'' she said.

The Jets will be without Matilda midfielder Emily van Egmond and will be sweating on the fitness of midfielder Hannah Brewer.

This story Midfielder key to Jets' finals push first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.