Newcastle striker Kaine Sheppard has set his sights on playing himself into the starting line-up after securing a one-year extension with the A-League club.
The Jets on Tuesday announced Sheppard had signed on for another year after a strong start to his rookie campaign following his graduation from the NPL.
The 25-year-old has scored two goals and tallied two assists in 10 games so far this season, and it was enough to earn a new deal from coach Ernie Merrick.
"It was my goal to prove myself, help the team and try and get a new contract," Sheppard told reporters on Tuesday.
Sheppard joined the Jets last September after a stellar season with Avondale FC, where he scored 14 times in 23 appearances.
And he's continued to flourish under Merrick, claiming his first A-League goal in his first start in December and then also netting a fortnight ago.
"It's definitely a jump between NPL and A-League in terms of fitness," he said.
"But being in the environment every day, working with Chris, our strength and conditioning coach, has really helped me a lot.
"I feel like I've still got a long way to go but feel like I'm improving every day."
Having earned financial security for at least another year, Sheppard is now eyeing off a permanent position in Merrick's run-on unit.
Merrick has already hinted at keeping Sheppard even longer.
"It's always nice to start but if Ernie wants me to come off the bench, I'll make sure I do my job and I'll be ready if I do get the call to start," he said.
"I get to focus on the rest of this year now and then look forward to next year as well. I've got loads of great people to learn off."
Sheppard is likely to come off the bench again in Wednesday's derby with a Central Coast outfit battling health and form.
Skipper Matt Simon will miss the clash after picking up his fifth yellow card last week, while Jake McGing (leg) has joined Tommy Oar (hamstring) in the stands.
While the Mariners are languishing in last place, the seventh-placed Jets are beginning to drift away from the top six.
They are 10 points behind sixth-placed Adelaide at the halfway points.
"The results so far haven't always gone our way but the performances have been really good. Hopefully it's going to turn for us," Sheppard said.
STATS THAT MATTER
* Newcastle have won their past four A-League games against the Mariners, the longest win streak either side of the F3 derby.
* Central Coast are winless in their past 17 matches away from home.
* Newcastle have made a league-high 238 total shots on goal this season, but have scored the fewest this campaign.
Australian Associated Press