NEWCASTLE Jets hired gun Nathan Burns is back training and on track to make a much-heralded A-League return in the round one blockbuster against Sydney FC.
On-loan from Korean club Incheon United, Burns strained his hamstring in the warm-up before the Jets’ 1-0 friendly win over Melbourne Victory almost a fortnight ago.
In a double blow, marquee striker Emile Heskey tore the medial ligament in his knee after being collected by Victory defender Nick Ansell in the opening 20 minutes.
It was feared both would miss the start of the campaign.
Heskey is out until at least round three but, in a major boost, Burns trained fully yesterday and only needs to get through an intra-club hit out on Thursday to get the green light for the season opener.
‘‘I’m back training 100per cent and am pretty happy with that,’’ Burns said after an hour-long workout.
‘‘Initially it was thought I’d be out longer.
‘‘It healed pretty quick, but we had to strengthen the muscle.
‘‘We worked pretty hard today – three on twos, four on fours, a bit of game stuff which involved shooting and sprinting. It’s ready to go.’’
Jets coach Gary van Egmond had no hesitation in declaring Burns a certain starter despite the winger having played only 45 minutes, which included a superb goal, in a 3-0 win over Sydney Olympic since arriving from Korea.
‘‘He has shown enough,’’ van Egmond said.
‘‘If he can get 45 to 60 minutes on Thursday, that will make him cherry ripe for the following week.
‘‘He is going to be very important for us this year.
‘‘He is able to go past players, he is able to score, he is able to create things – everything you want from someone in that front third.’’
Burns, 25, was still a teenager when he burst on to the A-League for Adelaide United, scoring nine goals in 28 starts, before signed by Greek giant AEK Athens and eventually heading to Korea.
‘‘It will be a bit like making my debut again,’’ he said.
‘‘It has been a few years since people have seen me play live.’’
Burns is expected to start on the right of a front three alongside Adam Taggart and Craig Goodwin, who scored a double in the 2-1 win over Central Coast in Tamworth on Sunday.
The win over an under-strength premiers was the Jets’ final competitive game.
‘‘First half was good, 2-0 probably flattered them to a degree,’’ van Egmond said.
‘‘We created a number of chances.
‘‘In saying that, they had a very young team and we would expect to dominate the match and control the match the way we did in the first half.
‘‘We probably should have scored a few more goals but overall it was good.
‘‘Second half we took our foot off the gas which is something we need to address, and again we got scored against from a set piece. That was not good enough by any means.’’
The win was the third straight over A-League opposition – they lost 1-0 to Wellington in Weston in August – and van Egmond was happy with their progress less than fortnight out from kick-off.
‘‘It was a bit of a set back with the two injuries, in particular to Emile – in light of the fact that he got here early, a good solid two months prior to the season beginning,’’ van Egmond said.
‘‘But from a fitness point of view, from a football point of view, from the boys in regards to their confidence, and really believing, and really buying in to everything. I’m very happy.’’
AQUATIC RELAXATION: Jets players recover in the Forum pool after an intensive pre-season training session yesterday. Picture: Ryan Osland