It might have lost some of the of spite in recent years but the F3 derby is more than just the pre-game show.
Dismissals, broken bones, preliminary finals and a Grand Final – the Newcastle Jets-Central Coast Mariners rivalry comes with plenty of baggage and a history the modern Sydney and Melbourne rivalries have some way to go to match.
Opposing foundation players Jobe Wheelhouse and John Hutchinson will admit the F3 derby seems to have lost its bite in the last few seasons, but that doesn’t mean either side take it any less seriously.
“Early on it was a really fierce rivalry, especially around the time we won the GF over them,” Wheelhouse told footballaustralia.com.au.
“It could be a bit more spicy. It’s calmed down a bit but I don’t know why. I always enjoy playing against the Mariners but the hype has died off a little bit.”
Hutchinson suspects the cooling of tensions has come as a result of the changing face of the Hyundai A-League, as it leaves its somewhat agricultural beginnings behind.
“It’s due to the change in the style of football we play, for both teams,” Hutchinson said.
“It’s a bit less physical. No one wants to lose it, we still see it as our main derby. It’s still going to be a battle we still need to win.”
It doesn’t take much to recall the bad old days, such as when Nik Mrdja broke then Jets defender Andrew Durante’s leg in a horror tackle. No one wants to see that again but you can’t deny it added a new dimension of passion to the game.
“The whole Mrjda-Durante thing made things pretty fiery for a few seasons,” Wheelhouse said, “and then the Grand Final as well.
“Around that period they were the best games to play in because there was a lot of talk in the media about how big the game is, people want revenge and all that.
“There was close to 50,000 at the final. I’m not sure whether that early on in the A-League they actually expected the two teams from the Hunter and Central Coast to make it, which made it even more special for us. I think they’d still be hurting after that, still not having won one.”
Despite the Jets’ boasting that memorable if sole title victory, Hutchinson recalls the 2008 major semi-finals in which the Mariners came back from a 2-0 first-leg deficit to win the second leg 3-0 in extra time.
“As a Mariners player that was one of the best nights at Bluetongue Stadium. We had about 17-18,000 people there and we ended up winning the game in extra time. That was one of the best games I’ve played in.”
On Saturday night, much of the hype will, understandably, be on the brand new rivalry a little further south.
But both Wheelhouse and Hutchinson are adamant that with local pride at stake, the rising quality of both northern teams– along with the arrival of Jets marquee man Emile Heskey - should make for an excellent game at Hunter Stadium.
“It’s always good to test yourself against a player who’s been an international for England and played for some of the biggest clubs in the world. Trent Sainsbury has been doing really well and this is a big game for him, it’s one everyone looks forward to – you want to see how good you are.
“The [local community] tend to have a bit more to say when you’re walking down the street, they want to win it. We know it’s an important game for the community. We take it as another game but it’s a derby and we know it’s going to be a battle.”
“There’s no doubt the Mariners have been the better team over the last couple of years,” Wheelhouse admitted.
“They’ve showed their consistency and Graham Arnold’s go going really well. They’re the better team out of the three in NSW at the moment. But we’re in pretty good nick and we’re pretty confident we’ll beat them.”