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 By AAP

Ernie Merrick set to name 'fresh line-up' in effort to reinvigorate Newcastle

Newcastle coach Ernie Merrick has hinted at a host of changes for Thursday's A-League clash against Melbourne City following their tired performance last week.

Merrick confirmed Ben Kantarovski and Joe Champness will enter calculations for a spot in the starting line-up after coming off the bench in their 3-2 defeat to Wellington.

Jack Duncan is also set to retain the gloves ahead of Glen Moss despite conceding three goals, while midseason pick-up Riley McGree is likely to be added to the bench for the road trip.

"Riley McGree will be joining us for the first time, so he'll be involved in the training session [on Tuesday] and Nick Cowburn is back," Merrick said.

"So we've got a pretty fresh line-up and that's just what we need at this particular time with this short turnaround and the number of games we've had over the last two weeks."

Merrick insisted he had would have no hesitation in thrusting McGree straight into the run-on side but is likely to spend at least one more week riding the pine.

McGree, who only joined the club in late December, was one of three Jets involved in the Olyroos' recent loss in China, including Champness and Cowburn.

Joe Champness
Returning Olyroo Joe Champness will be pushing for a start against Melbourne City on Thursday.

"If we needed to, I'd have no trouble putting Riley in. I've had a look at a lot of his videos, I watched him play for the under-23s, he's my type of player," Merrick said.

"He can play the No. 6, defensive midfielder, or a No. 8, he's capable of going box to box.

"He's exactly what we need and again, another one that freshens up the team. But he'll have to earn his spot. I'd say on the bench this weekend."

Merrick also revealed striker Roy O'Donovan is closing in on a shock return from his groin injury, despite initially being ruled out until March.

O'Donovan, who had scored seven goals in eight games before being struck down, is believed to be pushing for what would be a miracle return against City.

"Roy is driving me nuts. He's so keen to play this Thursday but I'll speak to the physio," Merrick said.

"I went to his training session, playing four on four, he's scoring goals left, right and centre and running hard. It's great to see because it's six weeks ahead of where he should've been.

"It's a credit to him. I like him pushing for a position but I'd like to see him train for a full week."

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