by Tom Smithies, The Daily Telegraph
NEWCASTLE Jets' worst fears have been realised, with confirmation that Venezuelan winger Ronald Vargas has suffered such a serious leg injury it's almost certain he won't play again this season.
Vargas has already undergone surgery to begin the repair of a broken leg and dislocated ankle after falling awkwardly in the Round 3 clash with Brisbane on Sunday.
An eminent Brisbane surgeon who was at the game came to Vargas's side to examine him, and travelled to hospital immediately to operate on the badly injured leg.
Vargas was due to fly back to Newcastle on Monday, with the club unable to estimate his potential return date.
Vargas's skill had made him an immediate fans favourite, and had brought hope to the Jets that they could finally achieve finals football.
Coach Ernie Merrick was deeply emotional at a press conference after Sunday's game, and on Monday he confirmed how bad the news was.
"The report from the surgeon has been positive at this stage, but with such a significant injury there are a lot of unknowns - Ron will recuperate and we'll begin planning his rehabilitation," Merrick said in a club statement.
"At this stage, we're really not sure what a timeline for his return looks like, but we'd expect that he'll be unavailable for most of the season.
"As you could see yesterday, the players and the staff have been really affected by this injury. He may have only been here for a short time, but Ron has already made an impression on all of us and that speaks to the quality of the guy - we'll all be there to support him throughout his recovery.
"The outpouring of support from across Newcastle and the wider footballing community has been amazing, we appreciate it and I have not doubt that Ron will feel the same."
Merrick was at pains to say that "no one was to blame" for the injury, which came after Vargas was tackled by Brisbane midfielder Matt McKay, who was visibly upset afterwards.
The Jets will seek an injury replacement player, though only players who were free agents at the close of the transfer window earlier this month would be able to sign immediately.