CARVING: Ruben Zadkovich. — Picture by Jonathan CarrollSANDON Point is a 15-minute drive north of Wollongong.
You cruise up the Princes Highway and just before you hit the steep climb up the infamous Bulli Pass, hang a right at Point Street.
Follow it to the end. Then it’s a short jog through a reserve and over some rocks to the one of the best point breaks on the east coast.
On a good day, the swell gets up to three metres and spits out a long, fast right-hander.
For years it was home to high-octane Newcastle Jets midfielder Ruben Zadkovich.
Zadkovich was born in bred in Bulli.
His days were split between surfing and soccer with a bit of school thrown in the middle.
‘‘We lived on the other side of the highway and I used to ride my pushy a couple of kilometres to the beach,’’ Zadkovich said.
‘‘When I was about 12, mum and dad upgraded their house and we moved across the highway and were only a few hundred metres away.
‘‘In winter, if the surf was big, we would be down there before school all the time.
‘‘In summer, every day after school it was either soccer training or surfing. Sometimes I would squeeze a surf in before training.’’
Little has changed.
Soccer is now his profession and his priority, but surfing remains a constant.
‘‘They go together well,’’ Zadkovich said.
‘‘When you are on a massive up in football and on cloud nine, sometimes it is nice to go out in the ocean and bring yourself back to earth.
‘‘The contrary to that is when you have a shocking day it is nice to go down there and pick yourself up.
‘‘You realise, ‘Hey that was just one session, one day.’
‘‘Football is one of those things where you have to ride through the highs and lows. Surfing helps.’’
Zadkovich is in the second year of a three-year deal with the Jets. He has set up camp in Merewether. The Cliff is now his local break.
The lure of a coastal lifestyle was a big part of the attraction to signing with the Jets.
The Beijing Olympian had endured a frustrating two years at English Championship club Derby County that were punctuated by three groin operations.
‘‘The team was fine, it was just that I was injured,’’ Zadkovich said.
‘‘When I was able to play, I was carrying the groin problem or coming back from double hernia or left-side groin reconstruction. It was always injury. When I was fit and played it was the best feeling ever. The intensity and passion the fans have for it over there is second to none.
‘‘I left with what you would call unfinished business, but it wasn’t in my control.
‘‘It had gotten to the point where I had spent so long out of the game and I needed to be playing regular football. I thought the best move would be to come back to Australia and get myself fit and playing.’’
Zadkovich had interest from other A–League clubs but Newcastle stood out.
‘‘I heard nothing but good things from my mates who had been up here and worked in the coalmines,’’ he said. ‘‘Local Bulli mates, they said that Newcastle was a good town, good people, and that I’d like it.’’
Zadkovich signed a three-year deal.
The injuries are now history – 21 games last season is testament to that – and he is now focused on taking his game to a new level.
‘‘Coming to Newcastle. A fresh start. It is such a good town, it all kind of fell into place,’’ Zadkovich said.
‘‘My goal last year was to play the majority of games, get fit and give my best. Now I am looking to build on that and get myself back playing the best football I can play. You can only do that by working at training and in games.’’
It is only early days, but Zadkovich’s high-energy harassing defensive game and gut-busting bursts from midfield in attack have become crucial to new coach Gary van Egmond’s game plan. It is a style that suits Zadkovich.
‘‘He is all about intensity, pressure and the speed in which you do things,’’ the feisty midfielder said.
Van Egmond knew he was inheriting a good athlete in Zadkovich but said the challenge for him was to become more effective.
‘‘If we put a kilometre count on him, he would get through a hell of a lot,’’ the coach said.
‘‘Effort-wise you could never fault him.
‘‘But he needs to be a bit more selective. Selective in his runs, selective where he is running, selective in his pass, just his positioning in general.
‘‘If he can do that, there is no reason why he can’t get back on the representative scene.’’
For now Zadkovich’s focus is purely on the Jets.
‘‘To make the Olympics was brilliant and to play for the Socceroos was a dream I had as a little kid,’’ he said.
‘‘I’d love to be involved again but for now my priority is Newcastle. That is where I will earn my spot in any rep team. But I’m a bit of a way off, I think.
‘‘First and foremost, you want to put in 150 for the shirt, the town and the fans.
‘‘You are playing for your future all the time. It is not just about when you are off contract or on contract.
‘‘That is the way I look at it. Newcastle is somewhere I want to be.’’
Despite his background and love for the sport, Zadkovich does not consider himself a good surfer. It is more the freedom, the enjoyment and the people that he has met.
‘‘When I moved to town I knew no one and one of my mates game me a number for one of the Merewether boys, Tim Wolfe,’’ Zadkovich said.
‘‘I rang him and we became mates straight away. I literally crashed on his living room floor for 12 weeks. Through him I met all the Merewether boys. People like Rhys Smith, they have all been great.
‘‘What I have noticed in Newcastle is that there are so many good surfers.
‘‘At Sandon Point it was real local. You knew your five or six good shredders. Then there were a lot of old blokes who dominated, and then young blokes, like me, who picked up the scraps. Here it is a free-for-all. Everyone shreds. It is such a good surfing town.
‘‘For me it was always soccer first. Surfing was always what I did to have fun.’’
Newcastle may be his home for at least the next 18 months, but Zadkovich’s mind is never far from Bulli and Sandon Point. He has a tattoo of a ‘‘Bulli Black Diamond’’ and the postcode 2516 on the inside of his forearm.
‘‘It is a symbol of the area,’’ Zadkovich explained. ‘‘A few of the boys have got a similar tat.
‘‘It was something I got done when I was in England and missing home and whatnot.
‘‘I got it to ensure I never forget where I came from and the morals we had down there.’’