REWARDED: Jacob PepperJETS coach Gary van Egmond believes rookie Jacob Pepper can become a midfield mainstay for Newcastle after agreeing to a contract extension with his home-town club.
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Pepper, 19, a West Wallsend junior, was already signed for next season but has been rewarded with an extra 12months of tenure, taking him through until the end of the 2013-14 campaign.

By then, if his progress in the past year is any indication, Pepper could well have established himself as a first-choice cog in van Egmond’s engine room.

After debuting while still a schoolboy against David Beckham’s LA Galaxy 13months ago, Pepper, pictured, proceeded to play in six A-League games.

This season he has appeared in 10games, often in the starting team, and has played a more influential role in a revival that has yielded three wins and a draw from Newcastle’s past four games.

Van Egmond had no doubt Pepper would become a long-term proposition for the Jets around whom they can build a team.

‘‘Very much so,’’ van Egmond said.

‘‘Jacob has come on this year and probably been given more game time than he expected.

‘‘He’s improved and is doing really well and so he’s been rewarded.

‘‘He’s the first to admit there are still some areas of his game that need to get better, but he’s got such a wonderful attitude and he’s so open to taking in information that I believe we can make him an even better player than he already is.’’

The Jets recently extended the deal of another home-grown tyro, defender Taylor Regan.

And van Egmond reiterated yesterday his preference for youthful legs.

‘‘I want to try and change this mentality that 20 is young,’’ he said.

‘‘You might have players in England who’ve been playing in the Premier League for a year or two by the time they reach 20.

‘‘We want to try to get our young ones up to speed earlier, so that they can start coming up.’’

Pepper said it was a pleasant surprise to learn the club wanted to retain him.

‘‘I already had one more season under contract, but obviously Gary likes what he sees and it’s good that I’ll be able to keep playing in Newcastle, where I’ve grown up,’’ he said.

‘‘I’m looking forward to being part of the club’s future.

‘‘It looks like we’re headed for bigger and better things, and I’m just rapt to be a part of it.’’

Aside from the retention of Pepper and Regan, the Jets have a host of more senior players off contract, including Ryan Griffiths, Jeremy Brockie, Francis Jeffers, Michael Bridges, Labinot Haliti, Tarek Elrich and Ali Abbas.

Van Egmond said it was a ‘‘convoluted’’ process working through the salary cap.

He said the Jets would not be making signings during the January transfer window, which closes tomorrow.

Meanwhile, the legal battle between the Newcastle Jets and Jason Culina and Football Federation Australia kicked off in Sydney yesterday.

All parties were told by arbitrator Dominic Villa to exchange relevant information, get their submissions in order and return for a directions hearing on March 5, when a date will be set for arbitration.

Jets officials are eager for a prompt resolution, saying that until the Culina affair is settled, their plans for assembling next season’s squad are on hold.

AAP reports: Melbourne Heart’s Curtis Good may have avoided a send-off but he has not dodged a suspension.

The teenage defender was not sent off by referee Ryan Shepheard in his side’s 3-0 loss to Newcastle on Saturday despite collecting two yellow cards.

Good received a second caution late in the match, but Shepheard failed to realise he had booked the player twice and did not send him off.

The A-League match review panel put right the referee’s gaffe yesterday, banning Good for the Heart’s clash with Gold Coast United at AAMI Park on Friday night.