Maitland become the third heavyweight Hunter club in two years to enter the Women's Premier League.

Maitland will join the Women’s Premier League from the start of the 2021 season onwards, amalgamating Thornton FC’s women’s teams into the club in the process, Northern NSW Football confirmed early on Wednesday morning.

The NPL heavyweights are “keen” to drive forward the development of women’s sport in the Hunter region, Maitland president Ray Watkins said after the announcement.

“We see it from the point of view that women’s football is the biggest growth team sport in this region and probably Australia,” Watkins told media on August 26.

“As far as Maitland Football goes, we’ve been in the NPL NNSW for five or six years now and we’ve made big strides in particular with our senior men’s football and now at youth level as well.

“We think we’ve got the structure and resource base and it’s our intention to give women and girls of the Hunter Valley the same opportunities as we give to the men’s game. The same program, the same facilities, the same resources.

“Men’s and women’s football will be treated equally at Maitland. The Maitland community is very focused on their own teams and we gathered a tremendous amount of support in our FFA Cup run last year where we hosted the Central Coast Mariners.”

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Maitland has proven they’re a force to be reckoned with since first joining the NNSWF’s top-flight competition half a decade ago. Most recently, the Magpies finished five points clear of the Lambton Jaffas to be crowned NPL premiers for the first time.

Maitland were crowned premiers last season in a historic moment for the club.

Maitland have already hosted the Thornton Women’s Premier League side at Cooks Square Park this week, as a symbolic ‘welcome to the club.’ The Redbacks will also play their next WPL clash in Maitland as part of the deal, on August 29.

Alan Primmer, who has led the Redbacks since their entry into the Premier League in the mid-2010s, said it was a “big moment” for women’s football in the region, though it would be a “little bittersweet” for Thornton too.

“It’s wonderful for sport in the region, especially in the Hunter Valley, because the girls that are playing from here can join Maitland and potentially push to be one of those big clubs in the competition, thanks to their position,” Primmer told the Chronicle.

“Junior development has always been a big part of our story at Thornton, because I want to give Hunter Valley girls the chance to play top footy. Maitland have promised their aims are the same, and that’s given me a lot of confidence. It’s massive.

“I think it really shows how serious the Hunter Valley are about women’s football.”

Thornton currently sit in eighth place in the 2020 season, four points behind New Lambton.

Maitland’s new move to join the region’s top-flight regional women’s competition marks the third major club to enter the league in the last two years. Newcastle Olympic and returning WPL champions Broadmeadow both entered in 2019.

So far, both clubs have enjoyed roaring success in the women’s division. Magic boast a lead at the top of the standings, though perennial contenders Merewether are nipping at their heels. Olympic (16) sits three points behind Magic (19) in third place.