South Wallsend battled to a fourth-place finish in the regular season, before falling to eventual champions New Lambton in the semi-finals.

Northern NSW Football’s top flight women’s competition, the Women’s Premier League, could join the National Premier League system “as soon as 2021,” according to NNSWF operations manager Liam Bentley.

The WPL was established a decade ago, and has flourished since then. After a lull period for the competition in recent years, 2019 has seen the league blossom back into a competitive and growing league. Expansion back to eight teams this season has only boosted interest in the league further, as has six livestreamed matches by media company BarTV Sports.

Now the next step for the competition, according to Northern NSW Football, is to make sure the league can become a fully-fledged National Premier League Womens-branded tournament. For that to happen, however, Bentley says it needs to be done “carefully,” and without anyone rushing any of the processes.

“The good thing for us is that our Women’s Premier League clubs want to join the system, they’re aiming high. The main focus for us is that we have to be careful of taking too big a step at any point in the process, and costing ourselves clubs,” Bentley told the Hunter Football Podcast late last week.

The concerns, at least from NNSWF’s end, comes from problems that arose in 2018 for the competition. After struggling to find results on the field, and suffering behind-the-scene problems in regards to their first team squad, the Thornton Redbacks were forced to pull the plug on their WPL slot. They were replaced by a bye round.

Thornton have returned to the Women’s Premier League after withdrawing from the competition.

“We know the volatility of the league, you only have to look at last year and the first grade side that we lost to know that,” Bentley said. “It’s even worse then because I know that Thornton put a lot of work in to stop that happening, and it always feels quite bad when a team can’t keep doing what they’re doing.”

To avoid a similar problem, or simply the loss of clubs due to a lack of NPL certification when the league eventually makes the switch, Bentley confirmed processes had “already begun.”

These include a ’round-table’ meeting between officials, clubs, and a host of players to discuss what shape the national-branded competition would take.

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“We have put an aim in place to have all Women’s Premier League teams NPL-ready by 2021,” Northern’s operations manager said.

“We have recently met with clubs and we’re putting together a working group, instead of just having administrators make the calls that matter on this issue.

“We’re trying to have coaches and players involved in that working group, to have all these perspectives in there. We’re planning to initially create a structure like the NPL has, with the criterias of governance, and put that in place. That’s the first port of call.”

South Wallsend WPL star Gema Simon is currently in France with the Matildas. The Wolves defender stands as testament to the quality of the league.

The major thing Northern NSW Football wants to avoid, Bentley revealed, was just “slapping the NPL badge” over the top of the Women’s Premier League logo and calling it a day. For organisers the fundamental boosts the NPL gives clubs, both externally and internally, are more important than name recognition.

“What NNSWF doesn’t want to do is just whack a badge on top of the WPL stuff and call it NPL,” he said. “There’s no point in that, because no one is really achieving anything from that. If we want to have an NPLW competition here, we have to do it justice.

“We have to make sure we have the right coaching criteria, and facilities. We’re not going to get a 5,000 seat stadium in the northern league, so some criteria will change, but we want to use the process to raise the bar across the region.

“If the league is going to call itself a National Premier League competition, then we have to figure out how high of a bar we can reach, and set it high enough that clubs can improve but also meet it. Hopefully the working group can have these kinks all ironed out over the next six to twelve months, and we’ll have a clear image going forward.”

In the Women’s Premier League’s latest round, Thornton edged Adamstown with a 94th minute from Sophie Milton, while league leaders New Lambton and South Wallsend battled to a 1-all standstill at Walker Fields – the competition’s first draw.

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