MAITLAND FC coach Steve Piggott believes the major signing of Weston skipper Carl Thornton will help give his line-up better balance for the 2016 Northern NSW National Premier League.
Thornton has agreed to join Maitland and is expected to sign for the club on Thursday night after telling Weston on Tuesday night he was leaving the club.
Long viewed as one of the best and most consistent central defenders in the league, Thornton was part of the Bears' 2010 and 2014 grand final teams and had been captain since the retirement of Chris Cousins at the end of 2013.
Thornton played 185 first-grade games for the club and helped them take the 2010 minor premiership.
Maitland had already secured Thornton's brother Liam and fellow defender Brock Oakley from Weston for next year, which had sparked speculation about the Bears captain following suit.
For their return to the top NNSWF division last season, the Magpies made a play for the Thornton brothers only for them to stay at Weston.
Piggott coached the Thornton brothers and Oakley at Weston in his one and only season in charge, in 2014, before he was sacked. He was technical director at Edgeworth last year but has returned to guide Maitland, who finished eighth last year.
As well as the Weston trio, Maitland have signed Nick Russell from South Cardiff and Central Coast junior Zac Thomas.
Piggott said forward Joel Wood had left the club and the addition of Carl Thornton would allow former North Queensland Fury striker Alex Read to return to Maitland's attack.
Read played as a makeshift defender for the Magpies last season and was the club's joint player of the year.
"Carl's one of the best defenders in the competition and having him come in means we'll be able to release Ready back to the front third where he should be," Piggott said.
"For the whole second half of the season we had the best defence in the competition.
"Ready went there because we needed stability, but then that leaves a hole up front, especially with Joel Wood now not there."
Maitland have also lost Corey Fletcher (Lake Macquarie) and could be without attacking midfielder Ryan Clarke, who is appealing a 12-month ban for playing as a ring-in in an interdistrict H-grade all-age semi-final.
Piggott said he was pleased with how his squad were shaping up.
"Matt Thompson will probably play higher up the pitch, and we've just got to wait on what happens with Ryan Clarke," Piggott said.
"He's got to sort it out, it's got nothing to do with us. If he is cleared to play, then we will re-sign him.
"We also needed to stiffen up our left side after losing Corey Fletcher, and we've done that with Liam and Nick.
"I'm happy with that and we're pretty balanced at the moment.
"It will be disappointing if we don't have Clarkey because he can play and is sharp, but if he doesn't come in, we'll just find someone else."
Piggott agreed the signings from Weston will spice up the Coalfields derby next year in rounds seven and 16.
"Of course it will, but we don't play them until later on and we're happy with the start we have," he said.
"We've been training two nights a week for a couple of weeks now and have a trial against Manly on December 10.
"We had 24 of 30 at training last night, so it's going well."
Weston issued a statement late on Wednesday about the loss of Thornton.
"The Weston Workers Bear would like to thanks Carl for his wonderful contribution over the past nine years," it read.
"During Carl's time at Weston we have won a minor premiership and played in two grand finals.
"It is disappointing for the club and Carl that we cannot celebrate his 200th first grade game which would have been played in the 2016 season.
"We wish Carl all the best in his future endeavours both on and off the field."
Compensating for the loss of Thornton is the recent signing of Hamilton central defender Greg Anderson, who missed last season because of a broken leg.
Former Lake Macquarie utility Dylan Murphy and South Cardiff trio Mitch Wallace, Ash Balcomb and Lee Ashton are also additions for the Bears.