THE Northern NSW National Premier League appears likely to expand to 11 teams in 2017 with the addition of Lake Macquarie under plans to be announced on Tuesday.
The Newcastle Herald understands the Roosters, who were minor premiers across all four senior grades in the second-tier First Division this year, are the only club who have satisfied all criteria to join the top NNSWF level for the new licencing period, which will be three years.
All 11 First Division clubs, plus New Lambton Eagles from the Zone Premier League, applied for an NPL licence, giving NNSWF 22 clubs, including the Newcastle Jets Youth, to choose from for the second three-year phase of Football Federation Australia’s state competition model.
NNSWF hoped to have enough compliant clubs, a minimum of 16, to create a two-tiered NPL with annual promotion and relegation but it is believed have been forced to stay with one competition.
While only one club will likely be promoted, the Herald was told a second-tier competition will remain for the other applicants, although annual promotion-relegation will not exist. However, it is believed clubs will be set criteria-based targets to meet to keep their place in the second-tier competition ahead of chances to gain NPL places at a later date.
The plan will be a relief for second-tier clubs still working to improve key NPL criteria such as facilities, youth development and coaching accreditation.
Many feared they would be relegated back to zone interdistrict level under a revamped elite competition structure without First Division. The Herald has been told the second level will be renamed the State League.
Of the existing 10 NPL clubs, there were concerns over Charlestown’s financial viability and Valentine’s home-ground status but both clubs appear safe.
Charlestown have recently received backing from Club Azzurri and a new-look committee to solidify their position. There is uncertainty over whether Valentine will play at Cahill Oval or a redeveloped CB Complex next year but their place in the league looks certain.
The 11-team competition will mean the creation of a bye and the need to start the season sooner than the traditional kick-off in early April.
Lake Macquarie were cut from the top division for 2009 after a competition revamp but returned in 2011 after winning the second-tier title. They finished second in 2012 but dropped to last in 2014 to again drop down.
They narrowly finished second behind Valentine in 2015 to miss promotion but powered to the First Division minor premiership this year before bowing out in the semi-finals to eventual grand final champions Wallsend.
The NNSWF board has been briefed of its management team’s plan, which was reviewed by an advisory committee on Tuesday.
The changes are due to be announced next Tuesday pending formal board approval.