The Lake Macquarie Roosters say their NPL promotion will give juniors from the western side of the lake a better chance of playing in Northern NSW Football’s elite competition.
NNSWF confirmed on Tuesday that the Roosters would be included in an 11-team NPL competition for the next three years.
The Roosters, who were minor premiers across all four senior grades in the second-tier First Division this year, will join the existing 10 NPL clubs from 2017 after satisfying criteria for promotion.
As the Herald reported last week, promotion and relegation will cease between the top league and the second division, to be renamed Northern League One, for at least three years.
Roosters secretary Anthony Mitchell said the three-year licence would help retain and attract the best local players without the threat of the club being relegated.
“The best juniors [usually] go to the big-name clubs, the Broadmeadow Magics and Hamiltons, in order to ensure that they stay in the NPL, so this will probably level the playing field a little bit,” Mitchell said.
“It is also the opportunity to give exposure for a lot of the players who live out in Lake Macquarie, where there isn’t a lot of NPL options for them. Apart from Edgeworth, there’s really nothing on that western side of the lake, so it gives a lot of the good players out there the opportunity to play locally, which is a big benefit.”
A NNSWF memo to clubs said, in part: “Lake Macquarie City FC’s inclusion in the NPL is reflective of the standard of the club’s application and performance in the First Division in 2016.
“A well established youth structure, which has been participating in the top divisions of the Interdistrict competition, will facilitate the club’s seamless transition to the NPL.”
First-grade coach Anthony Richards said the extended licence meant the club would not have to “throw ridiculous money around to stay up there”.
“With the security of having three years where you can’t get relegated, we want to give our local guys a go,” he said. “We don’t want to fall into the trap of spending thousands of dollars on players and you’ve only got them for a year.
“We’ll look to get some younger players and look to nurture them. I don’t think we’ll be chasing any big shots.
“You don’t have to panic and try and buy a competition like you have in the past few years. We’ll look to give the guys who have done the right thing by the club a chance.”
Lake Macquarie were torn apart by the Jets youth team in a practice game early this season, and Richards knows the NPL will be a “big jump” for his players.
“In the first half I think we touched the ball once, at the kick-off, and maybe a goal kick, so maybe twice, but the second half we were a bit more competitive,” he said.
“But we were a mile off. We’re not dumb enough to think we’re going to win the competition, but we’ll look to improve as we go.”
Richards, who has just returned with his squad from a post-season cruise aboard the Pacific Pearl, said the timing of the decision to promote Lake Macquarie had left him “a bit late out of the gates” when it came to recruiting.
“It’s been a bit hard to talk to players. I guess we’ve just got to secure our current playing squad and bolster it with a couple of players.”
Mitchell said the club was delighted that the club’s juniors would “now got an opportunity to step up and prove themselves against top-flight opposition”.
“That’s probably the most satisfying thing from the club’s perspective. Our juniors are very strong. All our teams are achieving at the top of their competitions that they can possibly compete in, so we’ll be able to step them all up into the NPL with only a few changes, I would expect.
“It will allow them the opportunity to develop in that top-flight environment in a club that has nurtured them through the process so far and looks forward to seeing them progress up the ranks in the NPL structure.”
Mitchell said the club’s under-19 and under-23 teams would have to merge into an NPL under-20 squad next year, but those who missed out could play in proposed Lake Macquarie Zone League teams.
He said the three-year licence also would allow the club to focus on ground improvements.
“We’re working with council on a new grandstand. It’s still a couple of years away at a minimum at this stage as it’s still only in the concept-plan stage. The beauty of having the three-year guaranteed period is you can work on other aspects of the club.”
All 11 First Division clubs, plus New Lambton Eagles from Zone Premier League, had applied for an NPL licence. NNSWF had hoped to have enough compliant clubs to create a two-tiered NPL with annual promotion and relegation but was forced to stay with one competition.
NPL clubs Charlestown and Valentine survived the restructure after allaying Northern’s concerns about their financial viability and home ground respectively.
Clubs in Northern League One, including the promoted Eagles, will be set criteria-based targets to keep their place in the second tier, and Northern said it was “committed to assisting competing clubs to attain NPL compliance in readiness for the next licence period in 2020”.
The 2017 Northern League One will comprise first grade, under-23s, under-19s, under-17s and under-15s.
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 11-team NPL competition will necessitate a bye and an earlier start to the season, most likely in March.
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 fell to last in 2014 to again drop down.
They 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 winners Wallsend.
Meanwhile, Edgeworth will travel to Western Australia to face Perth SC in the NPL Finals Series semi-finals on Saturday from 8pm (AEST).