The return of former W-League player Tara Pender will boost Warners Bay as they look to consolidate third place with Newcastle Herald Women's Premier League approaching its midpoint this weekend.
The Panthers travel to Cooks Square Park on Saturday to face fourth-placed Maitland. A win could not only increase the distance on the teams below them but also keep Warners Bay in touch with top-two sides Newcastle Olympic and Broadmeadow.
Ahead of round 11 this weekend, Olympic led with 27 points, Magic were second on 25 and Warners Bay had 19 points but also a game in hand against seventh-placed Mid Coast (4).
Maitland were on 15 with Adamstown (13) and Azzurri (12), who meet at Lisle Carr Oval on Sunday, right behind.
Warners Bay coach Craig Atkins described the clash with the Magpies today as "huge".
"Tara Pender has indicated that she's right to go, so that's a real positive," Atkins said. "Unfortunately, Zoe [Horgan] is out, so that's a loss. Everything else should be unchanged and we know it's a massive game in the context of the season.
"We get a win and obviously that puts us a lot of points in front with a game in hand still and puts pressure on the top two as well."
The Panthers beat Maitland 1-0 in round four and have gained Pender as well as former Emerging Jets striker Lilly-Jane Babic since. Babic was the lone scorer as Warners Bay beat Mid Coast 1-0 last round. Horgan hurt her ankle in the match and the extent of the damage is still unknown.
"Maitland are very well organised," Atkins said. "[Coach] Keelan [Hamilton] has them very well drilled and you've seen them gradually improve throughout the course of the season, so they're going to be extremely difficult up there on their home pitch.
"From last week we have to make sure that we're very clinical in that final third with any opportunities that come to us. We're also going to have to make sure that we're defensively strong from the top, working all the way back. It's going to be a very tough game."
Maitland coach Keelan Hamilton said attacking player Bronte Peel, who has been out with a broken ankle, trained on Wednesday night and could come into calculations for the match.
Left-back Emily Wicks also comes back into contention after missing the Magpies' last-minute 2-1 win over Adamstown last weekend.
"Last time we started the game well and it was one of those ones where we had three really good chances and didn't take them and then I thought from then on it was probably one of our worst performances of the season," Hamilton said.
"We lacked a little bit of energy, lacked a little bit of desire and then the quality because of that also didn't really come about. Warners Bay played quite well as well and stopped us playing a bit.
"I suspect them to have improved a bit since that first round. They've added a couple of players in Babic and Pender. They were already a handy squad and they're probably a little bit stronger because of those two additions.
"It's going to be a really hard game for us. They've proved with a draw against Broadmeadow that they're a quality side."
Charlestown will be without leading scorer Lori Depczynski due to an ankle injury for their clash with Rosebud and versatile May Bailey is out due to work.
But Azzurri will be boosted by the return of midfielder Tamara Nash, who missed their past two outings after having wisdom teeth removed.
Adamstown were 2-1 winners over Azzurri in round four.
Olympic travel to Taree to play Mid Coast on Sunday and last-placed New Lambton are at home to Magic on Friday night.
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