Maitland's push for a finals appearance in their first season of Newcastle Herald Women's Premier League could be boosted by the addition of experienced player Toria Campbell.
The Belmont North 23-year-old has played first grade since she was 16 and has featured in grand finals with Valentine, Warners Bay and New Lambton.
Campbell was part of the Eagles' near-unstoppable 2019 team which secured the premiership-championship double under now Maitland coach Keelan Hamilton.
But she was sidelined for the past year after tearing the Anterior Cruciate Ligament in her right leg then having a knee reconstruction.
The athletic centre-back made her long-awaited playing return at Cooks Square Park on Saturday with 30 minutes off the bench in reserve grade.
"It was really nice to see her back and we're hopeful she'll work her way back into first grade," Hamilton said.
"There's no pre-determined limit or time frame on it. At this stage we're just going off the advice of Toria and the advice of the physio and we'll assess it as we go.
"She's a good person and a good player. You don't play as many games in the local league at first-grade level from a young age like she has and not be a good player. She also helps our training environment, is nice to have around the group and all being well she might be able to figure in the coming weeks."
Campbell also managed to get on the scoresheet in her return, scoring from a free kick in a 3-2 loss to Broadmeadow.
"When I did score, we were down still and everyone was so excited for me, which was really sweet, but I was like, 'We're still down, stop celebrating'," Campbell told the Newcastle Herald. "I was probably the least excited of everyone."
Campbell would love to get back into first grade before the season's end but was also appreciative of any game time she received.
"When you go through something like this it makes you so grateful just to be able to play, because when it gets taken away, it's just horrible," she said.
"I've never been out for more than two games max, so it has been really tough. My respect goes out to anyone who's done this multiple times because they have to be so strong mentally to deal with it. It's a lot of lonely days because you're pretty much going through it on your own.
"Obviously, I'd love to play first grade but I'm just going week by week because I don't want to get too ahead of myself. I'm just happy to be back out there."
Maitland replaced Thornton in Herald WPL this year and the competition newcomers are fourth with 21 points after 15 rounds of 21.
"We've got a fairly young team - a lot of our girls are between 16 and 21 - but we've got a quality side and whatever happens this year we can be really proud considering where we started," Campbell said.
"There is experience in Soph [Stapleford] and Kaitlin [Radstaak] but it is really relying on the whole team. It's not relying on just one or two big names each week.
"That's been a huge motivation as well, seeing how good the environment is and how happy the girls are has made me work a bit harder than I would've if I wasn't around it."
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