Newcastle City's hopes of capturing a fourth straight, and fifth overall, Black Diamond Cup championship will be boosted by the presence of GWS Giants player Sarah Halvorsen.
The 24-year-old was pick 61 of the 2019 AFLW Draft in October after three seasons with City. Halvorsen, who lives and works in Newcastle, made her AFLW debut in March when the Giants played Richmond in Wagga Wagga in round five before the season was cut short due to the coronavirus crisis.
AFL Hunter Central Coast (AFLHCC) announced last month they would run abbreviated competitions starting July 18.
"With everything going on at the moment I just figured I'd play in Newcastle again," Halvorsen said.
"I've always loved playing in Newcastle, so it's good to be able to stick around still. The league is still growing fast, which is great, and it's good to see how far it's come."
During the last AFLHCC season, Halvorsen was also part of the Giants' inaugural VFLW squad and travelled to Sydney regularly for training.
"It's good to have a bit of a break. I think I needed it," Halvorsen said. "It's refreshing to be able to just enjoy having a kickaround and not having to travel for two hours just to train. I'm just seeing how everything goes. The end goal is to try to get another season of AFLW, but who knows at the moment."
Her retention is good news for City, who have featured in every AFLHCC grand final since a women's division was introduced in 2015. They were the inaugural champions and have won the past three grand finals, coming from fourth place to claim grand final victory over Maitland last year.
City coach Jon Clark said he has retained the bulk of his championship-winning side from last year and was excited to have some of the club's junior playing starting to make the transition into senior ranks. They include promising teenager Asha Turner Funk, who was named in the All-Australian side after the School Sport Australia Championships in Tasmania last year.
"She's only 16 so she's got two years of under 17s left but she's a very talented player," Clark said. "She'll play under 17s and first grade for us as well.
"We've got around 10 to 12 new players to the game, which is massive. They've just come from different sports, seeing the growth in AFL and wanting to jump on board. [Having an AFLW player] definitely helps with the growth of the game as well as our club. Our second side will be a development side so players like Halvo will show them the way."
The women's competition has been split into two divisions for the first time this year - the Black Diamond Cup and Black Diamond Plate - and will be played over 12 rounds with two weeks of knock-out finals.
"There was a bit of a divide between the better clubs and the more developing clubs previously," Clark said. "I think week in and week out it will be a lot closer and harder this year.
"I'm expecting Killarney Vale to be at the top of the table again. They were the team to beat all year but I think we just came good at the right time of the year."