HUNTER football fans will participate in one of the biggest sporting events in the world after Australia and New Zealand were awarded hosting rights for the 2023 FIFA Women's World Cup.
And - just as it was for the Japanese team in the 2015 Asian Cup - Cessnock will once again be a team's home base, with as many as four games to be played at Newcastle's McDonald Jones Stadium.
The AsOne bid - a joint proposal between Australia and New Zealand - beat Colombia in a vote of the FIFA Council early Friday morning.
In the end the joint bid triumphed by 22 votes to 13, with only the European and South American nations backing Australia's rival after council members watched video pitches from the two bidders.
The announcement of the winner by FIFA boss Gianni Infantino sparked celebrations among the football community.
The joint Auz/NZ bid had been rated as clearly superior by FIFA's own technical experts in their evaluations of the rivals, scoring 4.5/5 compared with 2.8/5 for Colombia.
Confirmation of the Trans Tasman win comes nearly a decade after Australia was humiliated in its pursuit of hosting the 2022 Men's World Cup, garnering then just a solitary vote.
Newcastle was among 12 host cities included in the As-One bid, and could host up to four games, including the play-off for third. The region will also host teams for training camps in the lead up to the tournament, which will be held from July 10 to August 20, 2023.
McDonald Jones Stadium is one of 13 venues and has been flagged for group games and knockout fixtures up to the quarter-finals and potentially a play-off for third.
Newcastle has a proven record of hosting big games. A crowd of 21,079 watched the Socceroos beat Saudi Arabia 2-0 in the semi-final of the Asian Cup in 2015.
The Matildas have a perfect record at McDonald Jones Stadium, beating Brazil 3-2 in 2017, Chile 5-0 in 2018 and Vietnam 5-0 in March. The crowd of 16,829 for the Brazil match was an Australian record for a Matildas game.
The draw for the World Cup, which will be held from July 10 to August 23, won't be until late 2022.
However, the two opening matches will be played in Auckland and Sydney. Sydney, Brisbane and Wellington are possible semi-final venues. Sydney will host the final. Newcastle is among a host of contenders for the play-off for third.
As well as host games in Newcastle, Cessnock and Maitland are among the listed home bases for teams. They would stay at Crowne Plaza Hunter Valley and Mercure Maitland Monte Pio and use facilities at Cessnock Sportsground and Maitland Sportsground.
Cessnock mayor Bob Pynsent said it was a "fantastic announcement", as the experience of hosting the Japanese men's side in 2015 was so successful for the city.
"We look forward to working with the organising committee to fulfil our role as a pre-training host," Cr Pynsent said.
Newcastle's No. 2 Sportsground, Darling St Oval, Magic Park and Adamstown Oval will be used as venue training centres in the lead-up to games.
FIFA is likely to provide funding to improve lighting and other infrastructure.
A player-centric tournament, Australia-New Zealand promises to deliver record-breaking crowds and long-term participation growth, bringing football together As One to celebrate the women's game.
It will also be a chance for proud Novocastrian and US-based Matildas star Emily van Egmond to play a World Cup on home soil in front of family and friends.
Football Federation Australia chairman, Chris Nikou, believes FFA and NZF's unique geographical location was a key strength for the successful bid:
"The FIFA Women's World Cup 2023 in Australia and New Zealand will be ground-breaking in many ways. Not only will it be the first ever co-confederation hosted FIFA World Cup and the first ever FIFA Women's World Cup in the Asia-Pacific region, but we will unlock the huge potential for growth in women's football in the Asia-Pacific region," Nikou said.
"We would like to thank FIFA, the Asian Football Confederation (AFC), Oceania Football Confederation (OFC), the Australian and New Zealand governments and all those who have supported the bid."
Matildas' captain, Sam Kerr, said a home World Cup was an opportunity to inspire a new generation of young Matildas to play football:
"The opportunity to play in a home FIFA Women's World Cup is something every footballer dreams of and I am looking forward to seeing those dreams come true," Kerr said."Playing for the Matildas in Australia will be the highlight of my career and an opportunity to inspire girls, both in Australia and New Zealand, and all over the world to play football. We have seen great progress in the women's game and Australia-New Zealand will take the game to a whole new level."