There is nothing quite like a mining major’s move to put the spotlight on small-cap opportunity.

Indeed, a particular cohort of investors – those backing Greatland Gold PLC (LON:GGP) – will this morning have quickly seen the relevance of Rio Tinto’s unveiling of the Winu deposit as a new mine development project in Western Australia’s Paterson region.

Rio on Tuesday reported a maiden resource for the Winu discovery defining 503mln tonnes of inferred resources at a grade of 0.45% copper equivalent, and, setting the project on the path towards development.

Anglo-Aussie miner sees Winu as a shallow open-pit operation and said it is aiming for first production in 2023. Moreover, it also revealed that a new gold deposit had also been unearthed and, highlighted the potential for multiple orebodies to be accessed within one project.

READ: Rio Tinto set for new copper mine in WA’s Paterson region

A significant piece of subtext is the fact that Rio, among the world’s largest mining companies, deemed this project milestone to be sufficiently newsworthy to put out a statement – such early-stage project updates feel almost out of place from a company like Rio Tinto.

Perhaps it particularly underlines the industry focus on the Paterson region which is host to an increasing number of substantial projects.

Greatland’s part-owned Havieron is among those substantial projects.

Havieron is led by Australian mining major Newcrest which kicked off a pivotal drill campaign last year. Nine rigs are turning at the project.

The results to date have confirmed significant high-grade gold-copper mineralisation and moved the project towards a maiden resource in the second half of 2020, and, ideally, development phases.

The Havieron site is located around 45 kilometres from Newcrest’s Telfer gold-copper mine which produced 452,000 ounces of gold and 15,000 tonnes of copper in the full year of 2019.

It is envisaged that Havieron’s high-grade ore could be fed into Telfer’s 20 million tonnes per annum mill, to supplement the declining Telfer operation by extending its life and substantially lowering its production costs per ounce.

So far, Newcrest has undertaken 71 kilometres of drilling at the project and is currently undertaking a number of studies with the aim of rapidly accelerating to production in two to three years.

Research house Hannam & Partners in May set a substantial valuation for the project.

Hannam set a value of Havieron at a preliminary US$1.67bn, and estimates that Greatland’s share of the development costs is likely to amount to US$33.9mln.

It leads to Hannam & Partners price target of 12.9p, which implies some 47% upside from the current share price.

“Whilst at this stage there is no JORC resource at Havieron” says Hannam, “using the previously released drill results, we have estimated a mineral inventory in the high-grade sulphide zone of 4.4mln ounces grading 6.7 grams per tonne and 130,000 tonnes at 0.6% copper.

“We model a 12-year, two million tonnes per year operation, with mining commencing in H2 2022 and ore being treated the Telfer mill. Our annual steady-state production estimate is 330,000 ounces per year of gold and 9,300 tonnes per year of copper at an all-in sustaining cost of US$444 per ounce.”

Of the US$1.67bn valuation, Hannam attributes US$540.8mln to Greatland.

“We estimate a total capital cost for Havieron of US$158mln with US$34ln to be borne by Greatland, less than 10% of Greatland’s market cap.

“We believe this makes the company a unique investment proposition versus peers due to its low capital cost requirements for such significant and high-margin production with low funding risk.

“In addition, having a high-quality partner like Newcrest constructing and operating Havieron significantly reduces execution risk, in our view, versus a scenario in which a junior has control of the project.”

Havieron is the most advanced of the company’s areas of interest within the Paterson region and the 2019 farm-in with Newcrest gives Greatland’s big-cap partner right of first refusal for these areas -which include Black Hills and Paterson Range East projects.

The project is plainly significant and as momentum continues to rise in the Paterson region it seems inevitable that the spotlight will continue to brighten on Greatland and Haverion.