FIRST it was the premiership, now it’s the pre-season cup that’s been added to North Warrnambool Eagles’ expanding trophy cabinet.
But Eagles coach Sharon Kenna says her side is far from unbeatable after a 19-16 win against surprise packet Hamilton Kangaroos in the pre-season grand final at Port Fairy’s Gardens Oval.
“I think it gives the girls a reality check. You might have won last year but you have a lot of work to do, especially with having new combinations,” Kenna said.
The Eagles were undefeated in six matches as part of Saturday’s round-robin tournament and with recruit defender Indi Morrison unavailable, they underlined their standing as the team to beat in 2014.
The return of former Cobden coach Maddie Smedts to the Eagles mid-court helped cover the losses of grand final pair Sarah Bullen and Grace Chow, who are not part of this squad this year while focusing on their VCE studies.
But Kenna said Saturday was all about finding the right combination in their absence.
She said Smedts’ inclusion — a “massive bonus” — gave added versatility, swapping her and Sophie Barr through wing attack and centre.
With Barr playing state league, the Eagles had been unable before Saturday to simulate match play at training.
“I pretty much used my main squad really because we don’t get a chance to train together with Sophie away.
“Winning was a lovely bonus but it was the same as last year, you come along and hope the girls come together and gel. We knew we would do OK, especially with five players from last year’s grand final side.”
Kenna said the Eagles knew they had to be sharp for the season opener against perennial finalist Camperdown.
“There were no expectations on us last year and now we have to go out and show why we won the grand final, now you’ve been up there, you have to stay up there.”
Kangaroos coach Sara Byrne was delighted with her new-look side’s first major outing, even though it was far from full strength.
The Kangaroos’ squad for this season includes just two of last year’s players, captain Amanda Huf and mid-courter Ally Feely.
She said the Kangaroos had three A1 players in action on Saturday.
“It was more about getting ready for round one,” she said.
“A win would have been fantastic but this will build their confidence anyway.
“They are the team to beat. I think we did a great job only going down by three.”
Byrne said Feely was a standout at wing defence after playing at centre last season.
The Eagles held a 9-6 lead at half-time in the final but the Kangaroos were persistent as they tried to close the gap.
They cut the margin to two several times but the Eagles’ mid-court defensive pressure saw them create turnovers at crucial times.
That allowed the Eagles to kick the margin back out to three, ensuring breathing space in the windy conditions which made shooting difficult.