Reigning premier too strong for Pies

OMINOUS is the best word to sum up defending premier North Warrnambool Eagles’ opening-round win over last year’s preliminary finalist Camperdown.

The Eagles posted a 15-goal victory at Bushfield Recreation Reserve on Saturday, showing glimpses of the standards they want to set this season

But coach Sharon Kenna said the 55-40 result was just a starting point for her side as it looks to stay ahead of the chasing pack.

“We’ve got a few kinks to iron out,” she said.

“Overall really happy. I think some of the girls were feeling the pressure, not that they were admitting it. There is the expectation that you have won a grand final and you get a few players back to the club that you will be this great team and never lose.”

If the Eagles were apprehensive at the start of their title defence, they didn’t show it early. In the opening minutes they sprinted to a four-goal buffer as they picked off several turnovers and then used long, fast ball movement to pin-point goal shooter Laura Blackburn and her sister Annie at goal attack.

With Maddie Smedts rejoining the Eagles after a stint coaching Cobden, she was able to use her height at centre to force several intercepts, as did wing attack Sophie Barr. When the Magpies went into attack, they struggled for flow, allowing the defenders time to cut off several moves.

The Eagles turned a six-goal advantage at quarter-time into a 10-goal break at half-time.

But with the Eagles moving Annie Blackburn to shooter because of illness and Indi Morrison leaving the court because of an ankle injury sustained at training on Thursday, the momentum changed in the second half. Camperdown, which had started with the impressive Amy Pemberton at wing attack, swung coach Tracey Baker out of centre into wing attack. Goal defence Megan Bullen moved into centre and Leah Sinnott came off the bench to goal defence.

With goal attack Jaymie Finch and her younger sister Emily doing well as shooter, the Magpies put the Eagles under pressure, reducing the margin to single figures.

Kenna said the Eagles, through goal keeper Rachel Ryan, had been able to stop the momentum by using her agility to pick off passes. But then the Eagles found ways to turn the ball over — a problem the Magpies had in the first half.

While the margin fluctuated between nine and 12 goals for much of the second half, the Eagles extended it in the dying minutes despite moving Smedts, who is carrying a hip injury, to wing attack. Barr, who played centre in last year’s premiership, picked up from where she finished despite Bullen doing well in an unusual role.

Magpies coach Tracey Baker was upbeat despite the loss, saying her side had trained together just once in pre-season.

“They are a bloody good side and they don’t have a weak link, every one of them could walk straight into any other Hampden league side,” she said.

“But I thought the second half was quite even. It only blew out in the last couple of minutes. I’m not overly concerned. They are a well-drilled side and they are the benchmark.”

She said the Magpies’ fitness levels were not as high as previous seasons after not playing state league. She said as fitness levels improved, she hoped the turnover count would drop with better decision making.

A positive for the Magpies was the form of Pemberton in the first half and the efforts of another teen Grace Lucas who played at wing defence in the final term.

grbest@fairfaxmedia.com.au

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