Sizzling Saints 'even better'

Koroit’s Carly Pulling thwarts Darcy Wilson of South Warrnambool during their match on April 25. Koroit is unbeaten this season, with an average 32-goal winning margin.

Koroit’s Carly Pulling thwarts Darcy Wilson of South Warrnambool during their match on April 25. Koroit is unbeaten this season, with an average 32-goal winning margin.

NETBALL powerhouse Koroit is stronger than when it won 19 of 20 matches last season.

In a daunting prelude to Saturday’s showdown between defending premier North Warrnambool Eagles and Koroit, the only unbeaten sides, rivals say the Saints are better than when they dominated the competition before falling in last year’s grand final.

Koroit has won its four matches of the season by a combined 128 goals — an average of 32 goals. 

The Eagles have won their four by 85 goals, or an average of 21.

Perennial finalist Camperdown was the Saints’ latest victim on Saturday when it was humbled by 37 goals. Veteran Magpies coach Tracey Baker is adamant Koroit is more powerful than 2013.

“I think they are better than last year,” Baker said.

“They haven’t got a weak link and they have got so much depth. 

“They are a bloody good side.”

Baker, a two-time league best and fairest winner, admitted she was at a loss during Saturday’s match to stop the Saints’ march to another victory.

Hamilton Kangaroos have the distinction of getting closest to Koroit — 22 goals. 

Coach Sara Byrne, who watched Koroit closely as an umpire last year, has recognised the Saints’ improvement.

“They have a steely determination after last season,” Byrne said.

It’s hard to believe a side that won 73 matches from 84 games in the past four seasons for three premierships could be better.

But even Eagles coach Sharon Kenna concedes her side faces a tough task on Saturday.

“They (Koroit) seem to be really switched on, I don’t know if it’s fitness or they are more hungry,” she said.

She said inclusions Holly Greene, Teagan Lang, Carly Pulling and a healthy and fit Jacqui Bowman gave the Saints a different look this season.

“Jacqui was crook last year but she was just sensational last week, she’s back to her best and playing terrific netball,” Kenna said.

“I think they are probably stronger than last year.”

Kenna said her Eagles had made a slow start to their premiership defence.

“We haven’t hit our straps yet but we are getting better,” she said.

“They (Koroit) are playing with a great deal of confidence. 

“We are playing well, too, but I think we are going to have to be right on it.”

She said the Eagles were better placed than this time last season when they were struggling for consistent line-ups and won just one of their first four matches heading into a round five shootout with the Saints that they lost by 33 goals.

Complicating the build-up for the Eagles, midcourter Sophie Barr and defender Indi Morrison are unavailable this week.

Koroit co-coach Kate Foster said the Saints had lost star defenders Stacey O’Sullivan and Gabrielle Brown in the off-season.

“The girls we have gained, it’s not as if they are any better than Stacey or Gabs, but it’s their versatility,” she said.

“We have a lot of options up either end. We are very fortunate.”

Foster said there was pressure for spots in the side.

“We are fortunate we have junior depth and it’s putting pressure on everyone to perform to stay in the side. No one has the luxury of relaxing.”

Foster said the Eagles were stronger too this year with star midcourter Maddie Smedts returning after a stint with rival Cobden and defender Morrison returning after a year at Warrnambool.

“We are very excited to take them on. They are the benchmark this year and we want to test ourselves this week. We can’t wait to get on the court,” she said.

“It’s a great challenge coming up.”

justine.mc@fairfaxmedia.com.au

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