REIGNING premier North Warrnambool Eagles had more to celebrate than just its decisive victory over third-placed Hamilton Kangaroos on Saturday.
The Eagles opened a one-game gap between themselves in second spot and the Kangaroos with their 51-30 win at Bushfield Recreation Reserve.
The result ensured a memorable 100th A grade match for skipper Laura Blackburn but the way the victory was achieved might have a far more reaching impact as the season unfolds.
Assistant coach Jackie Smedts, who took over in the absence of ill coach Sharon Kenna, revealed the Eagles discovered crucial contingencies as she experimented with the line-up.
“I feel we are quite a versatile team but sometimes we don’t use that,” Smedts said.
Win, lose or draw, she and Kenna agreed the time was right for the Eagles to explore different combinations.
The Eagles started with dynamic midcourter Sophie Barr in the uncustomary position of wing defence, with teenager Brie Reichman at wing attack, a position usually rotated between Barr and centre Maddie Smedts.
The Eagles led by one at quarter-time and effectively killed off the contest when they extended that to 10 at half-time.
Smedts then took a gamble and broke up the Eagles’ much-admired sister-act goalies Laura and Annie Blackburn. Laura moved to wing attack, Barr moved to goal attack, Annie to goal shooter and Indi Morrison, who started on the bench after playing three quarters in A1, to wing defence.
Smedts said she was unsure how Barr and Laura Blackburn would respond to the moves.
“They were fantastic,” she said. “What I was trying to say, netball is a hard game, it’s an ankles game, a knees game and we’ve had our fair share of those injuries. What happens if something happens to our plan A? We need a plan B.
“Sophie Barr said if we are going to make changes, you don’t do it against the lesser teams, you need to do it against the better teams because if they work, they are worth looking at.”
Smedts is confident the Eagles have a plan B and potentially a plan C with Barr in a defensive or attacking role outside the midcourt.
The Eagles extended the half-time margin by seven, before also winning the final term.
“It was a massive result,” Smedts said. “We have a lot of respect for Hamilton. We knew they weren’t going to be a pushover.”
Hamilton Kangaroos coach Sara Byrne was frustrated with her side’s effort, suggesting the 21-goal final margin was not an accurate reflection of the difference between the second and third-ranked teams.
“The first 10 minutes of the game was wonderful,” she said. “The girls played absolutely brilliantly.”
She said the one-goal deficit at quarter-time had her side well-placed and in the contest.
“After that it was a switch went off and that was it. North played a great game definitely but our girls didn’t adjust, they went back to their really bad habits.
“We had the ball. We just turned it over so many times.”
Byrne said she had no answers to her side’s dramatic fade-out.
“They are good enough. They really did play well. Maybe we gave North a ‘wow, OK, game on’ (spark). I can’t understand what the switch was, that’s the frustrating point. I can’t get into their heads they are up there with the best. It’s a belief thing.”