NATALIE Tongs embodies the spirit of country sport.
The Cobden netballer made her A grade debut as a 16-year-old in 2001 before university studies drew her away three years later. Study and then work commitments in Melbourne took over, as five netball seasons flew by without a game at her home club.
But in 2009 she returned to the region for work as an occupational and hand therapist. She had no hesitations in rejoining the club where her career started. Hinkley, as she was known then, slotted into a role as a goalie and has been a fixture of the side ever since.
“It’s about playing for a town that supported me growing up,” Tongs said.
“Like most small towns with a strong community like Cobden, if people enjoy something when they are young, they will want to give back.”
After more than 100 A grade games spanning 13 years, Tongs has a lot to thank Cobden for. Not only has it given her happy memories but lasting friendships, including her marriage to long-serving Bombers defender Greg Tongs. She has an acute sense of what keeps clubs such as Cobden going and achieving — volunteers who run junior programs.
While she lives and works in Warrnambool, Cobden is her home.
“I have thought about (playing elsewhere) because I’m living in Warrnambool and my husband has taken a step back but I already have all my wonderful family and friends at Cobden,” she said.
“It (netball) is a great chance to go back there. At the end of the day there is more to life than netball. It’s nice to get together with people in the community and hopefully one day we can win a grand final.”
The 29-year-old is selfless when it comes to on-court ambition.
The Bombers are rebuilding this year after several experienced players moved on during the off-season.
“For me it’s about playing to teach the younger girls and make sure they enjoy their netball and see the team develop,” she said.
“All I really want to see is the girls improving each week. I feel we are doing that because we started off with a new side at the start of the season and we are starting to get confidence. We feel like we will be competitive each game.”
The Bombers start the second half of the season with a 2-7 win/loss record but it is not about results just yet. They are nice and give confidence to the younger players, rewarding their efforts.
“The most satisfying team thing this year has been our continual improvement and winning two close games, one of those with Kerry McGlade on the court who coached me in under 15s to back-to-back premierships,” Tongs said.
Today the eighth-placed Bombers face third-placed Hamilton Kangaroos at Melville Oval.
Tongs didn’t play when they were beaten by 28 goals in round one.
Meanwhile, last year’s finalist Terang Mortlake must win today to keep its hopes of a top-five finish alive.
The ninth-placed Bloods have just one win from nine matches and are keen to reverse their seven-goal loss to the Tigers in round one. In other games, top side Koroit will start a hot favourite against Port Fairy and fifth-placed Camperdown host second-placed North Warrnambool Eagles. Tomorrow, fourth-placed South Warrnambool hosts bottom-side Warrnambool.