IF you needed confirmation that netball is no longer a non-contact sport, Saturday’s blockbuster between the two most recent premiers, North Warrnambool Eagles and Koroit, was it.
Bruising, skin-scraping and downright tough summarised the game of the season so far. It will be hard to beat the 41-38 tussle as a spectacle, but based on Saturday’s contest, you wouldn’t bet against it when the teams meet again in September.
Koroit maintained its unbeaten record this season with the three-goal victory, but the Eagles were also claiming a win, having pushed the full-strength Saints all the way, despite being without goal keeper Rachael Ryan, who has a mystery foot complaint that is likely to sideline her for up to three games.
With Ryan out, the expectation was that Koroit goal shooter Carley Thomas, fresh from a 61-goal haul the previous week, would dominate and the game would be robbed of one of its headline match-ups.
But that wasn’t the case. Undersized Indi Morrison produced her best performance of the season at goal keeper as the pair had an engaging duel. All the match-ups were intriguing, as the game lived up to its hype. It had everything: blood, sweat and smiles. Several heavy physical clashes could easily have ended in tears, yet players from both sides were equally tough.
Koroit co-coach Kate Foster was the toughest of them all — sent flying into the crowd after being knocked off balance at full pace late in the final term by Eagles centre Maddie Smedts. She bit the dust, landed on her back/shoulder and rolled into the laps of several of her Emmanuel College students sitting courtside. A quick wipe of the grazed area on her shoulder blade and she was back into the contest.
The speed at which players pushed themselves to make contests and the courage shown running back into oncoming traffic helped ensure some slick ball movement and equally- impressive defensive turnovers.
As the scoreboard suggests, there was rarely much between the two sides. The Saints led by a goal at quarter-time, scores were level at half-time and the Saints led by two at three-quarter-time. The lead changed 10 times and on 11 occasions the scores were level during the match.
In the end, Koroit’s goalies, Thomas (35 goals) and Teagan Lang (six), were the difference. In an intense final quarter, they converted more of their opportunities, despite having fewer chances than the Eagles’ sister-act goalies Laura (21) and Annie (17) Blackburn.
Koroit co-coach Kate Dobson was delighted with her side’s 13th win of the season from 14 matches, with their only blemish a draw.
“We were very happy, very pleased,” Dobson said.
“We were happy with the match-ups and team structures. Sitting on the bench in the last quarter, you could see the girls were really working hard when there was a turnover or penalty to keep the structures.”
But she said the Saints had more room for improvement.
“As soon as we came off we said ‘we could have done this better or we could have done that better’.”
Eagles coach Sharon Kenna was ecstatic with her side’s performance — a 27-goal improvement on the last time the teams met in round five.
“It was such a great game of netball,” she said.
“They would keep pulling away and we would come back and they would pull away and we would come back. I liked the mental attitude of our girls.”
Kenna said Morrison had been “brilliant”.
“In the last quarter we missed six shots and they missed one and we lost by three. The positive is, knowing we didn’t have a completely full side, (we got that close).”