Warrnambool Rangers keeping pressure on the outside as they build a title defence

LEADING THE WAY: Warrnambool captain Raya Rantall is excited about an improved standard of play in the Ballarat and District Soccer Association.
LEADING THE WAY: Warrnambool captain Raya Rantall is excited about an improved standard of play in the Ballarat and District Soccer Association.

PREMIERSHIP skipper Raya Rantall admits nerves surrounding the Warrnambool Rangers’ title defence have been squashed through a near-perfect start to 2017.

Rangers are riding a wave of confidence after two victories but are wary as they plot the downfall of beaten grand finalist Ballarat North United this Sunday.

Rantall, who will take the field on Sunday after missing round two through personal commitments, said her side was using its tag as “the team to beat” to build momentum.

“Because we won the grand final, I think teams think we’re the biggest danger again,” she said.

“We’re not putting much pressure on ourselves, especially at the start of the season.

“We’re not too worried about our results (early on). We’re just wanting to get better as a team. We want to get better as the season goes on.”

The Ballarat and District Soccer Association was set to rise in quality on the back of strong recruiting, Rantall said.

She said her charges were braced for a tough showing against Ballarat North United but predicted the home advantage to be a boost.

“We always have really close games against them and we look forward to the games, because we get along with them really well,” Rantall said.

“They’re always nice, skillful games – you can come up against teams that don’t play like that – so we definitely look forward to it.

“We’ve got a lot of confidence from the first two weeks so it’ll be a great game.”

Meanwhile, Cameron Pyke’s men are determined to lock down Jones Oval as a fortress once again in 2017.

He tipped changes to the fixture – due to the arrival of new division one teams – to benefit his side.

“The luxury of playing down here, away from teams in Ballarat, is fantastic,” Pyke said.

“Teams will only be making the trip down here once now, instead of twice. We found that teams were better off the second time they came down here last season.

“It’s going to be great to have the opportunity to take advantage of Warrnambool once again.

“We know how the ground plays and that’s so important for our success.”

Rangers will lock horns with Sebastopol, a team in red-hot form, in a game likely to decide first place.

Pyke said Sebastopol had strengthened with the emergence of its state league team.

"They’ve got a lot of squad depth and some more experienced heads in there, too. They’ll be up there at the end of the season,” he told The Standard.

“But we’re growing in confidence every time we take to the pitch.”