Newcastle have defended their AFLHCC Women’s Representative Challenge title, waving away challenges from the Central Coast and Hunter squads to go back-to-back in the regional tri-series.
Central Coast proved to be the biggest challenger to Newcastle’s throne at Ferodale Park on Easter Monday, with the rep squads playing out two major battles across the tournament. Their first clash opened the series, with Newcastle edging their rivals 6.3-39 to 2.6-18.
Lake Macquarie’s Emma-Jayne Howe, who has already slotted eight in three for the Dockers in the club comp, bagged a hat-trick for Newcastle to set them on their way to an opening victory. Her three in the first half cancelled out strikes from Morgan Ross and Angela Jones, both of whom put Central Coast back into the lead early.
Molly Simpson, who made the offseason move from minor premiers Nelson Bay to Newcastle City, proved a valuable pickup for the Newcastle rep squad as she pinged two of her own across both halves to put the game beyond doubt. Chiara Lam also scored.
It was a “really good feeling” to claim the second straight tri-series victory on Easter Monday, Newcastle coach Kate Handley said. Handley, who is taking a year away from playing to “reset”, took the reigns of the rep squad in 2019, and believes a relaxed attitude to the rep tournament was the difference-maker for Newcastle.
“We have a solid core group of girls in the team and we really bonded, I think a big difference was how relaxed we were,” Handley said after the tri-series win.
“It wouldn’t have surprised me if Central Coast had won because they were so dominant, but we just clicked so easily on the field, and everyone had no pressure because we were just having fun.”
A second victory awaited Newcastle in their next fixture. Tracey Baker and Carla Hill each scored early to give Newcastle a 13-nil lead. Baker scored again, and was joined on the scoresheet by Howe and Lisa Morales. Hunter scored just once in reply in the second half, eventually falling 5.6-36 to 1.2-8 in the second fixture.
Finally, Central Coast ran rampant over the Hunter representatives to earn their place in the decider. Five goals for sharpshooter Morgan Ross, as well as a double for Alexandra Pearce, secured the Coast’s 11.4-70 to nil victory over the third-placed squad. Megan Jenkins, Angela Jones, and Rebecca Ives all joined the onslaught with one of their own each.
After the 70-point victory, Central Coast began to shape as favourites for the grand final. Added as a way to determine a victor in a fourth game on the Easter Monday, the decider had already shaped to be a strong contest in its opening year.
With the first three games seeing a barrell of goals scored between the three teams, the quiet three-goals-to-nil game proved an armwrestle over a shooting contest.
Howe got Newcastle off the mark in the first face, before Amy Pittman scored to give her side a tenuous 13-3 lead heading into the break. Central Coast just simply couldn’t find a major to get back into the contest, and Simpson polished off the 3.2-20 to 0.5-5 win with a six-pointer in the second half.
Although the Dockers’ Howe – who Handley believes “doesn’t miss” – shone in the forwards for Newcastle, alongside Simpson, the Newcastle mentor believes the squad’s “defensive pressure” was a vital element in their big win over the Coast in the final game.
For Handley, her three biggest stars of the day were defenders Rosie Ronan Yates (Newcastle City), Taylah Wilks (Cardiff), and Kate Booth (Wallsend-West Newcastle).
“Our defensive pressure won us both games against the Coast, and my top three were Rosie, Taylah, and Kate absolutely,” the Newcastle sideline commander said.
“Those three were just amazing in our backline all day, and their pressure stopped that dangerous Coast attack from scoring goals.
“If you look at their game against the Hunter they scored so many, then in our first game against them its seven goals to two. Even better, in the final they could only get five behinds. I think that really shows where the games were won.”
Handley also had nothing but praise for the AFL Hunter Central Coast organisers, and the tri-series format as a whole. For the Newcastle star and coach, who expects to return to the playing field in 2020, more games between Newcastle, Central Coast, and Hunter is “vital” for the region moving forward.
“It’s so awesome to see, we have so much talent now that there’s fifteen teams after five years ago having like six or eight,” she said.
“This tri-series format definitely needs to continue, and I would probably even like to see the three teams playing each other in more games, and more regularly. There’s so much talent across the region, I know that just for my team there was like twelve players that nominated that didn’t get to play, but fully deserved to be there too.”
The Newcastle boss also put her hands to together for the “festival atmosphere” of the Easter Monday event. She specifically praised AFLHCC for the egg hunt organised for the kids while the games were being played.
“The whole day was really, really well done,” she said. “Lauren Francis did a wonderful job, and those few extra things have made it into a great day.”
Morgan Ross (Terrigal Avoca) and Emma-Jayne Howe (Lake Macquarie) tied for the competition’s top shooting award, finishing the representative carnival on Easter Monday with five goals apiece.