Newcastle Netball may be playing out a different format for the nine-week season — a first-to-the-finish club championship — but three-peat champs West Leagues are still treating it just like they’re defending their back-to-back-to-back titles.
“We’re approaching this season like a title defence, even if it is a limited season, and I think we can definitely do it; we have some really good teams underneath the championship grade that will help us get there for sure,” Wests star Abbie Johnson said to the Women’s Chronicle ahead of the delayed season restart.
“We’re feeling good, and just looking forward to the start. I think the whole team has a bit of confidence heading in too, built on that strength for all the teams that I mentioned. The club championship is a little different to what we were expecting, but we do still absolutely want to win this year, there’s no doubt about that.”
West Leagues have become the dominant force in Newcastle Netball in the last few years, dethroning Souths to clinch their own Championship three-peat.
Their last title came in front of grandstands of fans, and the bright lights of a televised game, and it’s given Wests the hunger to just keep winning “as many as they can,” Johnson said.
This year’s challenge is a little different. Three years ago, West Leagues were aiming to pip regular winners Souths to the post. Then they were gunning for a title defence. Last year, they had to catch runaway leaders Forsythes before earning their spot in the big dance to make it three. This time, it’s fitness and time that’s the real challenge.
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“We’re mindful things can change at any time, so we’re really just going with the wave, and trying to roll with it all as best we can,” Johnson said. “We’re all really flexible, and just happy to be back, so as long as we can make it work that’s fine by us!”
The delayed season has put the Greater Club Series start right in the middle of the NSW Premier League season too. That means two of the lynchpins of the three-peat Wests team Maddie Taylor and Tarsha Hawley have been denied a release from their Central Coast squad, and will miss the 2020 Newcastle season.
While not like-for-like replacements in the purest sense, Taylor and Hawley’s absence makes way for Wests youngsters Emrah Manning and Tayla Winter to join the squad. They are expected to make their top-grade debut for the ladies in black on Saturday.
“We’ve had that discussion [about Maddie and Tarsha] and we know that we have to figure out what the team will look like because they can’t play. Like I said, we’re just rolling with everything this year, so we’re working with the situation,” Johnson said.
“It’s nice to have the comfort of these strong younger players that can come up into the team and make their mark. We feel really good about that, 100 percent, and I think it’s great to be able to have the youngsters get a go, for sure!
“That said, Maddie and Tarsha will be around to support us as well, I know they’re still a part of the team so it’s important for us to have them being part of it all behind the scenes and really giving us that boost. It’s all going to be fun!”