Hunter Netball is set to contest their 2019 Metro League season in Division 1 and Division 4, with new developing teams. Image via Hunter Academy of Sport.

It’s just a week until the Metro League season kicks off for the new-look Hunter representative squad, and incoming coach Natarlia Bridges admits the season has come “shockingly fast” for her first division squad.

That’s not to say the Hunter Netball team isn’t ready for the challenge – the refreshed state league team has been in preparation since January, preparing for the NSW Netball ran competition.

“The girls have had a pretty tough preseason, they weren’t supposed to start until April but I got them in in January and have trained them pretty hard,” Bridges said. “They’ve been having fun as well though, we’ve made sure to focus on things outside of netball as well as the preparation.”

Claire Kowald will likely begin the Metro League season as Hunter Netball’s goal shooter.

For Bridges, who is moving into the top-level coaching berth at the Hunter Academy of Sport-backed franchise team in 2019, the first season in the Metro League is going to be a “good challenge” that will see where her young roster lies early in its life.

“Everyone is really excited to start, it’s going to be a good challenge and the girls are really up for it,” the former Premier League defender said.

“This year is going to be one where we focus on learning, and bedding into the competition through development I think. The whole team is really young, and they’re at a critical point in their careers.”

It’s likely the starting lineup for Hunter Netball as they head into their first match on Thursday, April 11, with Claire Kowald (shooter) and Brytne Bunnett (goal attack) slotting in to that offensive pairing.

Abbey Allomes (wing attack), Annelise Iping (centre), and Megan Aspinall (wing defence) are likely to take the three centre-court positions, while Emma Rumbel (goal defence) and Annie Neenan (keeper) will round out the seven starting players.

Zoe Peden and Mackenzie Stuart have also been included on the first division roster for Hunter Netball, and will likely bring impact to the match as the minutes tick on.

Hunter United were the 2017 Metro League champions in the first division. Image via NSW Netball.

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It’s a big challenge first up for the young team, with premiership- and championship-winning Randwick first up on the menu. Randwick finished 8-2-6 last year, and defeated Northern Suburbs 45-44 in the grand final to claim the Metro League throne.

“We can’t expect any of our games to be easy, especially in the early weeks,” Bridges said.

“There are a lot of teams in Sydney that have been playing together for a long time, and have a lot of experience under their belts. We’re in it to give them a good challenge, and see what we can learn in the opening weeks.”

Learning is the name of the game now that Hunter Academy of Sports have put their backing behind the regional representative teams, an ideology Hunter Netball boss Bridges says she’s shares wholeheartedly.

“It’s been really good with Hunter Academy of Sport taking over the team, they’re all about development throughout Newcastle and that’s what I’m about too,” she said.

Natarlia Bridges has taken the reigns of the first division Hunter Netball squad in the Metro League, transitioning from a playing role in the Samsung Premier League last season into the coaching berth. Image via Isaac McIntyre.

“We need to be back on the charts and to have Newcastle not be known as a country town. I want to get Newcastle back on the map, and in the next coming years we potentially have a Premier League team here so that girls don’t have to go to Sydney to chase their dreams at that level. It’s tough, but that’s what our goals are now, and we’re just starting out.”

The pathway to the Premier League for Newcastle and the Hunter region is a major focus for the Hunter Academy, Hunter United chair Jodi Cassar said, agreeing it was a critical goal for the new franchised team.

“We’ve had a goal for a while now to get the Hunter back into the Premier League Division and this new model enables greater growth and pathways for Hunter players, coaches, umpires and bench officials,” she said.

Annie Neenan is set to play keeper for Hunter Netball in the opening round of 2019.

“We realised early on that it was going to be a challenge but with the backing of the Hunter United Board we knew the timing was right. Our Hunter Associations have been a great support in helping us realise this next phase of netball in the Hunter and we thank them for that.”

HN First Division Roster: Claire Kowald, Brytne Bunnett, Abbey Allomes, Annelise Iping, Megan Aspinall, Emma Rumbel, Annie Neenan, Zoe Peden, Mackenzie Stuart; Natarlia Bridges coach, Helen Wilson manager.

HN Fourth Division Roster: Tayla Winter, Fallan Porter, Abbie Leyshon, Lexy Holz, Emrah Manning, Leah Dove, Jemma Lucas, Summah Johnson, Kyra Powell-Caffyn, Layla Varley, Shelly Hill; Angela Samuels and Sallie Partridge coaches, Jodi Cassar manager.