NEWCASTLE have once again proven their state calibre as they marched to a 13-3 record and second place finish at the 50th Netball NSW State Championships, although the association fell just short of the top spot.

Their second place finish – behind champions Manly Warringah (16-0) – was decided on superior goal-percentage over arch-rivals Charlestown (12-2-2) and host-association Gosford (13-3), and netted the team the Pat Weston OAM Country Championship trophy, awarded to the highest regional association.

Newcastle’s 13-3 record was a strong finish, but a shaky opening day put their title defence in doubt after the defending champions fell to Manly Warringah and Wyong (12-3-1), a start that wasn’t levelled until five straight victories on the final day moved them into a ‘silver’ finish.

Despite the two opening-day defeats, opens coach Babette Armstrong believed the squad shone with “incredible defence all over the court”, and revealed the team’s calibre overcame disappointment in early results.

Armstrong also focused on the defensive unit of Kimberley Goodearl, Mikenzie McManus and Kim Williams, as well as Georgia McVey, who was burdened with the responsibility of replacing injured star Angela Williams.

“The defence was the main thing the girls did so well, they defended every ball right from the start and that’s how we won so many games, those turnovers,” Armstrong said.

“We worked hard on playing like that, from the defensive circle through mid-court to the shooters everyone turned their play into a defensive effort. The shooters turned the ball over with defensive arms over, and that gave us so many more chances.

“The team didn’t let anyone have unbroken passages of play, and it denied them their nice play. We stifled the other teams and we shut down any drives or leads, which gave us the result that we ended up with.”

Newcastle conceded the lowest goals of the tournament with 164, while they scored a second-best 366.

Despite not finishing at the top of the ladder, Armstrong also praised her squad’s “strength” in lifting their heads after the early Manly defeat, and then their loss at the hands of rivals Charlestown.

“I’m so proud to be a coach for Newcastle, as a team and as a unit they played so well,” she said. “There was a point after we lost to Manly – who we had seen as our main championship rival – that the girls let their heads drop but they got back into it and came back strong.”

“Then we lost to Charlestown and I think the girls felt they’d lost everything by then, but we went home and worked out certain factors could get us second, and the girls made that work out.”

Also in the tournament, Newcastle’s under-17 squad finished fifth, after their undefeated opening day turned sour across the remainder of the championship weekend.

Two one-goal defeats – 6-7 to Eastwood Ryde and 15-16 to Wyong – to open the second day, coupled with a defeat to Penrith to finish the day left the squad struggling to match undefeated squads Manly and Penrith, and a mixed final day saw them drop to fifth place with 22 points.

First published as: Newcastle claim Country crown