West Leagues Balance 1 have finished as minor premiers in the Greater Open Championship for the third year in a row, but it wasn’t until the final fixture of the season that the top spot was decided.
The premiers got their job done in the early Newcastle time slot with a lopsided 41-18 victory over fellow top-four squad Nova, and moved level with league leaders Forsythes on 41 points. Then the team had to wait.
In the late timeslot, Forsythes faced off against Souths for the first time this season. It seemed as if the pacesetters had all but wrapped up the league’s first-seed after their 21-17 half-time lead blossomed into a 29-24 advantage in the third.
The Lions weren’t going to lie down without a fight, however. Souths roared to life in the final quarter, with Kaitlyn Stansfield and promoted player Janas Burgess slotting 13 crucial goals to Forsythes’ six in the fourth quarter.
Forsythes’ two-goal loss was enough for Wests. The two teams drew level on competitive points, and the defending champions moved ahead thanks to their +243 goal difference. Forsythes sat just 23 goals behind on +220.
“Once we found out about Forsythes’ results we were really happy, and it was good to hear after we had to adapt to those woeful conditions on Saturday afternoon,” West coach Tracey Baggs told the Chronicle.
“We hadn’t played Nova before because of the washout rounds, but you do your homework and I kept an eye on the team in the last few weeks so that we could prepare for them. That worked well in the end.”
Baggs’ first-placed outfit now has a weekend off before they play Forsythes in the major semi-final on August 24. While most breaks are well-received in the postseason, the staggered nature of the season has begun to mount up for Wests.
“It’s been staggered all over the season, we’ve had very few games in succession and we have a week on, and then a week off whether it’s the rain or the holidays,” Baggs said.
“We’ve rarely had a consecutive game this season so it just seems like business as usual for the year. It’s been a very unusual season. The positive that we get from the week off though is we can look at Nova and Souths and prepare.”
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While all of West 1’s roster, bar star centre Sophie Buckley, were available for Baggs in their Round 14 meeting with Nova, the two-time premiership coach confirmed she would still have to navigate availability in the coming crunch-time weeks.
“Because there are so many Premier League girls in the competition, and in our team, I won’t know who I do and don’t have until pretty close to the games,” said Baggs.
“That’s not a problem that’s unique to us though, Forsythes have stars like that. We’ll just have to see how the clubs are going in the state and metro leagues. It’s just something that makes it all interesting in the Greater Open.”
Despite the roster unknowns, Baggs said she’s excited coming into playoffs.
“I think this final round has put us and Forsythes on equal footing, I really rate them, they’re a powerful side, and they have great players,” she said. “We’re on an equal footing now heading into the major, and that’s where we should be.”
Also in the final round, Junction Hotel fell to BNC Whanau 49-33, and Maryville defeated West 2 58-27. BNC’s victory put them just a single point outside the top four, while Round 14 also confirmed Maryville and Junction finished level on 27 points.
STANDINGS: West Leagues 1, Forsythes (41), Souths (37), Nova (35), BNC (34), Maryville, Junction (27), West Leagues 2 (21).