Souths have called on their young stars of the future as they take another step closer to the Greater Open Championship grand final, defeating a red-hot Nova outfit 43-23 on Saturday afternoon in the league’s opening semi-final.
The Lions have had an injury-plagued season thus far. Centre-court commander Narelle Eather (ACL) was felled at State, and rising star Danielle Taylor suffered the same injury a week later. Tiffany Gilmour (ankle) fell two weeks from the finals.
The ever-increasing absence list forced Trude Yen to look to her Pride outfit in A Grade, with juniors Janas Burgess and Lucy Tonkin joining the Souths cohort full-time as the year inched ever closer to playoffs.
The Pride duo has joined other young stars like Zoe Peden and Nakita Jackson, as well as Greater Open regulars Aneeka Marcozi, Tianna Cummings, Eliza Hand, and Katelyn Stansfield, in a near new-look Lions team.
Now, the young Souths squad has been baptised in their “trial by fire” in the finals battle against the Thunder.
It’s a difficult path for rising stars to take to the top grade, but Yen believes her roster has become all the more dangerous for it.
“It’s certainly been a learning curve for the young girls, especially Lucy and Janas who have been really thrown in the deep end. We just hit finals and they’ve never been in a situation like this before so they’re learning on the fly,” Yen told the Women’s Chronicle.
“The support staff and team have been so important for them, but then they’re giving everything they’ve got and not pulling any punches. I couldn’t be more proud of them. Sometimes I stand back and watch and it’s just like “wow”.
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“Because it’s finals we’ve mainly been focusing on strategy work, which means they’ve just had to slot in and I haven’t had a chance to work with them individually like early in the season. They’re running to catch up, and have done so fantastically.”
The Lions took hold of the first-round clash in the playoffs with a 13-6 lead in the opening quarter, before stretching their command out to ten goals at half-time. They were able to restrict Nova to just 11 goals in the second half.
Souths now wait with bated breath to see who comes out of the major semi-final between minor premiers West Leagues and Forsythes next Saturday afternoon.
No matter who it is, Yen said, the Lions are ready. They’ve hit form at the right time.
“We knew we had the power to do what we did in the first semi-final, and now we’ve certainly got our mojo going. We’ve proved this team deserves to be in finals,” Yen said.
“We have some fantastic experience through Katie and Tianna, as well as Premier League players like Nakita and Eliza, and now we’re hitting a great patch of form. Even better, we haven’t even hit our peak yet.
“It’s always been our aim to hit the grand final. This year it’s been two steps forward, one step back with injuries and everything. Now it feels like we’re rising fast. I knew the heart of these girls, and now they’re showing it.”
Forsythes and West 1 contest the major semi-final at 2.30pm at the National Park courts on Saturday afternoon. The winner will move straight to the Greater Open Championship. The losing team will play Souths in the preliminary final on August 31.