Souths are set to play their sixth consecutive Greater Open Championship decider next Saturday, after defeating second-placed Forsythes 53-49 in a tight clash at Hunter Sports High’s indoor courts in the preliminary final.
The Lions, who have been battered by injuries and absences for most of the 2019 season, defeated Nova in the minor semi-final to earn their place in the last-step final. Forsythes lost to West Leagues last weekend to drop into the elimination match.
The confidence of Souths’ victory over the Thunder in their first-week finals meeting may have spurred the ladies in red to an early-game surge. With a single quarter down, the third-seed Lions had already claimed a 13-9 lead.
Trude Yen’s outfit, who had welcomed back veteran star Tiffany Gilmour for the do-or-die clash, took full advantage of their three-goal lead. A storming second-quarter doubled their advantage, and left Forsythes trailing by six heading into the break.
Both teams made defensive changes on the wing in the half break, with Ellie McVey entering the fray for Forsythes and Aneeka Marcozzi bolstering the Lions. The swaps changed little in regards to momentum, however.
Souths returned red-hot in the third quarter, with Janas Burgess and Katelyn Stansfield outshooting the Forsythes shooters 17-11 in a crucial 15 minutes of netball. Forsythes were able to swing the script in the last, 15-7, but the damage was done.
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For the rest of the league, the third-seed ousting second is an upset. In the eyes of Souths mentor Yen, who has now guided the Lions into their sixth grand final in as many years, it was a little more expected.
“These girls are born to win, they fight tooth and claw to earn it all,” she said.
“We honestly believed we deserved to be in the final, how we were going to get there we didn’t know, but we knew that we would be. Every year we think we deserve it, and despite our team falling down around us [due to injury] we never lost sight of that.”
Souths suffered a number of key blows to their campaign, including injuries to centre-court commander Narelle Eather and rising star Danielle Taylor. Tiffany Gilmour had been ruled out for most of the year too, while Eliza Hand was injured during finals.
Despite the feeling of “one step forwards, two steps back” for Yen in regards to her roster, the perennial finalists have once again claimed their spot in the final two.
It was a funny feeling, Yen revealed. “We were taking every game one step at a time because of how bad the season had been, and as cliche as that sounds we just weren’t thinking any further ahead than that.
“It meant when we won on Saturday I turned around to my assistant coach and said “What the hell just happened?”. We had only just realised we were going into the final next weekend, and we were all thinking “How did we get here?”.
“Honestly, the girls just rock. We had our heads down, and bums up, and were just getting the job done, and now we’ve got the rewards for all the work we’ve done.”
Now Souths’ preliminary triumph set up another battle with two-time defending champions West Leagues Balance 1.
The 2017-18 titleholders have the chance to equal the Lions’ three-peat glory from 2014-16, and Souths have the chance to deny them.
“We’re very excited to be here again, and challenge it again,” Yen said of the impending clash with West Leagues on Saturday. “It’s in our blood, we love it.”
The Greater Open Championship grand final will begin from 2.30pm on Saturday, September 7 at the National Park Netball Courts. Nine-NBN will be providing a livestream of the game, as well as a one-hour highlight replay on TV a week later.