Two-time defending champions West Leagues Balance have completed the Greater Open Championship three-peat, building on their minor premiership from the regular season to claim a 45-27 victory over Souths in the Newcastle grand final.
In front of grandstands of fans, and the rolling cameras of NBN Television livestreaming the decider for the very first time, Tracey Baggs’ ladies in black surged over the young Lions to lift the historic 2019 title with an 18-goal advantage.
The victors earned an early lead in the opening quarter, rolling to a 14-6 advantage before stretching their lead to 26-14 at half time. Led by centre-court player of the match Sophie Buckley, West squeezed out Souths to 19 to 13 in the second half.
The third Newcastle title is a fantastic prize for a “tough year” said West mentor Baggs, who had nothing but praise for her three-peat champions.
“We’re all feeling pretty happy, it’s been a big build-up and a tough year this year getting girls out on the court throughout the year,” she said. “When it really mattered they pulled together and turned up. Great players, great team, great club.”
Although the champions took an early lead with their fast-paced netball in the opening quarter, Baggs admitted it took all four quarters for her to really begin to accept the minor premiers had delivered on the three-in-a-row promise.
“I always worry,” Baggs laughed. “We wanted a strong start and we did it, easier said than done. The girls put everything out there, they didn’t leave anything out there, they played really strong, and we made changes that gave us those fresh legs.”
The three-time championship coach was also all smiles when it came to the momentous grand final put on by the Newcastle Netball Association this year. The towering live-action screens, commentators, and cameras made it into a whole new event.
“I would not have thought in my time that we would be able to do something like we have this year, and credit to Newcastle Netball,” Baggs said. With the strength of Newcastle’s game on display, she’s hoping it can lead to something more.
“Obviously, the strength of the Suncorp Super Netball has grabbed the attention of the audience, which has really helped us. We’re a strong competition here in Newcastle, I just wish we had our own Premier League team.
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“These girls are down there playing it now, just unfortunately not for Newcastle just yet. We’re the only regional area that’s been able to do this. The 23s competition is the future as well, looking forward to seeing them more next year as well.”
Now the West Leagues mentor has one thing, apart from relaxing in the netball offseason, in her mind: four in a row.
“[We want it] most definitely,” Baggs said at the courts on Saturday afternoon. “I’ve already mentioned it to a couple of the girls and hopefully we get Kimberley Goodearl back next year as well to keep that strength there. The girls are happy.”
West finished first in the regular season with a 10-2 record, edging Forsythes Business Advisors to the minor premiership on goal difference.
Newcastle’s premier netball competition the Greater Open Championship and all competitions at National Park will return in April, 2020.