It all comes down to this – recently crowned premiers New Lambton and two-time defending champions Merewether meet for the last time this season in the Women’s Premier League grand final, with the crown on the line.
For both teams, it’s a chance to finish the season on the highest of highs at Rockwell Automation Park. The Eagles have been collecting a season of firsts, including their first semi-final victory, and the club’s first women’s premiership.
Now they want to complete the set.
On the other side of the park, Merewether are gunning for their own slice of history.
Never in the history of the league has a squad won back-to-back-to-back championships, and the Llamas are in prime position to clinch that for the first time.
For Keelan Hamilton, who guided the second-year squad to the top of the table, the chance to cement the team in the annals of New Lambton history is one that he very much wants to grab with both hands in Weston.
“It’s an extra special game for us because it’s our first as a club. We’re really excited to be playing in the grand final,” he said.
“Being a new team last season there were a lot of firsts that we went through. We scored our first goal, got our first win, and made our first semi-final. To win our first premiership this time, and play in our first final, that’s a huge achievement for all the girls.”
The Eagles may be two halves of football away from potentially getting their hands on the Premier League trophy, but Hamilton knows his star-studded squad still have a massive battle on their hands. United have finals pedigree, and that makes them dangerous.
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“It’s going to be a tough match, it takes a lot of hard work to qualify for a final and rarely do the teams that make it not deserve to be there,” said the Eagles boss.
“Merewether have a lot of experience here, a lot more than us. We’ve had an outstanding season, but that experience may swing the favouritism in their favour and we might be underdogs just a bit. We’re confident we can get a good result though.”
Hamilton may think his club is coming into the first-grade final behind Merewether, but United’s multi-championship winning coach Cass Koppen knows her squad can’t get too far ahead of themselves despite boasting “a finals winning mentality.”
“The girls are pumped. We’ve had a lot of success at the club over the past years, and the girls know how to win,” she said.
“We have to remember the pressure is still on us though, considering we haven’t beaten New Lambton this year. They’ve got a premiership-winning team. We’re well aware we can’t go into the match too confident, but we’re very much looking forward to it.”
Injuries have plagued United’s second straight title defence, leaving Llamas stars like Nicki Jones, Tamara Nash, Rhali Dobson, Jamee Ellis, Alison Logue, and Sarah Hartree all on the sideline for different periods. It’s a challenge Merewether faced, however, and overcame.
Now, Koppen believes that rough ride through the regular season campaign to the playoffs may be the key to getting over the finish-line in Weston on Sunday afternoon.
“Everyone has written us off all year, and they kind of have for the past five years, but we keep popping up at the end and keep winning,” said Merewether’s mentor.
“I don’t think it matters if we’re underdogs, or favourites. We’ll approach the game in the same way. In a way, we’re underdogs because we finished further down the ladder, but the biggest thing is that the girls are playing for the right reasons. They do that, and we can win.”
In the end, there couldn’t be many more interesting battles in the grand final.
Potential first-time champions, facing off against the might of a possible historic three-peat. With both teams dripping with star power, there’s no doubt the meeting between Merewether and New Lambton at Rockwell Automation Park is set to be an instant classic.
First published as Herald WPL Grand Final Preview.