Sport

Fiercely contested battles

By Tyler Maher

Today’s Murray Netball League preliminary final at Rumbalara’s Mercury Dve will be a fiercely contested battle between two very different teams.

On one hand is dominant Moama, a powerful unit across the court which has lost just two games (and drawn one) since the start of last season.

On the other is a Barooga outfit which, in its first A-grade finals series in two decades, has produced a giant-killing run to make it to the penultimate weekend of the season after finishing seventh on the table.

The Magpies will certainly go into the clash as hot favourites after dealing comfortably with Numurkah in a qualifying final a fortnight ago, but Jacquie James’ charges will not be resting on their laurels.

The Hawks first knocked off rival Cobram by 13 goals in an elimination battle before rising to the occasion in last week’s semi-final and defeating Rumbalara by six goals.

Co-coach Sharni Hazelman knows the task ahead of her troops today, but is confident they will give a good account of themselves.

‘‘(Moama are) a beautiful side and we know they’re very versatile as well,’’ Hazelman said.

‘‘We’ve only played them once this year again which was quite early so it’s hard to take it off that game, but we’ll go in there and we’re up for the challenge and we’re very excited.’’

The Magpies won by 29 goals last time the sides played and James, Jodie Lake and Charlotte Long will be crucial in the team’s attempt to engineer a similar result today.

Abbey Jones and Carmen Shannon will be Barooga’s most important cogs, with their goal-circle partnership blossoming in recent weeks.

●Tomorrow’s preliminary final pits two very familiar finals adversaries against each other.

Deniliquin and Numurkah have clashed in an elimination final in the past two seasons, with the Rams knocking the Blues out of contention both times.

There is much more at stake at Echuca South Recreation Reserve tomorrow though, with a grand final berth on the line for the victor.

Last time the outfits met was in round 11, when the Rams won convincingly by 28 goals, but Numurkah was not at full strength and co-coach Sandi Kerrins said that result would have no bearing on tomorrow’s game.

‘‘It will be tough but it’s great to be there,’’ Kerrins said.

‘‘We didn’t have Tamara (Skinner) and a couple of girls had the flu last time, so you can’t take anything out of that game.

‘‘I’m really proud of the girls, they played the way we know they can play (last week) and I can’t wait for the game (tomorrow) because we’re going to give them a run for their money.’’

The Blues bounced back from a 28-goal qualifying final defeat at the hands of Moama to send Echuca United packing last week, with an inspirational performance from young Rosie Arnel crucial to the victory.

After splitting her finger open against the Magpies and requiring nine stitches, Arnel was one of Numurkah’s stronger performers against the Eagles.

As for the Rams, the squad has had a weekend off to ponder how it can turn around back-to-back preliminary final exits in the past two years.

Jodie Sefton’s troops defeated Rumbalara by just three goals a fortnight ago, but have plenty of confidence in their ability to deal with the Blues.

‘‘There’s nothing like finals experience,’’ Sefton told the Pastoral Times.

‘‘Everyone’s motivated to get into the grand final and we’ve certainly done all of the work to prepare us for that.

‘‘We’ve worked various combinations throughout the year and have proven we can mix things up when needed.

‘‘We can’t take a lot from our win against Numurkah earlier this year.

‘‘Their form has picked up in the later part of the season and knocking off Echuca last week would’ve certainly boosted their confidence.

‘‘We will rely on the fact that we have strength all over the court when we face Numurkah.

‘‘Usually I’m not a fan of having a week off because it can disrupt the rhythm of the team.

‘‘But this year we had players with niggling injuries and it has helped us to have those players have a bit of time to heal up.

‘‘We’ve got a full list available and will have a squad of 12 for the game.’’

The Blues will likely play without Arnel’s sister Ruby due to a knee injury, but aside from that will also be nearing full strength.

Bec White, Amelia Seignior, Emily Mildren and Ella Park will be important players for the Rams, while Emily Ryan and Skinner will lead the way for the Blues.