Mental break timely before exciting local derby showdown
REFRESHED from a short but welcome break, two leading forces are bracing for one of the most important clashes of this year's Queensland Premier League (QPL) netball season.
Defending QPL SEQ Cup champions Ipswich Flyers face mighty rivals Goodna Sapphires in Thursday night's annual local derby.
The Sapphires are setting the standard as they have in winning the 2017 and 2018 grand finals. The unbeaten Sapphires are the team to beat for this year's crown.
Ready to rise, the Flyers are in fourth place - a win behind Downey Park and Wests, who play each other this week.
That means stopping Goodna's powerhouse run would give the Flyers a massive boost in their quest for back-to-back titles.
The top six sides will contest a final series from October 22, with the top two qualifiers enjoying a huge advantage.
For Flyers coach Nicole Grant, a recent caravan trip either side of the SEQ competition bye provided a valuable opportunity to recharge, especially with all the uncertainties due to COVID changes.
"I think it's important for everyone to take a mental break when they can. It helps you to come back fresh and focused,'' Grant said.
"We have a caravan that we travelled Australia in two years ago.
"We try and get away in our van as much as we can. It's our happy place.''
Her latest trip was to Bargara and Tin Can Bay, with Grant missing just one match.
She shared the benefits of time to re-evaluate and reduce workloads.
"There have been so many extra pressures put on everyone this season,'' Grant said.
"Players, coaches and team officials. Mental health and wellbeing is a high priority in my eyes.''
While she was away, Grant appreciated having experienced duo Trish McInally and Melissa Beutel guiding the team to its latest 43-30 victory over Carina.
Preparing for the derby against the Flyers, Sapphires captain Robyn Walsh enjoyed the recent bye for a different reason.
"It was nice to have break,'' she said. "It had no bearing on the team, just good to have a Thursday night free.''
The astute Walsh is adopting her usual strategy against the Flyers.
"We approach all games with the same attitude and motivation regardless of who our opponents are,'' Walsh said.
"We do not make games anything they are not. The past is the past.
"I feel there is expectations put on the game, given it is the local derby as such. However we will go into the game as we do each and every Thursday night.''
Walsh offered an honest assessment of her team's rare loss to the Flyers in last year's title decider.
"The 2019 grand final was by no means our best game,'' she said.
"I make no excuses for the performance we put on court that night, and unfortunately we each played our worst game on the one night collectively.
"We are fully aware that every team can be beaten and we are no different.''
Walsh and senior teammate Rebecca Asquith (calf injury) missed the Sapphires' latest 42-35 victory over Downey Park.
"It was great to get the win but the girls had to grind it out,'' Walsh said.
"It was not our best performance but we take away the fact that even when we are not playing our best we can pull it together and come away with the win.
"We are extremely competitive and do not like to lose, so this in itself gives us the motivation we need to get the job done.''
Grant doesn't rate the latest encounter a "grand final rematch''.
"We are a completely different team this year and I know Sapphires have some changes to their team,'' she said.
"Sapphires are sitting in first place, therefore it is a really good opportunity for us as a team to see where we at and what we need to improve on coming into finals.
"It won't be about winning or losing this week for our team.
"Our team is focused on executing our game strategy and playing as a whole unit for the entire game. It will be a good chance to have a look at what combinations are working, which is paramount with an elimination final looming.''
Grant said the Flyers were particularly mindful of Goodna's attacking threat.
"The Sapphires goal attack and goal shooter haven't changed I don't think since Goodna entered the competition,'' Grant said.
"We believe this combination is the key to Goodna's success over the past four years. They are both solid, consistent and tall. It is hard to shut down however we have been successful at shutting it down in the past.''
The Flyers will be without Tahlia Vandenberg and Rayna Verrenkamp for Thursday night's encounter.
"Tahlia is a key player in our defence end and Rayna, we may not have back this season,'' the coach said.
"Rayna was playing some incredible netball in goal shooter and offered us a tall target in the circle. She will be missed.''
The Sapphires will be without Asquith, who is still managing a calf strain.
Replacement player Jessica Ritchie, who has played in the QPL previously, receives another opportunity.
"Jess is a very competent and talented player,'' Walsh said.
"Jess can play all defensive positions and majority of the Sapphires have played in teams with Jess before.''
Ritchie played her first Sapphires match against Western Districts.
"She is a great fit for the team and we are lucky to have secured her,'' the Sapphires captain said.
Grant was also pleased to hear Flyers talent Lusa-Laquane Segi performed well for the Jets at the recent Queensland junior championships.
"I know Lusa said she learned a lot and really enjoyed it,'' Grant said.
"I was also informed that Lusa had a fantastic game last week.''
QPL SEQ Cup local derby: Thursday (6.30pm) - Ipswich Flyers v Goodna Sapphires at Queensland State Netball Centre.