In a normal season, West Leagues Balance would be getting ready to line up for another finals campaign.
But, as a nine-week Newcastle championship season begins Saturday, there will be a different focus for the club which have clinched the minor premiership-championship double for the past three years.
West coach Tracey Baggs said the modified competition, which has no finals this year, will be about "opportunity".
Restrictions on the use of Netball NSW Premier League players as well the uncertainty surrounding this year's competition, which was meant to start in April but got put on hold due to the coronavirus crisis, has forced changes to most clubs.
But it has also given them the chance to unearth rising talent and, while West will be missing big-name players Maddie Taylor and Tarsha Hawley against new side Inner Glow on Saturday, Baggs said youngsters Emrah Manning and Tayla Winter were likely to take the court.
"Emrah has come through the junior representative ranks and is doing really well and Tayla Winter is a Maitland girl who has come down to Newcastle with us for the last two years and won the under 23 players' player in the grand final for West last year," Baggs said.
"Those two will definitely get the call-up this weekend. I'm looking at this season as being the opportunity for those young ones to play up, get a taste for it, be with the more experienced girls and prepare for next year.
"I see this season is No.1, a chance to play, No.2, to blood these young girls or give them that opportunity to play as much as they can as high as they can, and No.3, to have a good look at the other teams because there are few new teams and a few changes."
It was a sentiment echoed by new Souths coach Tracey van Dal as they prepared to play Junction Stella on Saturday.
"Souths are looking very young and very new this year," van Dal said. "It's a rebuilding year but it's exciting for these young girls to be given an opportunity and we're looking forward to developing the next era of Lions players."
BNC Whanau play University of Newcastle and Kotara Souths take on Nova Thunder in the other championship matches.
For the first time clubs will field teams in championship, open and 23s divisions, replacing the two-tier structure of championship and 23s. An overall club champion will be crowned at the end of the season.
A quick look at the teams
Players to watch: Goal attack Caity Lobston, who has come across from BNC, and defence pairing of Laura Nolan and Georgia McVey.
Comment: "It's a year to try new things, relax a little bit to challenge your own individual goals and take what comes." - Nova co-coach and player Katie Robinson
Players to watch: Young shooters Moana Puru and Cassie Craig, who have come through the club's ranks and get an opportunity this year in the absence of some senior players, as well as Victoria Aoake, who steps into the coaching role as well as playing while Cherie Aoake-Puru steps back and takes on more of a mentor coaching position.
Comment: "Like most clubs, we've lost quite a lot of girls from the start of the season, so this year we're really just looking to bleed and to develop. We've got a heap of talent coming through our junior ranks and we're going to do our best to start trying to bleed them through." - BNC coaching mentor Cherie Aoake-Puru
Player to watch: Wing attack Kirsty Allan, who takes a step back from coaching to concentrate on playing and has been described by new coach Louise Cooper as "a cool, calm head in the side".
Comment: "They've got nothing to lose. They came sixth or seventh last year and this is not the year to be going for titles. We're just looking to build the club up to be a force to be reckoned with in the future." - Junction coach Louise Cooper
West Leagues Balance
Players to watch: Defender Emrah Manning, who has come through the junior representative ranks, and shooter Tayla Winter, named players' player for the club after last year's 23s grand final.
Comment: "I'm looking at this season as being the opportunity for those young ones to play up, get a taste for it, be with the more experienced girls and prepare for next year." - West coach Tracey Baggs
University of Newcastle
Player to watch: Goal attack/goal shooter Sophie Perkins, who has worked her way into the championship team.
Comment: "We've got some really talented 23s and opens and as a squad, we're actually quite excited about the club championship competition. We want to win the club championship. Overall, I think we've still got three really competitive teams but some of the girls are restricted in their play depending on different [Netball NSW Premier League] clubs. Week to week, we'll just see where we are and if I have to give younger girls a run, that's what I'll do. This year that's what we're aiming to do. Ideally, I'd like to be able to give every single one of our 23s players a quarter in the championship." University coach Traci Baber
Players to watch: Sister defence pairing of Tegan Sherman and Tiarne Condron and twins Brooke (goal attack) and Paige O'Kane (midcourter).
Comment: "We have a couple of new girls, so it will be good to see how we all gel together. It could take a little while for that to happen because we haven't had a lot of training together but I think defensively we'll be very strong. For our shooting end, it will be a matter of trying to get them to work together. We have a strong shooter but they've never played together, so just trying to work that out." - Inner Glow player-coach Jessika Christensen
Players to watch: Goal attack Mackenzie Stuart, midcourter Lexy Holtz and circle defender Annie Neenan.
Comment: "It will be great to just get on the court and play some netball. We're more young heads than older heads this year but we're really excited to have those younger players and to help develop them." - Kotara South player-coach Rachel Gardner
Players to watch: Midcourter Abbie Leyshon and defender Laura Neale, who have been promoted from A grade.
Comment: "Souths are looking very new and very young. We've had three promoted within the club and five girls are 18 or under, so it's a very exciting future for the club. What's moreso exciting is that they're all Souths players, so we've promoted within the club. It's a rebuilding year but it's exciting for these young girls to be given an opportunity and we're looking forward to developing the next era of Lions players." - Souths coach Tracey van Dal
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