Narelle Eather believes the future of Newcastle netball is in good hands after a new-look team came painstakingly close to defending their NSW open championship crown in Liverpool over the long weekend.
The 45-year-old former national league midcourter was part of the experienced Newcastle side which captured the state crown two years ago.
The NSW titles were cancelled last year due to the coronavirus crisis and Eather was one of only three players remaining from the victorious 2019 side along with shooter Abbie Gray and defender Veronica Smith, who was a last-minute inclusion in place of injured Sammie Chicken.
Newcastle won 17 of their 18 games in three days to finish second with 34 points, one behind winners Manly Warringah on 35. Their only loss was 22-19 to Manly.
Newcastle earned the Pat Weston OAM Country Champions Cup as the highest ranked regional team.
"We had a lot of girls who were around 17, 18 and 19 and it was a bit of a turnover year and I don't think anyone really expected such a new team with a lot of young ones coming through to do so well," Eather said.
"Our competition in Newcastle is strong and it shows we've got depth in the association."
Newcastle coach Trude Yen said last-minute disruptions had little impact.
"It's not the same team that we started with and won the state regional finals with in March," Yen said. "We've had multiple changes due to various reasons and we've had to bring in new players.
"What it was for us was trying to get them to jell, but they just worked it out for themselves.
"It was an absolute dream team and if we had have had another two or three weeks with them, there's no doubt that we would've won this competition."
Callaghan District were 15th, Westlakes District 16th and Charlestown finished 18th.
Newcastle open netball team: Narelle Eather (captain), Abbie Gray (vice-captain), Emrah Manning, Savannah Angelozzi, Lucy Tonkin, Danielle Taylor, Laura Neale, Veronica Smith, Claudia Rodwell, Caitlin Lobston, Nicki Murnane. Coach: Trude Yen. Manager: Helen Matthews.
**Newcastle finished 11th in the 17-and-under championship division with Charlestown 12th. In the 15-and-under championship division, Maitland were 11th and Newcastle 13th. Charlestown placed sixth in 15-and-under division two.
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