Eagles earn bragging rights

MAFFRA fans will still be grinning ear-from-ear, after Eagles snatched victory in the ever-important ‘Battle of the Birds’ bragging rights match, in the first round of Gippsland League netball.

Best friends off the court and mortal enemies on the court, the A grade rivals slogged out four sweaty quarters in unseasonably warm conditions, Maffra eventually linching the win, 30-44, on Sunday.

The teams had a lot to prove, with the Eagles’ new coach, former Magpie Jo Ballinger, and Sale’s new coach Mel Johnston, both absent from the game.

For the first half, it was neck-and-neck as the lead see-sawed, with the Eagles just ahead by two goals at half-time.

In the third quarter, a couple of changes up either end for the Eagles gave them a whiff of victory, finding wind and surging ahead with tight defensive pressure down the court and quick transitioning.

Sale goal keeper Ruby Phillips let her presence be known in her first match captaining the side, as she reeled in rebound after rebound in Maffra’s goal circle.

However, Maffra wing attack Natalie Allman flicked from offence to defence with ease, managing to repeatedly intercept the ball before it had even left the Eagle’s goaling third.

Down the opposite end, Maffra’s defence began to overwhelm Sale, and, despite accurate feeding from Tori Dessent and goaling from young guns Jenny Wrigglesworth and Hayley Castle, managed to stem the black and white goal flow.

For the second year running, Emma Allman was awarded the first round Pam Birss Memorial Medal for opening up the midcourt and steadying the ball around the ring.

The win gives the Eagles a little push to start off its season, putting Maffra in third place, before the side faces off against a historically strong Drouin side next week.

Sale is in eighth place, and will play a similarly tenacious Moe side next week.

On Saturday, Drouin defeated Moe 53-52 in a nail-biter of an opener, and Bairnsdale were conquered 37-62 by Traralgon. The season began on Good Friday, with Warragul overrun by Morwell 61-34, and Leongatha scraped past Wonthaggi 31-29.