Can Churchill take the premiership crown?

Show time: Churchill Football Netball Club's A grade play in the North Gippsland Football Netball League Grand Final this Saturday.


Show time: Churchill Football Netball Club’s A grade play in the North Gippsland Football Netball League Grand Final this Saturday.




EVERYTHING they’ve ever worked for comes down to this.

It’s only one more game, but the biggest game of the year, the Grand Final.

Churchill and Woodside will go head-to-head this Saturday at Heyfield’s Gordon Street courts for the North Gippsland Football-Netball League A Grade premiership cup.

Some people never get a chance at the eternal glory of a local netball premiership, but come Saturday afternoon, one of these teams will be crowned premiers of North Gippsland.

Will it be the reigning premiers in Woodside, or will it be the underdogs in the Cougars?

Only time will tell. You can be sure of one thing: This game will be a heated exchange of desperation, tactical skill and netball brilliance unlike you’ve seen before; it’s a Grand Final.

Both teams have forged similar paths to the big dance.

The Wildcats have been unstoppable in this finals series.

Relentless in their pressure and scoring ability, the Woodside team has rolled their opponents.

Having finished fourth on the ladder, the team has had to do things the hard way with a threat of elimination over their heads.

As coach Elizabeth (Libby) Nicol said, this team loves pressure and rises to the stakes.

“It wasn’t until the last round we won and were bumped to fourth, and Kristy, our netball coordinator, said, ‘Everything happens for a reason’, and it 100 per cent has, because we have had the best build-up in the finals, we’ve done it the hard way, but we’re just on a roll,” the playing coach said.

“It’ll be a good game, Churchill are a good side, and they’re a really physical side and it will be hard work, but the girls are just so excited.

“We know their team, we will do up a little plan, we’ve watched them over the last few weeks, and we’ll implement a plan that hopefully gets us over the line in the end.”

Woodside’s strength comes from their ability to apply full-court pressure to force turnovers. All players who run that mid-court are ball-hungry, able to read the play and force the opposition into making mistakes.

Though Nicol said the Wildcats love playing under pressure, they bring the pressure with the fast-paced and intimidating style they play.

Their lethalness, however, is in turning those turnovers into scores, with the tall shooting tower in Nicol able to convert.

In 2019, Nicol won her third Victorian Netball League (VNL) championship Hot Shot Award for scoring an impressive 835 goals for North East Blaze.

While one player doesn’t make a team, Nicol stands out as an integral piece to the Wildcats premiership puzzle.

Churchill will no doubt have a plan to stay composed in amongst the Wildcats pressure tornado on court.

The Cougars might well make chaos of their own; having downed Heyfield and Sale City convincingly in the finals, they have their eyes turned on the biggest fish or, should I say, Wildcat to fry.

Though Churchill has always been a competitive netball club, their last A Grade premiership was in 2012.

This premiership chance is 11 years in the making, and best believe they’ve got the heart to win it.

Expect to be stunned by the brilliance of captain and league best-and-fairest Rachael Loechel alongside her long-time court companion Katrina Hutchinson as they dominate the mid-court and give that silver service into Lynette Patten.

Speaking to coach Hutchinson, she said the Churchill side are feeling good coming into the Grand Final.

“We have put enough in play to keep our bond tight and bodies moving in the week break,” she said.

“The Wildcats are in great finals form but we are looking forward to the battle on the court.”

The Cougars finished in eighth position in the 2022 season and are already proud of the progress they have made.

“To come from eight last season to be playing in a Grand Final shows that anything is possible,” Hutchinson said.

The Cougars can play a high-pressure game to match Woodside’s, and also have that same perfect mix of youth and experience that will assist in keeping composure and balance throughout the match.

Both sides have had all the momentum coming off very hot form; though Woodside’s winning margins have been greater, the Cougars will be ready for their game style.

On the grand scheme of things, you have last year’s premier in Woodside attempting to defend their title and go back-to-back, a very difficult yet impressive feat.

On the other hand, you have the sneaky achievers with a big belief – the Cougars, who no one expected to be as good as they are today (besides this one journalist).

If you only watch one game of netball for the year, make sure it’s this one, as given the journeys of these two sides, it’s going to be one hell of a show.

Churchill Player Profiles 

Katrina Hutchinson (coach) #11 WA/C
300-club game veteran, A Grade coach with a level head and the netball smarts, Kat provides lead after lead working off the ball and will swing the ball to work the feeds to the shooters, her experience and composure is what you need for big games like this.
Rachael Loechel (captain) #5 Captain/C
Fast, smart, relentless Rach really ties the defensive end to the attacking end. Her defensive pressure and quick transition into attack is something to expect. The 2023 North Gippsland league best-and-fairest, Churchill captain and someone everyone aspires to play like.
Stacey Yates #8 WD/GK/GD
You will find Stace in any defensive position knowing that she will read the play and attack every ball, with her huge wingspan forcing attackers to think twice about where to place the ball. Stace brings a lot of netball experience to the team. In times of pressure it’s Stacey you want to have the ball.
Destiny Mackrell #80 GA
The quiet achiever, De’s first season with the Cougars has been incredibly successful. She is composed with every possession and when she has the ball everyone can breathe easy. Don’t her quiet nature trick you; she can turn a game on its head if you let her.
Tayla Beyer #3 GA/WA
A big game player who loves the big stage and will nail a shot from anywhere. Tay has worked hard this season after her first-born Lenny and injury after injury, she has dug deep to get back on court. In her GA/WA role Tay adds another aspect to Churchill’s game.
Zaida Glibanovic #19 GD/WD/GK
Like a dog to a bone, she will not give up on getting that ball. Zaida has worked hard this season to know when to attack and when to hold back. She can read a ball and can really impact those pressure moments.
Oakleigh Riley #30 WD/GD
The baby of the group, Oaks is just 17 years old in her first year of A grade with so many more to come. Her hands over pressure and relentless defence is something that will have WA’s tiring, her will to learn is a coach’s absolute dream. You will forever see this girl with a huge smile on her face.
Lynette (Louie) Patten #88 GS
A very entertaining player to watch, she will have you on the edge of your seat as she gets up for footy marks under the post and will rebound anything coming her way. The amount of work she does as a shooter to get herself in position before the ball is even down the court would have her burning calories like a midcourter.
Layla Blair #35 WD/WA
The little pocket rocket can read the play and is courageous in the way she will drop back with the ball. Is relentless on attacking the ball and will contest any ball that comes her way. Layla is quick and can be that change to match any opposing WA.
Samantha Mann #86 GK/GD
Can get a little fiery as she always expects the best from herself. A tall defender, Sammy will have her hands over every ball. Her work ethic on the court and always wanting to better herself is a real credit to her.
* Coaches contributed player profiles

Netball Scoreboards:

Gippsland League – QUALIFYING FINAL
A GRADE: Morwell 48 d Leongatha 40
B GRADE: Drouin 61 d Leongatha 49
C GRADE: Maffra 30 d Drouin 26
17 AND UNDER: Sale 39 d Leongatha 32
15 AND UNDER: Sale 37 d Leongatha 30
13 AND UNDER: Sale 50 d Moe 40
Gippsland League – ELIMINATION FINAL
A GRADE: Drouin 38 d Warragul 36
B GRADE: Moe 50 d Morwell 41
C GRADE: Bairnsdale 33 d Morwell 26
17 AND UNDER: Maffra 35 d Wonthaggi 34
15 AND UNDER: Bairnsdale 57 d Maffra 34
13 AND UNDER: Bairnsdale 32 d Maffra 30

Mid Gippsland – SECOND-SEMI
A GRADE: Yinnar 60 d Toora 53
B GRADE: Yinnar 38 d Fish Creek 31
C GRADE: MDU 44 d Yinnar 18
D GRADE: Fish Creek 37 d Yinnar 28
17 AND UNDER: MDU 42 d Yinnar 22
15 AND UNDER: Boolarra 39 d Mirboo North 22
Mid Gippsland – FIRST-SEMI
A GRADE: Morwell East 37 d Tarwin 34
B GRADE: Mirboo North 40 d Toora 31
C GRADE: Hill End 29 d Morwell East 24
D GRADE: Morwell East 35 d Mirboo North 33
17 AND UNDER: Fish Creek 23 d Toora 22
15 AND UNDER: MDU 29 d Yinnar 23

A GRADE: Woodside 63 d Sale City 45
B GRADE: Woodside 51 d Sale City 50
C GRADE: Woodside 46 d Churchill 23
D GRADE: Sale City 41 d Glengarry 27
17 AND UNDER: Rosedale 37 d Heyfield 22
15 AN UNDER: Sale City 36 d Woodside 24