Gisborne and Strathfieldsaye set for battle in BFNL 17-and-under netball grand final

READY FOR BATTLE: Strathfieldsaye's 17-and-under grand final netballers gather for a photo with their coach Zenda McConnell. Picture: KIERAN ILES

READY FOR BATTLE: Strathfieldsaye's 17-and-under grand final netballers gather for a photo with their coach Zenda McConnell. Picture: KIERAN ILES

COULD there be two sides any more evenly matched than this season's BFNL 17-and-under grand final rivals?

Gisborne and Strathfieldsaye have met on three occasons during 2016 - the scoreline reads two draws and a slender two point win to the Bulldogs in the second semi-final.

BFNL officials could not have scripted a more perfect opening to grand final day.

The Bulldogs-Storm encounter will showcase plenty of the league's top emerging young talent, led by joint Sing Medal 17-and under best and fairest Melinda Luke.

The Gisborne captain went one better than last season's second place in the league best and fairest and can fill a variety of positions, including goal defence, goal attack and goal shooter.

Luke and defensive teammate Keara Fitzgerald each featured in a sprinkling of A-grade matches for the Bulldogs this season and are certain to have benefited by the experience, according to their joint coach Maddie Stewart.

"Melinda is actually coming back from torn ligaments - she tore them in the last round against Strathfieldsaye," she said.

"We managed to get back for the semi-final, but we've been resting her up and getting her right for this one.

"It was very important getting that (semi-final) win for a couple of reason, but especially to rest her."

Gisborne's Melinda Luke (right) was joint winner of the BFNL's 17-and-under best and fairest together with Kangaroo Flat's Danielle Markwell. Picture: DARREN HOWE

Gisborne's Melinda Luke (right) was joint winner of the BFNL's 17-and-under best and fairest together with Kangaroo Flat's Danielle Markwell. Picture: DARREN HOWE

Stewart, who finished runner-up in the Betty Thomson Medal count, is chasing her third premiership as coach and second alongside joint coach and A-grade teammate Tarryn Rymer.

The duo coached the 17-and-under team to a flag in 2013, while Stewart guide the club's 15-and-under team to victory in 2011.

Result aside, Gisborne's semi-final win followed a similar pattern to the sides' regular season contests, with the Bulldogs clearing out to a healthy lead before enduring a large-scale fightback.

The Storm trailed by as much as 11 goals before getting within two goals by game's end and were down by 13 goals at half time in one of the draws.

It's those fighting capabilities that has Storm coach Zenda McConnell confident her side can reverse the tables.

"We're great at figthing back, the girls never give up - that's certainly a great attribute," she said.

"Kate Salvador, our captain and wing attack, has had a couple of great weeks in finals.

"Alice Layton in goal defence had a really great game last week and she's a real hassling player and creates a lot of turnovers.

"And Keesha Tonzing has had good finals series too, so I think with that form we are in with a good chance."

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