REBECCA Smith has always been someone to embrace new netball challenges.
It’s a major reason she found herself in Sandhurst’s maroon and blue last season and why she is set to line-up in her second consecutive BFNL A-grade grand final.
The deadly accurate goal shooter figures on being a key to the Dragons’ hopes against Gisborne, just as she was on grand final day last year when she scored 40 goals in her team’s 48-40 win against Golden Square.
While BFNL netball followers have become accustomed to Smith posting big numbers (Sandhurst scored a league-high 892 goals in 14 games at an average of 63.7 per game and was again the winner of the league’s goal champion award), her feat in the 2017 premiership decider was all the more remarkable given the conditions.
The game was played in by far the hottest temperatures for the season, with the mercury rising into the low 30s, with wind gusts up to 35kmh.
But Smith was able to brush aside the conditions and maintain her composure to help the Dragons to their first flag in 10 years.
Reflecting on that premiership this week, the 27-year-old, who joined Sandhurst in 2017 at the urging of then newly appointed Dragons co-coach Tamara Gilchrist, described the moment as ‘surreal’.
Smith revealed it had taken some convincing from her former North Bendigo coach and team-mate Gilchrist to entertain a move back to the BFNL, where she had previously played four seasons in A-grade and A-reserve with Eaglehawk.
“When Tam came and asked me if I wanted to make the switch it was a tough decision.” She said.
“North Bendigo was home and I felt comfortable there; I learned a lot about myself and my netball.
“I had to weigh up a few things, but I wanted to take on the challenge of coming back to the BFNL because I had to been away for four years.
“To come back was exciting – I didn’t know how much it had changed.”
Any fears she may have had with the transition back to BFNL were quickly laid to rest as the wins and goals mounted, while the Dragons played their way to a dominant 18-1-1 season and a well-deserved premiership.
Smith has taken her impressive game to another level in 2018 and was rewarded by being the Dragons’ top vote-getter in last Sunday’s Betty Thompson Medal count and fourth overall with 16.
The medal winner Maddy Stewart and young goal keeper Keara Fitzgerald will be the Bulldogs defenders tasked with trying to shut the Dragons sharpshooter and her goaling partner Kelsey Meade down.
To come back (to the BFNL) was exciting – I didn’t know how much it had changed.Rebecca Smith
Smith spoke glowingly of her association in goals with one-time rival Meade.
“Back in the day when I played with Eaglehawk, Kelsey and I played a few games where she was goal keeper and I was the goal shooter, so we had that little rivalry back then,” she said.
“But she’s fantastic to play in the ring with; we seem to be able to communicate really well without having a whole lot of playing experience together.
“We really just clicked straight away.”
If any team has troubled Sandhurst in Smith’s two years at the club, it has been Gisborne.
The Bulldogs have won two of three contests this season, including a 12 goal semi-final win a fortnight ago.
Their two matches in 2017 produced a mid-season draw and a late season win to the Dragons.
Smith was adamant little separated the grand final rivals and could even draw some similarities between the teams.
“Gisborne are a very tight unit, very physical on court, but also very skilful too in what they do,” she said.
“Similar to us, they really do play as a team and once they get a roll-on and momentum, they’re very tough to beat.
“We need to be ready from the get-go, we can’t afford to be playing catch-up netball like last time.”
Smith, who was a premiership player also with North Bendigo in 2014, has encountered little trouble in maintaining a balance between embracing the hype and staying focused on a grand final.
Her job as Bendigo Stadium Limited’s competitions coordinator has kept her plenty, with a busy schedule of domestic grand finals to organise on Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday.
Ironically, her office is situated just metres from where it all began for Smith on the netball court as a youngster for Southside in the Golden City Netball Association.