FRESH from leading Eaglehawk to consecutive BFNL A-grade netball finals series, Mali Roberts is moving on.
The former Papua New Guinean international player and Queensland Firebirds goaler is returning to Brisbane to be closer to family and friends.
Her departure ends a five and a half year association with Bendigo region netball, including stints as coach of the Hawks and fellow BFNL club Strathfieldsaye.
Roberts led the Hawks to a fifth-place finish in 2017 – their first finals appearance since 2012 – and fourth-place in 2018.
She is confident whoever inherits the coaching role for 2019 will have the foundations of a team capable of pushing for the club’s first premiership since 2012.
“I think the last two years we've improved each time - one step closer - so fingers crossed it is next year,” Roberts said.
“However, our league is becoming more and more competitive, which is great to see.
“I certainly think my girls have the potential to go all the way, but we do lack the experience of finals pressure and that is an area we need to work on.”
Naturally disappointed the Hawks were unable to advance further than a semi-final loss to Kangaroo Flat, after finishing the 2018 regular season in third-place, Roberts remains proud of what the club has achieved during her tenure coach.
“We have achieved a lot over the past two years … restructured the club, retained most players and worked hard,” she said.
“I’m very proud and happy of the entire netball club and their efforts to welcome me and adjust to my methods.
“There are a few areas we introduced but still some we haven't been able to tick off.
“However, there is a great team of people at EFNC that can continue on the work towards more improvement and success.
“With regards to players, I can't really name one or two as I have seen every player and coach across our nine teams improve in some way and that is what I am proud of.”
Roberts will not be lost to Eaglehawk immediately.
The 33-year-old intends to continue working with the club and building the foundations for future success until her eventual move at Christmas time.
She will leave with many fond memories of her time in Bendigo and with Eaglehawk, which finished eighth in the two seasons before her arrival and last in 2014.
I’m very proud and happy of the entire netball club and their efforts to welcome me and adjust to my methods. (But) there are a few areas we introduced but still some we haven't been able to tick off.Mali Roberts
Roberts, who coached Strathfieldsaye to a four-goal grand final loss to Golden Square in 2015 before a year away from coaching, spoke glowingly of Ash Ryan‘s season with Eaglehawk.
The young midcourter won her club’s best and fairest and was second in the league’s Betty Thompson Medal count, one vote behind the winner Maddy Stewart, from Gisborne.
Roberts complemented premiers Sandhurst and Gisborne on a remarkable extra-time grand final and felt the BFNL competition on the whole was in strong shape.
But like all those invested heavily in netball in Bendigo and central Victoria, she remains disappointed, and maybe even a touch puzzled, by the region’s exclusion from the Victorian Netball League competition.
“I think we have such talented, strong players in our region and to not have a team representing us is sad,” Roberts said.
“We have done well over the past years at Association Champs in Melbourne, our VNL players are being recognised within VNL.
“Just look at the team of the year lists across the divisions and in the recent VNL grand finals, our girls are there.”
One of her former Eaglehawk players, Zoe Davies was best on court for City West Falcons in this season’s VNL championship grand final, while sisters Ash and Abbey Ryan and goal shooter Dayna McGough all split time between VNL and BFNL in 2018.
Roberts, who ran a netball consultancy business in central Victoria, hinted a change in career might be in the offing in Queensland, but would by no means walking away from netball.
“I am hoping to continue with netball in Brisbane once I have a break, but hope to somehow get involved with PNG again,” she said.
“It will be easier to do this from Brisbane.”
The Hawks are currently advertising for senior and junior netball coaches.
Applications close October 31.
For submissions, email firstname.lastname@example.org