RIVAL coaches, Gisborne's Tarryn Rymer and Sandhurst's Tamara Gilchrist are embracing a challenging start to the BFNL netball season for their respective clubs.
In the undoubted highlight of round one, two of the league's genuine premiership contenders will clash at Gardiner Reserve on Saturday.
Gisborne and Sandhurst have been permanent fixtures towards the top of the A-grade ladder throughout the past decade, with the Dragons aiming for an intriguing fourth-straight premiership, albeit across six years, following no competition in 2020 and the cancellation of the 2021 season ahead of finals due to COVID.
Far from daunted, Rymer could not envisage a tougher, but more perfect way to start the season than with a first-up clash against the competition's benchmark.
"It's really going to show us where we are at and how our pre-season went," she said.
"It's going to be a really good opportunity for some of our younger girls to see what they can do.
"We'll have to bring our A-grade game against Sandhurst, that's for sure first-up.
"They are a well-drilled unit and have played together for years. It will be a good test."
The Bulldogs, who ended last year's abbreviated season in third place with an 8-2-1 record, will debut two newcomers, one at each end of the court.
VNL star and Victorian Fury squad member Claudia Mawson will join Rylee Connell in the goal circle, while at the defensive end, former Riddell District league rising star award winner Kirby Elliott has made the move to the Gisborne from Riddell.
With Sandhurst returning all but one of last year's line-up, the Dragons line-up is every bit as familiar as it is formidable.
"Our aim will be to shut down the drive they get through the midcourt and really apply some pressure early," Rymer said.
"And hopefully we can maintain possession of the ball."
"Our goalers have been playing some really good netball (in pre-season), so I am interested to see how they go against Sandhurst's strong defensive line-up. I think they have one of the best defensive line-ups in this league."
With some excellent pre-season form behind them and a bunch of players having already taken to the VNL court, Gilchrist declared the Dragons (10-1 last season) as ready to go.
"It's a really tough one first-up, but it's good to see where you are at early on," she said.
"Gisborne is an awesome side and it's hard to win in Gisborne. We've always found them hard to beat down there, but we are looking forward to the challenge.
"We should be at full strength, as long as nothing goes wrong (on Friday), but we're finding in these times we are learning to be flexible.
"We did have a good run with our three practice matches, but it's never quite the same as being ready for round one, but we are as ready as we can be."
Spirits in the Dragons camp are high following the debut VNL performance during the week from Bec Smith, who got a late call-up to play with Boroondara Express' division one team alongside Kangaroo Flat's Chelsea Sartori and Abbey Ryan.
Gilchrist said the club's three-time premiership goal shooter well and truly showed she belonged at that level, acquitting herself exceptionally in a one-goal loss.
"There's been talk for years about her going down to have a crack at VNL, but she just never got around it - the commitment is huge," she said.
"She just can't get to training with her work and other stuff, but for her first game, she was awesome."
With no BFNL games played since early August last year, Gilchrist said Sandhurst was fortunate to have the likes of Smith and VNL regulars Meg Williams, who is again the Dragons' captain, Sophie Shoebridge and Ruby Turner, getting some match play under their belt before a tough round one clash.
In other games this weekend, Castlemaine makes its much-anticipated return to A-grade against Kyneton at Camp Reserve, South Bendigo and Golden Square clash at the QEO, and Strathfieldsaye hosts Eaglehawk.
READ MORE: Castlemaine prime for A-grade return
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