GISBORNE has taken a giant step towards sealing the coveted double chance after beating a talent-laden Castlemaine at Camp Reserve on Saturday.
The Bulldogs, bolstered by the inclusion of Melbourne Vixens training partner Jordan Cransberg and led by a standout performance in defence from 2018 BFNL league medallist Maddy Stewart, defeated the Magpies 49-37.
Their best win of the season to date pushed the Bulldogs six points clear of South Bendigo in the race for third spot after the Bloods lost by 23 goals against Sandhurst at the QEO.
A brilliant team effort for the Bulldogs came against a Magpies line-up featuring Cransberg's fellow Vixens training partner Gabby Coffey, Mikaela Vaughan, Kelsie Rainbow and Magpies coach Fiona Fowler.
Gisborne coach Tarryn Rymer said it was undoubtedly her team's most impressive all-around performance this season, underpinned by a strong 14-8 opening term.
"It was good to get a win against another quality team and just play really good netball," she said.
"That first five minutes of the first quarter I knew we were in for a really tough game, but the girls' work rate was fantastic. It was the best I have seen them work together as a team.
"Individually, I know we have some great players, but we have to work together to make it click, so I thought we did a really good job.
"(The margin) surprised me in the end; we made a few changes, especially with Jordy (Cransberg), but whatever position we threw her in she made a really big impact.
"And the girls around her did a really good job as well, particularly Claudia (Mawson) and Rylee (Connell). They really stepped up."
The Bulldogs were made to sweat after their star goal attack Mawson was sidelined during the second quarter with a quad injury.
But the Victorian Fury squad member returned to action in the third and was a major influence in the second half.
Her spot at goal attack in the second quarter was taken firstly by emerging youngster Olivia Floreani, before Cransberg made the move into goals from wing attack.
Every bit as pivotal to the win as Cransberg's impact in attack and the midcourt was a tight-knit defensive effort from skipper Stewart, Polly Salter and wing defence Kirby Elliott, who continues to enjoy a fine first season in the BFNL.
"Maddy and our defenders created a lot of opportunities," Rymer said.
"But what we did well was we scored off those balls. I thought we really took our opportunities."
The Bulldogs will look to carry their momentum into next weekend's clash against Maryborough at Gisborne.
Castlemaine joint coach Gary Cooke viewed the defeat as an opportunity lost, with the Magpies missing their chance to slip past South Bendigo on the ladder.
He paid full credit to Gisborne for a polished and professional performance
"We were pretty pumped at the start, we thought we had a really good chance, but they just put the right sort of pressure on us and forced us into plenty of turnovers," Cooke said.
"Defensively, we were getting lots of turnovers, but we just couldn't capitalise on them.
"A team like Gisborne will punish you on the scoreboard.
"Each quarter we tried to make a little adjustment and it started to work; the first five minutes of each quarter we sort of had a bit of control, but they came back like a good side.
"They put great pressure on us and are so well coordinated in defence.
"There's still a bit of work to do for us."
The Magpies will look to rebound against the Storm at Strathfieldsaye next weekend, before a much-anticipated return clash against South Bendigo, which lost to Sandhurst by 23 goals on Saturday.
In other games, second-placed Kangaroo Flat produced another massive score in an 87-30 win over Eaglehawk, Maryborough returned to the winner's list for the first time since round five with a 74-51 victory over Golden Square, and Kyneton led all day to defeat Strathfieldsaye 54-43.
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