Excitement is building for the 2019 Wrest Point TSLW finals series, with Clarence and North Launceston set to kick things off with a do-or-die Semi Final at Blundstone Arena on Saturday.
North Launceston have impressed in their maiden TSLW campaign, securing six wins – including an upset defeat of the ‘Roos back in round nine.
Coach Dean Smith says he is proud of how far the team has gone in 2019, with players like captain Jodie Clifford, young gun Maggie Cuthbertson and key forward Emily McKinnell all delivering strong seasons.
“The girls are feeling pretty excited.They have worked pretty hard for this since November and are now really excited to play finals in their first season of TSLW.
“Our main goal at the start of the year was to make finals and we have achieved that. There’s no reason we can’t play well this week and go a step further.”
Smith is wary of what a battle-hardened Clarence outfit can produce in big moments, however, with the ‘Roos boasting 2018 Grand Final experience.
Despite Clarence having a number of key players with big-game experience, Smith is looking at this as being an advantage for his side.
“Their big-game experience is one of the biggest concerns for us. They were last year’s Grand Finalists and have a lot of experience. But the pressure and expectation, I think, is on those guys.
“We go into the game with no expectations, no pressure and ask the girls to enter the game and have fun.”
“Their experience, structures and the way they like to move the ball are the key features of their game. That’s the great thing about playing these teams, the girls are learning as they play them.”
Although North Launceston took the points when the two teams met in tough conditions back in round nine, Smith is aware that his team will go into this clash as underdogs.
“We have lost some players since then and they have got some back but I have coached enough and played enough footy to know that come finals, funny things can happen.”
Clarence finished the season with eight wins and seven losses to the claim third spot – with two wins over the Northern Bombers in rounds three (by 41 points) and 13 (by 47 points).
Vice-captain Nicole Bresnehan says her side is excited by the challenge of meeting North Launceston and that this weekend’s clash remains the team’s sole focus, despite going in as the more experienced and fancied outfit.
“It is familiar territory, but we are really excited,” the 22-year-old said.
“We have four really competitive teams in the finals, so every game will be a hard one. We have a lot of girls who haven’t played finals before, so they are all really excited.”
“We are just taking it one week at a time. If we play our brand of footy and get our structures right, we certainly have what it takes to get the win… we can’t take any game lightly in finals.”
With the ‘Roos boasting the likes of Bresnehan, Jessie Williams and the injured Maddy Smith, plenty of AFLW-level experience is being passed onto the group’s younger players, with this Clarence team housing different personnel to the grand final side of last year.
“Playing with Clarence is where I fell in love with footy and I really enjoy the game, playing at home with good friends,” Bresnehan said.
“It has been great bringing back some skills and knowledge from the AFLW experience to the young players at Clarence, and I think we have a young group this year who have done quite well in developing.”
“We have an improving group this year, with the likes of Grace (Mitchell), Nat (Pearce) and Bronte Scott all taking their games to a new level, as well as the development of young first-year players like Amy Prokopiec. If we play to our structures and play our brand, we can make an impact,” Bresnehan said.
The winner of this clash will have next weekend off before meeting the loser of Launceston and Glenorchy for a spot in the 2019 Wrest Point TSLW Grand Final.