Coastal rivalry grows

Smithton’s Sonia Poke creates space in possession during the opening GNL Women’s clash against Burnie Baptist at home on Saturday. Pictures: Bodey Dittloff.

GNL. A hard-fought match against long-time rival Burnie Baptist saw the Rocky Cape Tavern Smithton Saints’ women start off their season with a 2-1 home loss.

Both teams welcomed old and new players in 2015, with the Saints gaining lots of young talent over the off-season.

The game was even from the start as Smithton controlled the play, with new recruits Connie Perry and Abbie Hite playing strongly as half backs, overlapping and combining well with centre half Bek Lardner to continually send the ball up front.

New forwards Paige Ferguson, Caicie Keogh, Kahla Enniss, Emma Innes-Smith and Daria Reeve moved all around the field on fresh legs but were continually intercepted by a strong Baptist defence.

Early in the game, Burnie managed to jump on a loose ball in the circle and slam it into the net to gain the upper hand, but this didn’t affect the Saints with the girls working hard in the circle to earn a number of penalty corners.

Alex Mainwaring, who returned to the club after a number of years away, stepped up to the challenge and managed to get one past the keeper to score the only goal for Smithton on the day.

Former Smithton player Maddison Poke managed to score a second goal midway through the second half to give Burnie the final say.

Smithton’s Keeley Hinds had an impressive game in goals, stopping plenty of attempts from the young Baptist forwards.

She was well supported by full backs Ali Oates, Melinda Gray and Mainwaring, who transferred the ball well in defence. Kira Johnston and Laura Berechree ran hard all game and showed off their skills as did club veteran Sonia Poke.

Best players named for the home side were Lardner, Mainwaring, and Poke, with the women taking advantage of a bye this weekend.

In the GNL Men’s match, it seemed to be a case of Smithton v Smithton blue as the Saints came face to face with a new-look Burnie side in round two; a fierce contest was expected with no fewer than five former Saints filling the ranks for Baptist.

Baptist wasted no time in pressuring the home side’s defence. Smithton’s backline of Joe Coombs and Nick Stokes worked hard to keep the ball from entering the circle, but the pressure was too much and a series of short corners followed.

Smithton’s Thornton Bergman was on top of his game running down the Baptist strikers time and again, until a direct shot from the top narrowly beat the Saints’ defence and Baptist went 1-0 up.

Smithton dug in and went on the attack thanks to some hard work from Jason House and Jeremy Tuson in the midfield. Baptist however were ready for the onslaught and repelled Smithton’s advances.

The game seemed to balance in the centre of the pitch: both sides unable to break through and showing signs of fatigue heading into half time.

Burnie once again set the tempo of the game in the second half and the Saints’ defence scrambled to regroup.
Smithton’s rock in defence was once again keeper Dylan Jago. Forced to defend his goals with numbers against him, Jago pulled off a number of highlight reel saves. Unfortunately even Jago’s aerobatics were not enough to withstand Baptist’s fast breaks and Smithton found themselves down 2-0.

As the clock wound down, another long, well-timed pass from the Burnie midfield found a free striker who slotted the third for Baptist to all but seal the match.

A never-say-die attitude overcame the Saints, and the home side finally found their next gear. Ben Revell went to work out on the wing, keeping his opponent luckless and driving Smithton back in to attack.

Finally, a hard pass into the circle found the stick of striker Richard Cornish who struck a back-stick shot over the keeper and into the net.

The Saints piled on pressure and desperately tried to fight their way back into the game, but it was too little too late as the clock counted down with 3-1 the final score.

The Saints’ men now look ahead to their Anzac Day clash with South Burnie in Burnie this Saturday at 2pm. With a mixed bag of results across the league, Smithton will be confident in finding their breakthrough win for the season.

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