The Perth Redbacks women put in a lot of hard work during the NBL1 West regular season to earn a finals double chance, but they now go into Friday’s clash with the Joondalup Wolves hoping it’s not required.
The Redbacks finished the NBL1 West Women’s Division season with an 11-7 record to end up in third position on the table to earn a playoff double chance coming into Friday night’s qualifying final against the Lady Wolfpack at Joondalup’s HBF Arena at 7pm.
With the new playoff structure, that means that given the Wolves and Redbacks finished second and third respectively, the winner of Friday night’s match will advance to the preliminary final on their home floor in two weeks’ time. Meanwhile, the loser will also be on their home court next week in a cut-throat semi-final against the winner of the elimination final between the Rockingham Flames and Cockburn Cougars (also being played on Friday at Mike Barnett Sports Complex).
The Wolves might have finished the regular season four wins ahead of the Redbacks, but they are both now vying for the same prize on Friday night and it continues quite the fascinating rivalry that has been building in recent years.
In 2018 when the Redbacks finished second at the end of the SBL season (before bowing out in two tight semi-final matches to the Mandurah Magic), that team included Kayla Steindl, Nes’eya Williams and Alix Hayward. They were also coached by Charles Nix who was assisted by Tim Rendulic and Steve Matthews. All of those people are now up at the Wolves. They enjoyed a West Coast Classic Championship in 2020 and are looking for more silverware in 2021.
While Joondalup, without doubt, poses a significant challenge for the Redbacks on Friday night, Perth has done a tremendous job this regular season to end up in third position and to be entering the playoffs on the back of a strong home win against the Cockburn Cougars last Friday.
With Makailah Dyer running the point and supported in the backcourt by Bri Bailey, Raya Thompson and Sarah Allen, with Jess Jakens, Maddie Allen and Shenae Hartree up front, it’s a strong looking Redbacks outfit.
The good thing about the group is that everyone has their own defined role and coach Craig Allen is proud of them for earning the finals double chance.
“We were extremely happy to finish in third position,” Allen said.
“That was a target of ours to get top four so it was very pleasing to see how the cards fell into place for us, and you will obviously take that when it happens in your favour.
“It now gives us a good opportunity having a double chance that hopefully, we can take advantage of now.”
The Redbacks won’t quite be at full strength, though, with experienced guard Denielle Ashworth not overcoming a knee injury time to play. Allen admits they will miss her 278 games of experience.
“Unfortunately, Del hasn’t come up with her knee and she’s going to be out so that’s unfortunate, but it just adds another challenge to the group,” he said.
“It’s another variable we have to overcome and unfortunately injuries are part of sport so we just have to manage them the best we can and come up with a way of playing without her.”
Since several players and the coaching staff made the move from the Redbacks to the Wolves following that 2018 season, there’s been a budding rivalry there between the two clubs and Allen expects that to only go up another level now.
“We’ve had some really close contests with them over the last couple of seasons and the split must be pretty close to 50-50 over the last three years now. It’s a really exciting prospect to be taking them on now and it’s a challenge we’re looking forward to definitely,” Allen said.
“I think the fact they have former Redbacks in their midst just adds another element to the challenge really. There’s obviously a familiarity that comes with that from previous experiences, but it’s also a huge challenge to take them on. That just adds that little bit of extra spice to it that’s for sure.”
While the Redbacks have done well enough during the regular season to have earned a double chance, Allen and his playing group is hoping they don’t have to cash it in and can win on Friday to earn the week off before playing for a spot in the Grand Final.
“No doubt it is a good position to be in and it is nice to have that little bit of a safety net, but at the end of the day if you are thinking that way then you probably won’t go into this game and actually compete as well as you know you can,” Allen said.
“Obviously the objective is to win this game and earn the week off so that’s all we are focusing on, but you want to achieve that top-four spot to have that fall back if you happen to need it. But hopefully, we won’t need it and that’s our plan.”