Kendell Ross looks to get play moving quickly for the Panthers.
Kendell Ross looks to get play moving quickly for the Panthers. Callum Dick

Panthers prevail in battle of big cats

DARLING Downs Panthers coach Rebecca Stower hopes her side's 68-48 trial win over Wide Bay Thundercats on Saturday can be a springboard for a strong season in the Samsung Queensland State Netball League.

The Panthers overcame a sluggish opening period to eventually dominate their Bundaberg-based rivals but Stower admits it took time for her side to find their feet against the Thundercats' "unorthodox" style of netball.

"They play a different style of netball; we play a very traditional game and they're a little more unorthodox," Stower said.

"It probably took a while for our girls to adjust, and that was (what I said) at the break - 'you girls have to learn to adjust much quicker'."

Adjust they did, extending the advantage at each subsequent break on their way to the 20-goal victory.

For Stower, whose Panthers finished at the foot of the QSNL Division 2 ladder in their inaugural season in the competition, the trial was a perfect opportunity to test her combinations before round one on March 11.

"We didn't play too bad, although we probably had a couple of periods we let slip but it gave me a good opportunity to try some new combinations on the court," Stower said.

"I didn't really use my starting seven (at the same time) at all in the six periods, but it was a chance to run some combinations that hadn't seen much play yet."

Stower said both sides were at a disadvantage to metropolitan teams when it came to preparing for the QSNL season.

"The hardest part about country netball is preparation - we've had to come to Kingaroy for a trial game and we were in Brisbane for another a few weeks ago," Stower said.

"It's what we have to do to get a game before the season starts, and I'm sure Wide Bay are in the same boat."

When the QSNL split into City and Country divisions, the Thundercats moved into the Country while Stower campaigned for her side to play in the traditionally stronger City competition.

"I fought for us to be in the City division, not only because geographically it makes sense but because we play a similar style to what the Brisbane teams play and I think that challenges us to move forward," Stower

said.

"I couldn't have been happier with the team last year, they're very young and managed to hold their own.

"I'm very competitive and don't like to lose so it was disappointing - some losses were only by a couple of goals, but it was overly positive.

"I had four 16-year-olds in my starting seven - we were by far the youngest team in the competition."

With a year of experience under their belts, Stower is eyeing a big push up the ladder.

"Out goal is to make top four this year," Stower said.

"We've got it all there, it's just a matter of being able to play consistently for four quarters."

Saturday's trial also marked Deidre Murray's Panthers debut.

The 15 year-old St Mary's Catholic College student and Australian Indigenous Schoolgirls' representative joined the Panthers as a training partner and has impressed the senior coach with her natural ability.

"She's got phenomenal speed and athleticism, and her anticipation - you can't train that into people," Stower said.

"Training with the opens is pushing her to a new level, and I was really happy with her performance (on Saturday).

"Now it's a matter of refining a position for her; she's been a goal defence and been able to get away with that, but I think at the next level she will need to transition to the mid-court."

With the South Burnett preparing to move from Wide Bay and into the Darling Downs Netball structure, Stower said it was great for young players like Deidre to show her peers what is possible.

"It is really good for her and for the (South Burnett) to see what can be achieved, we're always trying to identify kids that might not normally get a chance," Stower said.

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