Result reversal reshapes race for HDNL finals

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Up for grabs: Leitchville-Gunbower’s Gemma Angove, left, and LBU's Jessie Hardess jockey for position. LBU and LG are two of three teams fighting it out for the HDNL’s last finals spot. Photo: Steve Huntley

It was already set to be a thrilling conclusion to the Heathcote District Netball League season this weekend, but a decision from the league to strip a side of four points has thrown things up in the air on the eve of the final round of the season.

Elmore cruised to a comfortable 84-25 win over Huntly on Saturday and seemed to have moved back into top spot on the ladder, but an announcement from the HDFNL on Wednesday said the four points has instead gone to the Hawks after a “by-law breach”.

The HDFNL confirmed Elmore had fielded a player that was not on the team sheet, the breach that lead to the Bloods’ score getting changed to zero.

“This is an extremely unfortunate and disappointing set of circumstances,” HDFNL Board chair Peter Cole said.

“After much discussion, the board unanimously agreed that the precedent for this breach of by-Laws has been already set and the board needed to be consistent with the penalties.”

The decision now reshapes the finals race heading into the final week of the season.

Huntly was initially seventh on the ladder, behind Lockington-Bamawm United and Leitchville-Gunbower on percentage, but the four points sees the Hawks now move up into fifth — one game ahead of LBU and LG.

Despite the ladder reshuffle, it is still the Bombers who are the most likely to reach the finals.

LG must win its clash against Heathcote – which has now been mathematically eliminated from finals contention — and hope that top side White Hills can beat Huntly.

The Bombers will also need a percentage swing to move ahead of the Hawks — they would need to beat the Saints by about 10 goals and hope that White Hills beat Huntly by about 30 goals. White Hills beat Huntly 68-25 earlier this season, while LG topped Heathcote 47-31 when they met in round nine.

Heading into the must-win game this weekend, Bombers coach Lauren Dehne said her side was raring to go.

“We are fired up and ready to go, we should have everyone ready for the weekend,” Dehne said.

“Everyone is excited. We love that we are coming in towards the end of the season still with a chance of finals and we are embracing that moment.

“It is still in our hands to a certain degree, we just need to focus on what we can control. we will give it a crack this weekend and see what happens.”

LG won just one game last season, and a win could see them return to the finals for the first time since 2017.

For LBU, the Elmore-Huntly decision means its hopes of finals are all but gone. Now one win behind Huntly, the Cats must win this weekend against an Elmore side that has lost just one game all year.

Prior to the decision, LBU still had a chance of finishing fifth even with a loss if other results had gone their way, but that possibility is now gone.

Even so, Cats coach Jess Hardess said she backed the league’s decision.

“I think absolutely the league has made a fair decision and I think it sets a good precedence,” Hardess said.

“It is unfortunate for us and it is unfortunate for Heathcote, but it’s just one of those things that happens.

“We missed opportunities earlier this season that could have cemented that spot. It’s like losing a game by a goal — you can blame it all on the last moment, but there was all these other things that happened before that we controlled that could have changed the result.

“Elmore was always going to be a tough game. We are just going to go out there and give it our all like we have all season and see what happens.”

Cole praised LBU for the way the club has handled the news of the Elmore-Huntly game.

“I would like to make special mention about the LBUFNC, on how they have taken this news, it shows great character of the club the way they accepted the news on this situation,” Cole said.

The Cats were winless last season and had just one victory in 2019, but the team looked like it was on the brink of their first finals appearance since 2015.

Regardless, with the most wins in a season since 2017, it has still been a successful year for LBU.

At the top of the table, the decision means White Hills is now in prime position to claim the minor premiership.

The Demons are now four points ahead of Elmore with one round to play. White Hills has lost just one game so far this season, and a win over Huntly would clinch its second first-place finish in the last four seasons.