WAGGA Blaze skipper Steph Male says it's been a battle to keep the team match-ready and motivated after a stop-start Waratah League campaign where they've played just ten games in six months.
The Blaze will look to defend their division one title and bring home a third championship banner in four years at the Waratah League's finals series at Terrigal this weekend.
A semi final against Tamworth awaits on Saturday afternoon, with the victors to take on the winners of Queanbeyan-Coffs Harbour in Sunday's decider.
Male, who returns after missing the Blaze's overtime win over Goulburn a fortnight ago, said it's been a challenge negotiating the sporadic schedule, the result of a handful of clubs withdrawing late.
"It's been really tough but bringing the intensity to training is the way we're getting through," Male said.
"It's a pretty long season otherwise, even if it was condensed down to a couple of months it would be a lot better than starting from scratch each game.
"For some of the girls that consistency is really needed, which we're not getting at the moment compared to the metro teams who can get a lot more match practice.
"We have to do extra work outside of games and training because we don't have weekly games."
Male was named the league's defensive player of the year on Thursday, and her intensity will be a welcome boost for the Blaze after they fell down in that area in their comeback win over the Bears on August 4.
Rebounding was also a major issue, but Male said they're effort areas that are easily addressed.
Blaze mentor Peter O'Leary was named coach of the year.
"It (Bears game) was definitely a wake-up call. They had to dig deeper physically and mentally and probably was good preparation for this finals weekend," Male said.
"Our defence is a priority, but there'll also be an emphasis on offensive rebounds."
Male identified shutting down Tamworth forward and prolific scoring threat Emily Tudman as key to booking a grand final berth.
Male, Abbey Morton and Summa Stephens are the only Blaze players to feature in both their previous championship wins in 2016 and last year.
"They're a pretty big team and have some experience as well as some young, quick players," Male said.
"They'll be tough and physical, we'll definitely have to bring our defensive pressure."
Wagga beat the Thunderbolts 72-64 in their only meeting this year in May.
The Blaze-Thunderbolts game will tip off at 1.30pm Saturday, with Sunday's grand final at 1pm.
All games at Waratah League finals weekend will be streamed on their Facebook page.