MANGOPLAH-Cookardinia United-Eastlakes have prepared for life without Sophie Fawns by luring sharpshooter Katie Caller back to the fold in a 47-33 first round win over Griffith on Saturday.
Fawns is now permanently based in Sydney after recently making her on-court debut with NSW Swifts, and was part of their premiership seasons in 2019 and 2020.
But goal-shooter Caller, who played alongside Fawns in the shooting semi circle in 2019, is a fine replacement, while young guns Ava Moller and Kaylah Upfield have taken on the goal attack role.
Moller was recently named in the NSW under-17 side's train-on squad, and was most valuable player in playing for Southern Sports Academy in last weekend's Academy Games in Wagga.
The Goannas have dominated the competition the past few years, but the Swans loomed as a huge threat last year before the finals series was cancelled.
Griffith was without coach Georgia Fuller and prize off season recruit, former Melbourne Vixens player Johannnah Munro, but MCUE was also missing Moller and newcomer Rachel Mullane.
It was Mikaela Cole's first official outing as head coach, and she was rapt with their start to the year.
"It's a pretty exciting start to the season. They (Griffith) were the only team to beat us last year and it was our only loss in two years," she said.
"It was difficult for me to pick awards, because everyone across the court had a real consistent four quarters.
"It's a good standard of netball to start off with and it can only go up from here."
Mid-courter Cole said the nerves were jangling before her first match.
"Our coaches have been great the last couple of years and it's obviously a lot of pressure following in their footsteps, but we've got good players and it makes things easier when everyone's so talented," she said.
"I've played with Katie for years and that connection I have with feeding the ball into her is great. It's been years in the making.
"Ava plays a very similar game to Sophie. She's younger and a little less experienced, but she'll fill that hole pretty nicely.
"We still think Griffith will be our biggest test, it's hard to know who teams have picked up over the off season."
In other matches Turvey Park beat Collingullie Glenfield Park 44-32, Coolamon was too strong for Narrandera 58-25 and Ganmain-Grong Grong-Matong held off Wagga Tigers 37-31.
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