After three byes in the first 11 rounds of the 2021 Katrina Fanning Shield, the Yass Magpies women now have a clear run through to the finals.
The Magpies have built an immensely impressive start to the year despite the constant interruptions to their momentum, during which time they have collected seven wins and one loss.
After the Magpies did not field a team in 2020, due to COVID-19, they have returned to their winning ways remarkably quickly.
Yass coach, Mike Inkster, has been thrilled with the results from the first half of the season, particularly in light of the fact that the Magpies are yet to find their best form.
"The girls were very keen to get back into it," Inkster said.
"Some girls played last year in the combined Bushpies team. That was good, but that had its challenges as well because they played a different style of football to what we play.
"Plus we've got a few new players, girls who have never played tackle before and a some young girls coming up from the junior leagues. It really is a new squad and we're trying new things."
The Magpies' final bye of the season took place last weekend. As of this Saturday, they have a seven-match run into the finals starting with a clash against the UC Stars.
"[The next seven weeks will be] absolutely critical," Inkster said.
"We've got a plan coming in to this next seven-week period around training schedules, intensity, various games that we've got and what we need to do.
"It's definitely needed ... we'll manage our injuries and fatigue during that seven-week period, we're definitely glad we've got that straight run in now."
As the Magpies progress through the final stretch of the season, they will take on their three most serious contenders for the premiership: the Goulburn Bulldogs, Queanbeyan Blues, and Tuggeranongs Bushrangers.
Of those three, the Bulldogs are nearest to Yass with a record of eight wins and one loss, and sit a close second on the ladder.
Goulburn and Yass have played once already this season, in a match from which the Magpies emerged with a 22-4 victory.
"That was a tough game, we got bashed for the first 17 or 18 minutes," Inkster said.
"We were lucky and good enough to take our opportunities when they came about. That was a really good, strong game, and no doubt we'll look forward to some bruises next time we meet Goulburn."
Though he is wary of the Bulldogs, who have gone unbeaten since that game, Inkster knows that Queanbeyan and Tuggeranong cannot be overlooked as premiership contenders.
With matches against the Bushrangers (round 13), the Blues (round 14), and Goulburn (round 16) approaching, the Magpies will be under pressure to perform while missing some key players due to injury.
Forward Taylah Frost is set to have reconstructive surgery this week on her shoulder, while hooker Gabby Davis was sidelined with an ACL tear early in the season, and forward Jacinta Murphy currently has a broken hand.
Thankfully for Yass, due to the depth of its roster, the team has not struggled for numbers. But a challenge Inkster is still looking to address is its search for cohesion across the park.
"Sticking to our plans and our cohesion out through the backs [is the focus]," he said.
"We've got good depth in our forwards, so it's a matter of making sure that no matter who is on the field at any given time that they're running similar lines and doing similar things.
"We haven't quite got that together yet, so that's our focus moving forward."
The Magpies will take on the UC Stars this Saturday, July 24, from 12pm at Walker Park.
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