Rachael Bland insists The Big One is long overdue for North East hoops fans hungry to see women’s basketball reach the next level.
One of the true trailblazers for women’s sport in the region is confident Friday’s WBBL clash can be the springboard for bumper crowds every week.
More than 1,000 tickets have already been sold as Newcastle Eagles prepare to face Caledonia Pride at the Vertu Motors Arena.
And with The Big One capturing the imagination on both sides of the border Bland said: “This showcase for women’s basketball has been a long time coming.
“Something akin to The Big One has been talked about many times before and I was always confident it could happen here.
“Maybe we just haven’t had the infrastructure or the resources to do it properly in the past.
“I’m just thankful to everyone involved with Newcastle Eagles that we’ve finally made the move and made it happen.
“There’s a huge support network behind women’s basketball in the region and a real appetite to see the sport grow.
“At the top level we have an entertaining product and there’s definitely a place for the WBBL in the North East sporting community.
“There’s a huge buzz about The Big One and these are exciting times for women’s basketball.
“It’s great to see Friday’s game capturing the imagination and great to see so many people behind our team and what we’re trying to do.”
Bland has battled her way back from injury in time to play a key role in The Big One.
And the popular Wearsider was prepared to work overtime in order to put herself in the frame for the best-supported WBBL Championship game the UK has ever seen.
“I was injured at the turn of the year and then missed the cup final with Covid,” added Bland.
“It’s been a long road back since then but I’ll be fit for Friday and raring to go.
“I have a tendon injury that needs managing between now and the end of the season but I was never going to miss The Big One.
“It’s huge. When you think we’ve already sold more than 1,000 tickets it’s just amazing.
“We’ve never had that many people in the house for a game of women’s basketball and it’s all set up to be a really competitive night.
“We match up well with the Pride and both teams are chasing a playoff place.”
The Scots head south sitting four points ahead and a place above Newcastle in the final playoff position.
But Noelia Cacheiro’s side has three games in hand on the Pride as the Eagles look to lift themselves back into the top eight before the end of the regular season.
“Every game is must-win at this stage of the year and both teams will be conscious of that come tip-off on Friday,” added Bland.
“Caledonia are a very tenacious team and they play like one big engine — they just never stop.
“But we’re ready to face that energy and give it back double.
“Newcastle is their derby and they’ll be coming down here determined to spoil the party.
“It’s always a good battle against them and I’m expecting another scrap on Friday.
“Both teams will be very motivated and it’s a great match-up for The Big One.”
Bland will make her first appearance under new coach Cacheiro when Newcastle tackle the Pride.
The Eagles’ Spanish playcaller picked up her first win against Gloucester City Queens earlier this month.
And Bland added: “I’ve been really happy with how the team’s responded to a difficult period.
“Nobody would choose to lose their coach midway through the season and this group of players have faced a lot of adversity.
“It would have been easy for us to give up after everything’s that’s happened in the last few weeks but the opposite is true.
“We’re gelling well under a new regime and there’s a lot of positivity around the place.
“Adversity can often make you stronger and that’s what I’m seeing right now.”
The Big One tips off at the Vertu Motors Arena from 7.30pm on Friday and tickets are still available on the box office./thebigone