|January 28, 2023||7:30 pm||WBBL Championship||2022-23|
Bullish Rachael Bland insists Newcastle Eagles boast the talent and experience to send northern rivals Sheffield Hatters packing tonight.
The experienced guard promised lessons have been learnt from sobering back-to-back losses against title-chasing Leicester Riders and London Lions.
And Bland expects the Abby Lowe factor to give Newcastle a fresh injection of power, pace and passion against an ‘effective, efficient and clinical’ Hatters.
“Sheffield are a good team and they’re a powerful roster year in, year out,” admitted Bland.
“They’re physical and they use the ball well.
“They boast a solid core of British talent and they’re tough to break down.
“We know what to expect but we know we can compete.”
Bland accepts the Eagles failed to compete for long periods of last weekend’s homecourt blowout at the hands of star-studded London.
And the Wearsider is still smarting at the way Newcastle allowed Leicester such an easy ride at the Vertu Motors Arena the previous week.
But as Noelia Cacheiro’s side prepares for the third of four home fixtures on the bounce a focused Bland is full of optimism.
“How do you move on from two heavy homecourt defeats — it’s a good question,” she added.
“But with basketball, like any other sport, you take the highs with the lows.
“Nobody likes to lose in front of their own fans. It’s not nice.
“But the fact remains we faced two very good teams back to back and it was always going to be a challenge.
“The way we move forward is by learning lessons and you never stop learning in this game.
“As a player and as a team you strive to be better and strive to compete against these top sides.”
The return of Lowe — after the dynamic guard gained her international clearance earlier this week — will add a cutting edge to Newcastle’s competitive spirit.
And Bland added: “You can’t underestimate what Abby can bring to this group.
“She has lots of speed, lots of talent and lots of enthusiasm. That enthusiasm is contagious.”
Cacheiro will make a late call on sidelined trio Marina Fernandez, Zoe Willis and Courtney Clasen ahead of tonight’s 7.30pm tip.
But Bland believes home fans will see a rejuvenated roster whoever makes the final cut.
“We’ve got a wealth of talent at the club and even if we’re missing a couple of key players we can still be competitive this weekend and moving forward,” she added.
“I’d imagine Noelia will leave it as long as she can with the injured players but we’ll go hard with what we’ve got.
“It’s always a pity when players are missing and I’d like to see this roster operating at full strength with the addition of Abby.
“But setbacks are part and parcel of this game and we have a good cohort of players here.
“Crucially our bigs are all fit and it’s great to have the option of Chloe [Gaynor], Katie [Nolan] and Nette. It’s a nice problem to have.”
A bigger problem is how Newcastle and the rest of the WBBL meet the challenge laid down by moneybags London.
The Lions are streets ahead of every other franchise in the UK right now — including star-studded Leicester.
And the debate is raging around the true value of a team that threatens to crush every opponent in its path.
“I try to look at the bigger picture,” explained Bland. “London are on a different level to every other team in this league and they’ve brought an extra layer of professionalism to the WBBL.
“When they’re flying the flag for our league in Europe we’re all rooting for them and we want them to do well.
“London’s progress shows the giant strides that they’re making right now and with my league hat on I look at that as a positive.
“They’re bringing greater exposure to our league and it’s great to see.
“Ultimately it comes down to funding. London have shown what’s possible if you’re able to fully fund a women’s WBBL programme.
“It’s tough for the rest of us right now but it’s good for the league.”
Tickets for the clash are still available on the box office in advance and on the door.