Season starts now as premiers embrace variety
HOCKEY: After the traditional interruptions in play, the Ipswich season starts now.
That's how Wests coach Brent Nicholls is preparing his team as it steps up its A Grade title defence.
Nicholls deliberately kept the pre-season and early games low-key knowing it was a long season and expecting regular breaks for holidays and Super League.
With the Commonwealth Games also in April, another weekend of A Grade fixtures was delayed in the Ipswich competition.
Nicholls didn't mind that because of the increased exposure the Games give to hockey.
But after his competition-leading team beat main rivals Hancocks 4-1 on Friday night, Nicholls said it was time to plan ahead.
"We've been taking it pretty slowly,'' Nicholls said. "We're happy where we are at.
"There's no point getting all wound up for this part of the year. You've really got to build for the back end of the season.
"Now the season starts, we'll show a little bit more continuity.''
With Ipswich having a four-team A Grade competition, he also appreciates the annual Combined Competition games against Toowoomba sides at this time of the year.
"The variety is essential and it's good for both centres,'' Nicholls said.
"It's good for teams to travel together and get away.
"It not only breaks up the season but it's actually an enjoyable part of the season.''
Nicholls said Wests were continuing to develop a group of C Grade players for the future.
Rising talent Jordn Office is hoping to return to the Magpies line-up in a fortnight after fracturing her fingers playing in Brisbane before the Super League championships.
Senior Wests players Amy Kickbusch and Amy Nicholls have maintained their important roles developing Wests' young stocks. They both scored on Saturday night along with another reliable player Jess Wilkinson.
In the other A Grade women's clash, Swifts drew with Norths 1-1 on Saturday night.
Norths coach Jamie Burns is happy how his team is improving and building pressure, especially in the second half.
"Probably the biggest thing is they are grinding a game out now,'' Burns said.
"A year or two ago, they would have just dropped their heads and get pumped.
"It's looking very positive.''
Captain Sarah Parlett is leading the way after returning from a hand injury at the start of the season.
Burns is pleased how his defensive formation is linking, featuring Jess Fox, Kirsten Ihle and Jess Chapplin.
Goalkeeper Jade McDougall has been solid with Maddie Denny among the young players gaining valuable experience off the bench.
Erin Alchin and Nat Walker have strengthened Norths after switching from Thistles.
"It's a pretty happy atmosphere in there at the moment,'' Burns said. "They seem pretty competitive.''
Swifts face Wests in their next game on Saturday night at the Ipswich Hockey Complex.
In the latest men's A Grade clashes, Hancock Brothers continued their steady progress. The defending premiers beat Wests 5-1.
Norths returned to the winner's list by overcoming Easts 6-2 in Saturday night's fast-paced game.