Northern Rangers’ breakthrough women’s Northern Championship title didn’t come easy.
In fact it took 11 years, a 16-year-old goalkeeper and a tension-filled 2-1 win over Devonport Strikers for the Launceston-based outfit to taste premiership success.
Joining the competition in 2007, Rangers have found it difficult to lock down a spot at the top of the ladder, regularly finishing in the bottom half of the table.
But after finishing 45 points and five places behind title-winners Ulverstone in 2015, things started to change.
Under the tutelage of new coach Rod Fulton, Rangers jetted up the table to finish in third place, with league best-and-fairest Emma Langley netting 36 goals for the year.
Armed with a renewed self-belief and a rejuvenated list, Rangers mounted a campaign founded on building the league’s best defence, and ultimately managed to hold their nerve in the final two catch-up games to finish one point clear of Riverside and claim the title.
“Launceston City and Ulverstone both had teams in the Super League this year so at Northern level that weakened them a little bit, there’s no doubt about that,” Fulton said.
“But the girls can only win the competition that’s there and for us it was a breakthrough season with a very young team, our average age would still only be around the 18 or 19 mark, so we’re still very young.”
One of the team’s youngest was goalkeeper Tanita Nortje, a 16-year-old who spent the year juggling NTJSA commitments with senior duties.
“She’s been a revelation for sure.
“We wanted to get her up for a few games but as it happened we had a couple of other goalkeeping options that fell through, so she finished up playing 19 of the 20 games and we finished up with the best defence in the league on the back of a 16-year-old goalkeeper.
“At the start of the year it was always a case of ‘wouldn’t it be good to get her to play one or two games?’, but she played (nearly) every game and was rock solid.”
Langley was again a star performer, eclipsing her 2016 tally and scoring 11 in an 18-0 rout of Burnie in round 10.
Jessica Loft – the only remaining player from the 2007 squad – also played an important role over the course of the season.
Fulton said he was proud of how far his team had advanced in the past few years.
“We strengthened our squad last year and strengthened it again this year, and I think just by having the right kind of vibe around the team it helps to get people that are thinking of coming back and playing or thinking of moving from one club to (ours).
“We’ve just kept improving, and from not being in a real happy place a couple of years ago to winning the thing, it’s really good.”