By Jessica Robinson
It was a story of DeJa’Vu for the Australian Opals in Newcastle on Tuesday night as Japan claimed the friendly series after taking out game three by two points, 69-67.
The Opals once again opened the game with a convincing display, holding a five-point lead at the first break, however, it became a tight arm wrestle as scoreboard margins were maintained to within five points for the rest of the match.
Building off their form after the first two games, senior names Cayla George (14 points, seven rebounds, four assists, two blocks) and Sara Blicavs (15points, seven rebounds, three assists) led the Opals’ charge.
Meanwhile, Opals’ debutant Anneli Maley made an impact as soon as she hit the court. Coming off the bench, Maley found her first offensive rebound and hit her first points in the green and gold within her first minutes. Contributing 11 points, seven rebounds and a steal, Maley’s intensity impressed the likes of Opals coach, Cheryl Chambers.
“She’s come off the plane, back from the States, and she has that never die Aussie attitude so it’s great to have her out there playing,” Chambers said post-game.
“She brought some real energy, in the first half we didn’t have enough energy so to have someone who can bring that in, we want to reward that.”
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Despite losing games two and three by the smallest of margins, the Opals take confidence in keeping up with and pushing the Tokyo Olympics’ silver medallists all the way through the series. To also put on those performances with the local line up of Opals is pleasing to high performance and will make that final team selection that much harder.
“It’s been a fantastic experience. To be able to have three (international games) and add to them, and get the youngsters out there, it’s been great,” Chambers said.
“Everyone was in and out, Jade Melbourne earlier in the series, then Shyla Heal, Maddy (Rocci) has been solid but even the likes of the older players like Sara Blicavs, she made the Olympics late, but she really made some inroads. Tess Madgen was great, always leads us with her guts.”
“Hopefully there will be lots of friendlies leading into the World Cup so everyone can get a taste of it.”
The Opals will regroup once again when they enter the next training camp based at the AIS, later this month.