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Winning smiles . . . The Eastern Southland netball team celebrates its 40-31 win over Dunedin Gold in the final of the first South Island senior championships in Dunedin on Sunday. PHOTO: ANNETTE HEFFERNAN

They were together for a mere two weeks and practised only twice but Eastern Southland netball team members pulled off a stunning victory at the South Island senior championships at the weekend.

Eastern won the inaugural competition, held at Dunedin’s Edgar Centre, beating Dunedin Gold 40-31 in the final on Sunday.

The team, spearheaded by captain Ashleigh Smith, shone through in the end with a dominant fourth quarter to take the title.

It was a tight tussle but a 6-0 run to begin the fourth was instrumental in the win.

Smith said she was “blown away” by Eastern’s performance during the three-day competition.

“We really went in as underdogs – I mean, we were only together for two weeks.

“We’re really over the moon about it. We didn’t expect it at all.”

Eastern trailed for the first half of the final but edged in front midway through the third quarter.

“I’m not really sure what happened but naturally we seem to really put the foot down in the final parts.

“We build from that third quarter and it’s the quarter that really makes or breaks the game.”

The team included four Ex High players, two Knapdale players and Ella Brown, who plays for Physed in Dunedin.

Southern Steel players Kate and Georgia Heffernan returned home to play for Eastern as well.

The team had two practices, but the Dunedin players were available for only one.

“I think there’s a lot to be said that we all get along well.

“It helped with all our connections just gelling well,” Smith said.

Former Silver Fern Donna Wilkins provided a wealth of knowledge as coach.

“Donna walked in every day, looked at the trophy and said ‘we’re going to win that’.

“She’s got great connections with the players,” she said.

“She’s got great expectations and is just so practical in her approach.”

Former Silver Fern Annette Heffernan was a crucial component as team manager, Smith said.

“She’s the one that gelled this team together. She was under the pump the entire time but she was there for us no matter what.

“She was absolutely amazing.”

Eastern president Emma Hanley was ecstatic with Eastern’s championship title.

“We’re absolutely rapt with it, especially with the short turnaround they had to get together.

“Having Donna was an extra plus for us, taking time out of her busy schedule to help.”

Eastern intended to put the team together again and defend its title next year, she said.