We've reached the halfway point of the Orange Netball Association's 2019 Toyota Cup season and one thing is clear, it's as exciting a competition as ever.
But there's a number of other important points that have come to the fore in the opening two months of the season, which have featured plenty of surprise results, a remarkable resurgence and a surprising debut from one side in particular.
With the competition resuming on Saturday, July 20, check out five of the important points that have become clear over the opening eight rounds.
1 | THERE'S LIFE IN CUP YET
Even though they suffered their first loss of the season leading into the mid-season break and it came at the hands of the second-placed defending premiers Orange City Craig Harvey Mechanical, it still appears as though the 2019 Toyota Cup it's Life Studio's to lose.
With an exciting, youthful, speedy outfit led by the likes of NSW under-17 ace Alex Emerson Life Studio hadn't been touched until they faltered against the 11-time defending premiers, no side had come closer than 12 goals to them prior to that defeat.
In a competition like this it's almost impossible to go through a season undefeated so it was inevitable Life Studio would stumble at some point, and I'm inclined to think a loss to the defending premiers might just re-stoke the fire within the navy and lime bibs.
Oh, there's still a very real chance all three Life Studio sides could feature in the finals too. Mid West Eyes and Sportspower are both just four points outside the top four heading into the mid-season break, and they've both proved on their day they match it with the competition's best.
2 | WELCOME BACK OHS
I'm no stranger to reporting on Orange High sides performing well, but it's always been in the Astley Cup or the NSW Combined High Schools tournaments, never the Toyota Cup.
Since I've been at the Central Western Daily the Hornets have largely struggled or not been in the competition at all, a far cry from when I was at school at Orange High, we were all acutely aware of how powerful the High A sides of that era were, and before that too.
I'll also happily admit I've not seen the side in action this year so personally, I probably can't comment on them outside what I've seen results wise. With that in mind there's no one better to judge them than the teams, skippers and coaches they've come up against this year and the message so far has been unanimous - this Hornets side is the real deal.
They did falter against Life Studio Mid West Eyes a few weeks ago, a shock loss to the then seventh-placed side, but recovered on the weekend to head into the mid-season break in third spot and still well and truly in the minor premiership frame too.
All eyes are on their first game back after the break, when they take on competition leaders Life Studio in a genuine test of their premiership credentials.
3 | BIGGER PICTURE REMAINS
This year's Toyota Cup is an exciting a competition as I can remember but you we have to keep in mind how beneficial it is for the association and region, holistically.
It's the highest quality club competition in the western region, there's no doubt about that, and that's the reason you see players like the Maier sisters and Aurella White coming to Orange to play, they're based in Parkes and Forbes respectively.
That level of competition is obviously beneficial for Orange's Netball NSW Bing Lee West-Central West Regional League campaigns, and any other tournaments the senior Thunder sides play at, but more so for the younger representative outfits.
Let's put Life Studio Sportspower in focus here.
The promoted side has well and truly exceeded the few expectations put on them so far in 2019, finding their feet in a big way and stretching the competitions' best.
But this is an outfit that makes up a big portion of Orange's under-15 Thunder side, which finished an incredible fifth at the HART Senior State Titles earlier this year.
There's little doubt the forward steps they've taken by testing themselves against older, more-experienced, more-developed players week-to-week has had a huge influence on them in the representative arena.
Think about what they could do when they go away as an under-17 side, with more top tier experience under their belt.
They're one example, because there's countless junior representative players scattered across the competitions' other sides who reap those developmental benefits too.
4 | VIPERS' BEST YET TO COME
Vipers lost just one regular season game in 2018, but they've already lost the all of the competition's top three sides in the opening half of this year.
Last year's beaten grand finalists are building new combinations after plenty of player turnover, the loss of gun shooter Nicole Thorogood has hit them hardest, her 100 per cent record in the second half of last year's decider was a big reason they forced it into extra-time.
The general consensus suggest they're yet to put together a four-quarter performance but that will inevitably come, considering the quality still in their group, it's just a matter of when.
With that in mind, is there a more dangerous side in this competition?
Maybe there is, but when there's a side that's fourth and just four points adrift of the competition leaders but still haven't produced their best netball by a long shot, who knows what they could in the back end of the season.
5 | THE BAR'S GETTING HIGHER
With a number of sports seemingly dipping in terms of participation numbers, interest and even standard in regional NSW, Orange Netball Association's competitions are doing the complete opposite, the top tier in particular is going from strength-to-strength.
It's been unanimous so far in 2019 that the standard of the Toyota Cup has lifted again and that filters down to the West Orange Motors Senior Competitions' lower divisions too, and all the way down to juniors where, for example, the under-8 division boasts a whopping 22 teams.
It's incredible progression, that's continuing to lead the association's push for more netball courts in the city and everyone involved should be applauded, it's no mean feat to keep a sport developing as consistently as netball does in Orange.
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