Sam Poolman says her Giants have been written off twice this year, but they are determined to defy the odds in Saturday night’s Super Netball grand final.
Poolman joined the fledgling club from Adelaide Thunderbirds in the off-season along with internationals Kim Green, Susan Pettitt, Bec Bulley, Jo Harten and Serena Guthrie.
But, despite their pedigree, the Giants were not among the title favourites.
Then they won their first five games, only to lose captain Green to a season-ending knee injury.
“In pre-season no one really realised the players that we had, and then when we started everyone was like, ‘Hang on, Giants could be good here.’ And then they wrote us off as soon as we lost our captain,” Poolman told the Herald.
The Giants lost their next game to eventual minor premiers Melbourne Vixens but recovered to finish third on the ladder, beat Collingwood by a point in their elimination final then trounce the Vixens last week in Melbourne to reach Saturday’s decider against Sunshine Coast Lightning.
Poolman, the 26-year-old goal keeper from Newcastle, said the grand final would be the highlight of her career to date.
“I sat there [after last week’s game] and thought, ‘How good’s this,’ because a lot of players go through their career and aren’t part of a grand final.
“To actually be able to play in a finals series for my own state team and a big club is all very special.
“I’m trying not to overdo it too much, but I’m sure after next week I’ll sit back and realise how amazing it is and what the team has achieved.”
Poolman paid tribute to Giants coach Julie Fitzgerald for giving her the chance to return to NSW.
“She gave me an opportunity, and it was the opportunity I really wanted, to play in my home state and be part of a new team. I guess I wanted to show to her how much that meant to me.
“I think I probably have done that now. It was everything I wanted, and she was the one who gave it to me.”
The Giants flew to Queensland on Thursday, where they will face a parochial crowd at Brisbane Entertainment Centre. But Poolman said the away fixture would hold no fears for her side, who have lost only once on the road this season.
“We actually play best when we’re away. I think we like spending time together,” she said.
“We have a really great team and culture. We’re all happy to go away an extra night together as a team. We get off the plane and go our separate ways but all seem to end up talking on a group chat or something.”
The two sides have traded one-point wins this season, the Giants 55-54 in round four and the Lightning 56-55 in round 14.
Poolman has won her individual battles with the league’s No.1-ranked shooter, Caitlin Thwaites, and No.3 Mwai Kumwenda in the past two weeks and faces No.2 Caitlin Bassett on Saturday.
She said her secret weapon was training week in, week out against her teammates.
“I find Jo Harten one of the most difficult shooters to play against, so to have her at training every week, and to play on Pettitt, who is one of the faster-moving players, that has helped me.
“I’m very lucky to have them on my team and training on them.”
Poolman is poised to become the first Newcastle netballer in decades to play for Australia. She said she was very aware of her status as a role model in her home city, where she has been helping representative teams prepare for the stage age championships next month.
“With more coverage around the Super Netball and me being more in the media around Newcastle has alerted a lot of people and young girls that I am from Newcastle and that’s where I grew up.”