It was a big weekend for the men of the NSW Stingers in the SILVA National Orienteering League. They took out all three rounds by comfortable margins, giving them a thus-far perfect score of 27 points. No team other than the Canberra Cockatoos or Victorian Nuggets has taken out a senior National League title, but the Stingers have got off to a good start in their bid to expand that list.
The Stingers have the standout individual of the moment, Julian Dent, backed up by an impressive amount of depth – sufficient that they were able to survive two of their top four mispunching on Sunday and still win easily. Rob Preston, Matt Parton, Eric Morris and the Meyer brothers all provided valuable support to Dent, and as long as the core of this team remains intact through the season they will be very difficult to beat in 2009.
The Southern Arrows look to be the Stingers’ most likely challengers. They are also strong at the front, with Simon Uppill leading, but do not have as much depth as the Stingers and can ill-afford to lose a key runner through injury, as they did when Ben Rattray was injured last weekend. The Victorian Nuggets have depth in spades with the largest contingent of competitors at the weekend’s races, but the lack of a standout individual – unless Troy de Haas returns to competition – is likely to hurt them. Defending champions, the Canberra Cockatoos, are likely to struggle this year, with Dave Shepherd likely to miss at least the first part of the season and a lack of depth to cover him, although the return of Rob Walter for the next round should see them climb a little from their current position.
The women’s competition is more closely contested for the moment. The Victorian Nuggets lead by a point from the Canberra Cockatoos, with the Tassie Foresters in third. The Nuggets, who won in 2007, won the first two rounds and should be difficult to beat as long as they can get three strong runners into the race – but for the moment are reliant on either veteran Natasha Key or junior Aislinn Prendergast for this, and paid for it when both were missing on Sunday. The Cockatoos are solid again, whilst the return of Allston to regular domestic competition – as well as the recruitment of new resident Ilka Barr – will give the Tasmanians a strong team whenever they can get a reasonable third runner. This happened only intermittently on the weekend, but if Grace Elson puts in any appearances on home soil this year they can be expected to get a lot of points. The Queensland Cyclones are increasing in depth all the time, but perhaps need another year or two for their impressive group of juniors and almost-juniors to mature before becoming real challengers.