This post was first written for and published by the Roar.
According to the players in the WBBL village, there is plenty to do. There’s a golf simulator, table tennis, a barista and plenty of delicious food, but for Courtney Neale, one thing is missing.
“I am trying to get a therapy dog or therapy dogs into the hub,” Neale says.
“While I think I have a couple of people on board, I’m not sure it is logistically possible.”
Despite the absence of a therapy dog and Neale missing her own four-legged friend, Theodore – who is back in Victoria, FaceTiming his mum every chance he gets – the Melbourne Renegades player is enjoying her time in the village.
After being part of the Renegades squad last year, Neale didn’t get any match time, so this season she has a rare opportunity not only to get to know her own teammates, but also players from other squads.
“With the travelling the squads did in the past, you didn’t get as much time off the field with your teammates,” says Neale.
“In the hub, I think everyone is getting really close and hopefully all this extra bonding shows on the field too.”
The 22-year-old is also making plenty of new friends at breakfast.
“Yesterday I was talking to Grace Harris about how to play 500. In the past that wouldn’t have happened,” she says.
“I do quite like Grace. She is unique, like I am. I’m probably not as unique as Grace, but I always enjoy what she has to say.”
The fast bowler may not have had any match time in WBBL05 but that certainly isn’t the case this year.
Neale made her debut against the Stars on Saturday and while wet weather meant that the game ended without a result, Neale snared the key wicket of Elyse Villani with her first ball.
“I was quite surprised. Happily surprised and excited,” says Neale.
“I wasn’t expecting it at all. I remember turning around and appealing to the umpire. I was appealing toward him with my eyes to put his finger up and he did.”
But unfortunately, the pandemic means wicket celebrations look a little bit different this year.
“I ran over to Courtney Webb to celebrate. I went to jump on her and she ran away from me yelling, ‘you can’t do that,’” says Neale.
“There was a lot going on in the moment. A lot of emotion, so much so that I almost forgot about the protocols.
“It’s a rule and it is there for a reason, but it is different when you are wound up in the competitiveness of the moment. I am glad Webby backed away, because I probably would have gone for it.”
In the past, the Renegades certainly had a reputation for being a young side. But fortunately, that youth has stayed with the team, so over the first six years of the WBBL we have seen cricketers like Georgia Wareham, Molly Strano and Sophie Molineux become regulars in the Australian line-up.
The experience of these players, along with the likes of Lea Tahuhu, sees the Renegades in a good position to challenge for the title this year.
The squad also welcomed Amy Satterthwaite back after a year away from elite cricket to give birth to baby Grace.
According to Neale, Satterthwaite has slotted right back into the squad:
“There is that underlying respect because of her cricket knowledge and who she is as a person.
“The fact that she has had a baby, taken a year off and returned to her national team and into the WBBL says a lot about how good she is as a cricketer.
“Because of women like her, it might not be such a rare occurrence that women have children and come back into the game.”
The return of Satterthwaite also means that the Renegades have a new cheersquad member, with mums Satterthwaite and Tahuhu here for the WBBL, Grace has entered the hub with them and has many doting aunties in the village to help look after her.
“She is actually one of the best-behaved babies I have ever come across,” says Neale.
“She is so low maintenance, it is ridiculous. They have an angel of a child there.”
Given how challenging the lockdown was in Victoria, Neale is thrilled to have the opportunity to play some cricket this summer. But home is never far from her and her Victorian teammates’ thoughts.
“If you look at the results in the Super Netball and the NRL, it’s almost like one of the two teams from Victoria have to win this year,” she says.
And of course, if she had to pick one of the two teams it would be the Renegades.
“A lot of us are feeling relieved to be out of Victoria, but we are having physical and mental challenges in the hub just because it is such a different world to the one we normally live in.
“It definitely has its pros and cons, but the good outweigh the bad, especially if we get to play some cricket.”
The Melbourne Renegades take on the Perth Scorchers at 2:30pm (AEST) this Saturday, 31 October at Drummoyne Oval.