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Sammy-Jo Johnson and Georgia Redmayne crossed paths in Lismore while playing school cricket against each other, but their paths diverged as they sought their goals in various countries. Since then, they've crossed paths many times, but the coin toss at North Sydney Oval on Friday, where they'll both be captaining their respective states for the first time in the Women's National Cricket League, will be the most crucial yet.
Johnson, who transferred to New South Wales this season after 10 years in Queensland colours, has been appointed captain of the Breakers, filling in for regular captain Alyssa Healy and her deputy Hannah Darlington, who are now with the Australian squad in New Zealand.
In place of another Australian team member, Jess Jonassen, keeper-bat Redmayne, in her second season for Queensland since making her debut for NSW as a teenager and then forging a career in Tasmania, will lead the Fire.
Both Johnson and Redmayne were part of the NSW underage scheme, but due to the Breakers' limited scale, they were forced to search for senior cricket prospects elsewhere. Their entangled careers started much earlier, when two dedicated local mentors, Amanda Owens and Keith Wyatt, launched a new cricket curriculum for young girls on the NSW North Coast in 2002.
Interestingly, Johnson and Redmayne will not be the only WNCL captains in action this weekend who are graduates of the North Coast program; ACT Meteors captain Angela Reakes followed in their footsteps. Though Johnson and Redmayne will undoubtedly exchange a grin and a friendly banter during the toss, the stakes until the first ball is bowled are unimaginably high.
NSW and Queensland, who are third and fourth in the WNCL standings, will face off twice in three days for the opportunity to replace Victoria in the final on March 27. To qualify for the final, all teams must win twice. Other games between fifth-ranked South Australia and second-ranked Tasmania would also have an effect on the table if they break the matches.
Johnson said she was taking things out of her mind that she couldn't change and focusing on the most important challenge at hand: maintaining NSW's unbroken record of featuring in every WNCL final since 1996-97.
In their final matches, the Breakers will be without Australian leaders Healy, Darlington, Rachael Haynes, and Ashleigh Gardner. Maddy Darke, Lisa Griffith, and Emma Hughes all join the band, including teenage prodigy Phoebe Litchfield, who makes her first WNCL appearance since healing from a foot injury. Both Jonassen and star opener and wicketkeeper Beth Mooney have been called up for national duty, leaving teenager Ruth Johnston with a chance to make her WNCL debut.
Ellie, Johnston's cousin, made her Fire debut earlier this season, and Johnston is following in her footsteps.