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Storm Inspires Ash

09 September 2021

Ashley Noffke has turned to the Melbourne Storm to produce his own seemingly endless production line of talent in Queensland women's cricket.

The NRL powerhouse club has continued to set the bar despite the departures in recent seasons of Billy Slater, Cameron Smith, and Cooper Cronk.

In fact, they've statistically become a better side, a surprise loss to Parramatta recently denying them outright possession of an Australian record 20-straight wins.

They go into this weekend's NRL Finals series as minor premiers and solid favourites to again make the Grand Final and possibly win the premiership for the second year in a row.

Former Queensland and Australian all-rounder Noffke retired in 2010 and, after long coveting a head coaching role, has relished the gig after stints as an assistant with the Australian women's side and the Queensland and Brisbane Heat men's teams.

Keen to build on last year's maiden Women's National Cricket League crown, the Sunshine Coast product didn't have to look far for inspiration with the Storm based in town due to the NRL's COVID-19-impacted season.

"There's been plenty been written about the Storm, but what interests me most is how they've lost players but still hold a level of performance no matter who's playing," he said.

"Ryan Papenhuyzen is a great example after they lost Slater.

"Essentially he's just in a feeder system on the Sunshine Coast (for the Falcons in the Intrust Super Cup) learning how to be a player that was ready to replace Slater.

"I love the development process of players, that's what really drives me.

"I've never wanted to be the centre of attention; I've always enjoyed people having success alongside me. 

"Obviously we all love winning trophies, but I love seeing players get better.

"So, can we provide a platform or training program and system in the women's program in Queensland where players are constantly getting better no matter who's getting the opportunity at that time?"

With the Storm based in Noffke’s own patch on Sunshine Coast for much of the season, he arranged to meet the Melbourne Storm's director of performance Lachlan Penfold to find out.

"We met and we just chatted, probably had three coffees over that time," Noffke said.

They discussed training methods, communication, development matrixes, long-term planning, analysis, coding and many other technical subjects that keep coaching purists up at night.

Noffke said Penfold was happy enough to reveal a few trade secrets and dish the dirt on master coach Craig Bellamy.

"My examples of cricket culture say we want unemotional coaches that are relaxed, flippant, well-planned but happy," Noffke said.

"Whereas in rugby league you see coaches throwing things and screaming down phones, but they're renowned as great coaches.

"I wanted to know about communication and is Bellamy's emotion really well connected to his players so they know he's got their back?

"They've got some key points of difference, some intellectual property on why they believe their training is better than everyone else's in the country.

"And I think we do train quite differently to some of the other states and we're starting to come along.

"We've always had talent but now we're getting there, starting to get our winning percentage up over 70 per cent to a Storm-type level."

The Heat proved the doubters wrong last season, making the semi-finals despite losing leading run scorer Beth Mooney and allrounder Sammy-Jo Johnson to other clubs in a nod to Noffke's progress.

The Fire's breakthrough WNCL title after five grand final losses is further evidence of that, particularly given Australian pair Mooney and Jess Jonassen were unavailable for the decider.

Georgie Redmayne flourished in Mooney's top-order absence, scoring an unbeaten 134 in the final and finishing the tournament with 532 runs at 132.75.

The wicketkeeper, who is also a doctor, played in The Hundred for the Welsh Fire and will be a vital piece in the Heat's puzzle when WBBL07 is due to start in October.

Redmayne also earned a maiden call-up to Australia's squad for the upcoming multi-format series against India.

"Redders was a prime example of what we're trying to do," Noffke said.

"She worked really hard on what she wanted, and we saw as a benefit to our game. She really trusted the direction we were going.

"And credit to her; she worked incredibly hard in preseason and kept her work going through the season, which is something we critically miss at times.

"She's a really smart cookie obviously - she was always going to be in a good position to do really well - but I'm so proud to see how committed she was to it.

"I've got no doubts we'll have some more successes like that."

The structural variations between the NRL and Cricket Australia, not to mention the varying skills, mean it won't be as simple as cutting and pasting for Noffke.

But he said the cultural lessons, and benefits of having a well-established coach, were there to see.

"They're really strong in their culture ... if you're not here to play the role we tell you to play for the Storm, then you're not for us," Noffke observed.

"We play like this, we understand it and want you to play like that.

"Which means they know what they're looking for and what to invest in.

"How do they get to that point? They make tough decisions, get rid of players that are excellent, but not suited.

"I think every male and female environment across cricket should do the same.

"And we need coaches to stay in their roles for as long as they can to become the best coach they can."

The WBBL Heat will finalise their squad for the Weber Women’s Big Bash League competition in the coming weeks with the opening rounds taking place next month.