Please tell us Adelaide – what’s gone wrong?
You were sick of losing – we understood, and we all felt the pain of you winning only four quarters in 2018. You went and recruited the coolest GK in the universe – and we’re dying to see more of Shamera Sterling. You added the English GD and WD to your list, and having groomed us with Chelsea Pitman at WA, we’re okay to welcome Layla Guscoth and Beth Cobden to SSN too. You included Australia’s Silver Fern nemesis Maria Folau in the shooting circle, and we didn’t entirely disapprove.
We are all on board with your rebuild, Adelaide, even if it means that there are barely three Australian team members in your 2019 starting seven. Then, you beat Fever in Round 1, and we were all optimistic: this year things are different! There are no competition easybeats! The Thunderbirds are back!
By Round 4, everything is at risk of reversion. A focused Collingwood team, working systematically if not inspirationally to game plan on their home court, trounced the Thunderbirds by 18 goals.
The first quarter was the most keenly contested, and the most interesting for the crowd of 2,200, which included Collingwood footballer Mason Cox strapped into the special carseats at the Yarra end of the court. Following the loss of Cobden to a knee injury, Kate Shimmin started at WD for the Thunderbirds, and she had some initial success on Magpies WA Kelsey Browne, keeping her off the circle edge and slowing the feeds by exploiting her height advantage.
However, it didn’t take the speedy Browne long to work out how to burn Shimmin off with a series of pass and receive plays. Over the quarter, Browne had six goal assists from six feeds, increasing her understanding of GS Shimona Nelson’s positioning at the goal post.
Nelson scored 11 from 12 in the quarter, in a steady display against Jamaican compatriot Sterling. Yet it was Sterling that provided much of the thrill of the contest, with her agile foot movement and speedy body adjustment. Sterling won three defensive gains for the quarter, only one of which was converted by the attacking end. GA Folau and GS Sasha Glasgow were having no easy time against Geva Mentor and April Brandley, who employed a double jump defence several times to Folau’s long-range shots, resulting in a held ball and two misses. Adelaide stayed within four goals of Collingwood for most of the quarter, until two late turnovers allowed the Magpies to stretch their lead to 17-11.
Adelaide’s lineup was completely revamped during the second quarter. Shimmin was replaced by debutante Maisie Nankivell, who played out the match at WD. After six minutes of play, the struggling Glasgow was replaced by Folau at GS, with Cody Lange going to GA. Four minutes later, Hannah Petty went to the bench and Kelly Altmann came on at C. This meant that before the second quarter had finished, every Adelaide team member had been on the court. It took five minutes for Lange to get her hands on the ball for an attempted shot, and it was her only goal for the quarter. The Magpies continued with their disciplined play, focussing their feeding to Nelson, who shot 14 from 15 to Medhurst’s single goal. Sterling nevertheless managed three intercepts, easily pulling in some speculative airballs from Browne and Medhurst.
Nelson’s willingness to take to the air to receive a ball is the animating force of Collingwood’s attacking play. However, it does beg the question about the need for her to perform this physical feat every time the ball is brought down. To be consistently successful, this strategy requires variation in both the approach speed of the feeders and the ball speed of the feeds. With Medhurst providing only erratic diversionary moves, an integrated defence can check Nelson more closely, and anticipate the feeds more easily.
The last five minutes of the third quarter provided the closest competition of the game. Adelaide won defensive gains on three of Collingwood’s last four centre passes, to go on a 7-1 scoring run. Glasgow had returned to the court at GA, and was sharing the load effectively with Folau.
By the fourth quarter, Folau had run out of ideas or faith in her teammates, and reverted to her signature move of running across her shooting partner’s line to receive a feed in the outer reaches of the goal circle. Luckily she can shoot from this distance, but it is not pretty netball. Elsewhere on the court, Adelaide could not seem to help playing like a rabble, but at least they could work on taking Collingwood down with them. Adelaide’s eighth centre pass descended into a parody of NetSetGo, with possession changing hands eight times via a procession of missed shots, bad passes, and two fabulous defensive gains by Sterling which failed to inspire her teammates to greater precision.
The Magpies won by 18 goals, and scored 65 goals – 52 of them by Nelson at 92%. How is it, then, that her opponent Sterling was awarded MVP? From courtside, the Jamaican defender was the only player providing Adelaide with the prospect of a contest. She had eight intercepts and ten defensive gains.
Adelaide’s downfall was in failing to capitalise on her heroics by taking the ball down the court to score. One reason for this was Collingwood’s intermittent transition to a very effective midcourt zone defence. “I love my man-on-man defence,” says coach Rob Wright, but his innovative defensive coach Nicole Richardson is adding some variety to Collingwood’s team play. This is another reason why no Collingwood player stood out from the crowd for MVP selection: Collingwood played a methodical and well-regulated game, with no one required to play out of their skin for the team to record a win.
Looking at the statistics another way, Adelaide’s two players at WA had 12 turnovers in that position during the game, an indication of unobtrusive but effective defensive pressure by Ash Brazill at WD.
“Except for that bit in the third quarter, I’d probably be quite happy,” Wright said after the game. “It’s good, because it shows that if you step away from what you’re trying to do for any length of time, anyone can roll over the top of you. That’s a bit that I’d like to have a look at and see whether we can improve. It was a good improvement from last week around what we’re trying to do.”
“Last week they were able to isolate us quite a lot last week and I felt that we got no depth. We were working really hard at trying to get over the transverse line. When our shooters are in the circle, we’re trying to get our centre playing with some depth so we can create some movement and speed up front. I felt like we were able to do that tonight except for some little patches.”
Madi Browne’s injury to the team was a “massive loss. It just changed our plans quite a bit, so we’re still trying to tinker with that. Tonight’s game was a step forward, but still not where I think we need to be. We’re getting there.”
Shimona Nelson’s game particularly pleased her coach. “No-one won their position last week,” he said. “I rate Sterling as close to the best keeper in the world, or she’s going to be – she’s just a phenomenon. I thought Shim did a great job on her tonight, and it was a great response after last week.”
The shooting circle, however, remains a work in progress for Collingwood. Wright says, “In my ideal world I’d love Nat Medhurst to shoot a bigger load. Twelve goals is probably a little low for what we are really after. For Nat, I was more interested in addressing the amount of ball she’s been chucking away. We want her to shoot more. We want Shimona to have a fifty-goal game, but at the moment she’s averaging around 40-45 goals. I’d love Bung (Medhurst) to shoot 20. That’s what I said to her when she came here. She hasn’t done that for a while, but she’s pretty excited because we don’t want her as a third feeder, we want her as a second shooter.”
“Nat started well in the first quarter with six goals, and that was good because I was looking for her to be more involved in the game. Now we need to work on that consistency. That’s the thing we are still lacking as a team. We were good in patches, and then we just took the foot off for too long.”
Another player who responded well to specific coaching this week was Kim Ravaillion. “I was really pleased with her, and I said it to her at every break,” Wright said. “Jamie-Lee Price did a very nice job on her last week. I felt that she took on the game tonight, used her speed and got some depth, and then was able to re-offer. Then she got some feeds, and grew in confidence from that, so I was much happier with her.”
Collingwood’s home game next week against Fever is at the recently redeveloped Bendigo Stadium, a ninety-minute drive from Melbourne. “We’ll have to continue to improve for that game,” said Wright. “We threw away too much ball tonight for my liking. It’s going to be a challenge, especially if Courtney Bruce is back. She’s a massive figure at their defence end. They’ve obviously got Jhaniele Fowler up the other end, who’s not easy to stop at the best of times. We’ll need to continue to value ball because they score so many goals, if we give them too many opportunities it’s going to be tough.”
The Thunderbirds will play the Queensland Firebirds in Adelaide.
Final Score: Collingwood Magpies 65 def. Adelaide Thunderbirds 47
(17-11, 15-12, 15-12, 18-12)
Player of the Match: Shamera Sterling (Adelaide Thunderbirds)
GS Shimona Nelson
GA Natalie Medhurst
WA Kelsey Browne
C Kim Ravaillion
WD Ash Brazill
GD April Brandley
GK Geva Mentor
GS Sasha Glasgow
GA Maria Folau
WA Chelsea Pitman
C Hannah Petty
WD Kate Shimmin
GD Layla Guscoth
GK Shamera Sterling
Changes: Q2 WD Maisie Nankivell, GS Maria Folau, GA Cody Lange, C Kelly Altmann
Q3 GA Sasha Glasgow, WA Hannah Petty
Kelsey Browne (Magpies) 9
Natalie Medhurst (Magpies) 7
Kim Ravaillion (Magpies) 6
Hannah Petty (Thunderbirds) 9
Chelsea Pitman (Thunderbirds) 9
Shamera Sterling (Thunderbirds) 8
Geva Mentor (Magpies) 5
Kelsey Browne (Magpies) 19
Kim Ravaillion (Magpies) 16
Natalie Medhurst (Magpies) 15