All photos taken by Ben Lumley, with thanks to both Ben and EMMNA for allowing us to use the images.
2 days, 16 teams, 37 games and 4 eventual winners – the inaugural EMMNA National Tournament had it all. It was London Giants and Knights who eventually came away with the silverware, but before that we were treated to an unbelievable showcase of the men’s and mixed talent the UK has to offer.
MIXED DAY 1 – SATURDAY 7TH AUGUST
The mixed side of the tournament began with the University of Warwick Mixed Netball taking on EMMNA Invitational Mixed. The EMMNA Invitational team were an unknown quantity coming into this tournament, made up of players who had been unable to find a mixed or men’s team in their local area. This didn’t stop them however, as the EMMNA Invitational team came away with a surprise victory, beating Warwick 15-25. South West Hawks then played their first game against London Giants Lions. Due to Covid-19, some of the South West Hawks had only met each other at the beginning of the weekend, making their narrow loss to Giants Lions, 20-25, all the more impressive. Manchester Spartans Mixed then had the first coup of the weekend, dominating London Giants Tigers and winning 30-18. Like South West Hawks, Spartans Mixed had had little preparation time as a full squad leading into this competition, but took an easy win against Giants Tigers.
With every team having played their first game, some went into their next fixtures with confidence, whilst others were forced to regroup. South West Hawks took another easy win against University of Warwick, putting up an impressive 37 goals (in 32 minutes) in comparison to Warwick’s 14. EMMNA Invitational then took on Giants Tigers, who were searching for much needed confidence after their defeat at the hands of Spartans. Giants Tigers secured a comfortable win in the end, defeating the Invitational team 31-19. Spartans’ next game was against Giants Lions and they were looking for another scalp against the new London side. Although Spartans pushed them all the way, in the end Giants Lions came away with the win 27-22.
The next set of matches brought some real drama, as South West Hawks took on London Giants Tigers. Not only was the game hotly contested in regular time, finishing 20-22 to Giants Tigers, it transpired that Giants Tiger had unknowingly put four men onto the court during the third quarter – a breach of both mixed netball regulations and tournament rules. The game was then put under investigation and Giants Tigers faced an anxious wait overnight to see if their result would stand. After the game was reviewed it was concluded that since Giants Tigers had only scored one goal whilst their four men were on court, the punishment for breaking tournament rules would be 1 goal deducted from their final score. This meant that Giants Tigers won the game by just 1 goal, 20-21.
On the other court, London Giants Lions continued to dominate the mixed competition, beating University of Warwick 37-17. EMMNA Invitational then took another huge win against Manchester Spartans, beating the eventual fourth place team 28-20.
Saturday’s final round of matches saw London Giants Tigers get a confidence-boosting win over University of Warwick, the game ending 12-33 to the London side. South West Hawks continued to show their quality, beating Manchester Spartans 36 goals to 17. London Giants Lions also finished the day on a high, beating EMMNA Invitational 30-21.
MIXED DAY 2 – SUNDAY 8TH AUGUST
Day 2 began with Hawks beating EMMNA Invitational by 30-25 which put them in a great position to play the Cup final, having a better goal difference than Giants Tigers. Top of the table London Giants Lions then took the win against London Giants Tigers, 25-16. In the final fixture of the mixed regular games, the University of Warwick hoped to secure their first win against Manchester Spartans. Although they produced some great passages of play, Spartans took a comfortable win 28-14.
With the regular games finished, four teams looked to the finals. London Giants Lions would compete against South West Hawks for the Cup, whilst London Giants Tigers were set up for a rematch with Manchester Spartans for the Plate.
MIXED FINALS – SUNDAY 8TH AUGUST
MIXED PLATE FINAL – LONDON GIANTS TIGERS 24 def MANCHESTER SPARTANS 21
Match report by Bethany Lord
London Giants Lions
GS Gavin Winbanks, GA Lauren Doughty, WA Tallie Maeger, C SallyAnn Smith, WD Eve Cobbett, GD Rachael Gedge, GK Stephen Gregory
Manchester Spartans Mixed
GS Ryan Nurse, GA Amber Tang, WA Emily Burns, C James Wooderson, WD Saskia McCulloch, GD Claudia Ross, GK Callum Dashfield
POTM – Lauren Doughty – London Giants Tigers
London Giants Tigers took on Manchester Spartans in the first final of the weekend, competing for the Mixed Plate. An impressive showcase of the mixed talent around the country, the game was closely contested and stayed within 5 goals for the entirety of the match.You might have even noticed our very own Eve Cobbett taking the court for Giants – in fact, you would have been hard pressed to miss her, given that the commentators seemed to have dubbed her ‘Eve from Netball Scoop’!
Spartans began the game looking a little unsettled, and after a few early missed goals, Giants took an early lead 5-1 lead before Spartans got their heads in the game. Giants were looking cool, calm and collected, despite some thoughts that they might be a little nervous going into the final after having lost to Spartans in the first match of the tournament. But Spartans weren’t going down without a fight, and pushed back to end the quarter one goal down (5-4) – it was clear that we were in for a heartstopper of a game.
After pushing back with 3 consecutive goals to finish the first quarter one goal down, Spartans came back on court ready to fight. But the connections Giants had on court just looked that little bit cleaner than Spartans, who had to fight for every ball. It almost felt like the teams were playing catch up – Giants would pull away with a few goals, Spartans would push back and come within 1-2 goals, Giants would lift and pull away again, and the cycle continued. Despite the fight from Spartans, Giants managed to go into halftime with a 3 goal lead (10-7).
The third quarter saw the contest continue. Although Spartans hadn’t yet taken the lead in this match, they weren’t going down without a fight. Spartans Centre Makisa Gilkes was really controlling the play for her team, and was crucial in keeping them in the game. Not only did she have a number of impressive intercepts, but her control of the space and directing of the play down the court led to Spartans winning this quarter by two, taking them into the final quarter only one goal down.
The final quarter started off with a bang – Spartans scored on their opening centre pass, bringing the scores level. Breaking the Giants centre pass, they converted and took the lead for the first time in the game, but immediately after Giants Goal Keeper Stephen Gregory took an intercept that the Giants managed to convert, once again bringing scores level. This was set to continue for the rest of the quarter, which went goal for goal. EMMNA President and Giants Men’s player Ryan Allan said in comms that (although his Giants teammates might kill him) he wanted to see this match go into extra time. Well, scores were level with 45 seconds to go – Spartans intercepted a Giants pass and gave themselves a 1 goal lead. With 10 seconds on the clock it was Spartans centre pass, but following a fumble from Spartans, Giants picked up the ball with one last chance to keep themselves in the game. A last second contact call just inside the circle gave Giants Goal Attack (and POTM) Lauren Doughty a chance to bring scores level and send the game into overtime – she’d barely missed all match, but a difficult shot under pressure? That’s a hard ask for any shooter, no matter how skilled. However, there were no worries to be had by Giants – Lauren confidently shot the goal, and Ryan had his wish. The game was going into overtime.
After the excitement of the final quarter, you would be forgiven for thinking that the extra time was a little anticlimactic – Giants came back on that court to win, and they never looked in any doubt. Their strong connections on court pulled through under fatigue, and Spartans unfortunately didn’t have it in them to take it home in those last few minutes. Giants took the win by three goals, taking home their first piece of silverware from the tournament.
An incredible game by both teams, it’s exciting to think about what this means for the state of the future of mixed netball in England. If this is what we see in the plate final, after the past 18 months of lockdowns and restrictions, from teams who have only trained together for a few weeks, one can only imagine what we’ll see from these teams and these players in upcoming years.
MIXED CUP FINAL – LONDON GIANTS LIONS 47 def SOUTH WEST HAWKS 34
Match report by Eve Cobbett
London Giants Lions
GS James Everley, GA Rochelle Rhodes, WA Taylor Oram, C Janis John, WD Jen Walsh, GD Craig Jenner, GK Ophelia Ponteen
South West Hawks
GS Tom Allan, GA Frankie Wells, WA Lydia Short, C Joanna Hay, WD Lauren Smith, GD Kellie Hull, GK David ‘Tintin’ Watts
POTM – Janis John – London Giants Lions
The last mixed game on Sunday saw London Giants Lions take on South West Hawks in the Cup Final. Both teams had played 5 games coming into this, Giants Lions winning all of theirs, South West Hawks winning just 3. This made Giants Lions the clear favourites to take the trophy, however Hawks were therefore looking for an upset, desperate to finally take points off the London Club.
Quarter 1 was the perfect start for London Giants Lions, scoring off their first centre pass and then drawing Hawks’ Wing Attack Lydia Short into an intimidation call and a caution all within the first 45 seconds of the game. Hawks soon won back the ball, however, courtesy of a Giants Lions fumble off the sideline. Frankie Wells capitalised on the mistakes coming from Giants and demonstrated why her name currently sits on a VNSL team sheet, by sinking a long-bomb from the turnover. Despite some unforced errors in the circle, Giants Lions asserted themselves as the more cohesive team early on, employing a zone defence as a unit to allow for Janis John to intercept and eventually take the ball to goal. The organised zone defence also continued when they defended centre passes, Giants Lions making it difficult for Hawks’ attackers to find any space and therefore slowing down their play. Despite a cool start, Giants Lions were unsettled by Hawks, the next few minutes of the quarter seeing plenty of turnovers but with no goals scored from them, the ball going back and forth between shooting circles. Hawks were the first to settle, courtesy of a beautiful Tom Allan long-bomb, which took them back within 1 goal. The momentum then swung back to Giants Lions, who upped their intensity, clearly unhappy with themselves for allowing Hawks back into the game. A stunning interception from Ophelia Ponteen kickstarted their resurgence, Giants Lions then going on a 3-goal run. A real strength for Giants early on was Rochelle Rhodes in at Goal Attack who used all her speed against Hawks defence, who admittedly allowed Rhodes too much space from the first whistle. London Giants finished the quarter with a healthy 12-6 lead.
South West Hawks started the second quarter by making some changes, moving Watts into Goal Shooter, Hull into Goal Keeper, Smith into Goal Defence and bringing Faizan Ahmad on to Wing Defence. The changes failed to make an impact early on, however, with Hawks losing their first centre pass to a breaking call. With Watts in at Goal Shooter, however, we finally saw just what he is capable of, receiving a ginormous ball from Wells barely in the attacking third which he then practically dunked into the net. Despite the 8 goal deficit Hawks refused to go away, looking better with Watts in at Goal Shooter. Despite her elevation and reach, Giants Goal Keeper Ponteen was powerless against Watts’ height, Hawks beginning to exploit the mismatch successfully. Lauren Smith’s move to Goal Defence also brought her alive, she picked up a loose ball and then a super clean interception all within a minute. Another interception from Hull saw Hawks get themselves back within 5 goals with 6 minutes to go in the quarter. The sudden increase of pressure quietened the majority of the Giants players, but ever the competitor Ponteen refused to let Watts take advantage of their height mismatch again. She forced Watts to the baseline and caused him to receive another long ball out of court, which successfully stopped Hawks mini-run. Hawks managed to peg Giants back on the half-time whistle, Watts scoring from another lay up, bringing the half time score to 23-18.
After losing the 2nd quarter by 1 goal London Giants Lions opted to make some changes. They brought Lyn Brooks on into Wing Attack, moved Taylor Oram to Centre, Janis John moved into Wing Defence and David Gray came on into Goal Defence, which meant Craig Jenner moved to the bench. Hawks also made 2 changes, Taryn Moss taking the Wing Defence bib and captain Tom Allan coming back on as Wing Attack. London Giants picked up where they had left off, scoring easily from their centre pass and then getting a turnover through Brooks’ pressure. With 6 minutes to go in the 3rd quarter, and the score difference stuck at 6, Lucy P and Lucy G of QTR Time commented that Hawks’ defence had gone a little quiet, not applying the same pressure as they had done in the 2nd quarter. Everley and Rhodes connection, on the other hand, only grew through the quarter, and they soon took Giants out to an 8 goal lead. Despite Giants’ pressure, Hawks weren’t done yet. A couple of turnovers saw them work themselves back into the game somewhat, finishing the quarter with an ever-persistent 6 goal deficit.
Going into the final quarter Hawks decided to make yet another change, bringing Emma Livett into Wing Attack. Giants also reshuffled the pack, putting John back into Centre, moving Grey down into Wing Defence, Ponteen down into Goal Defence and putting Jenner back into the game at Goal Keeper. It was Hawks who kicked off the final quarter, starting positively with another huge ball from Wells into Watts. For Hawks to mount any kind of a comeback it was imperative they be clinical with their possession and score off all their own centre passes, but a Watts handling error gifted Giants yet another chance to increase their lead. With their lead extended Giants’ frontline had the freedom to bring a bit more flair into their play, their next goal resulting from two consecutive no-look passes from John and Rhodes. With 7 minutes to go and 11 goals down, Hawks clearly recognised that a change was needed, identifying the midcourt as the problem. Captain Allan was given the Centre bib and tasked with swinging the momentum back to Hawks. Although Allen’s injection into the game brought more energy to this Hawks side – as well as more pin-point accurate high balls – Giants were just too strong. With 2 minutes to go, and Giants leading by 13, Hawks opted to bring Short back into Centre. Giants on the other hand, having pretty much secured a win, allowed some of their bench players to have a run out bringing Kayleigh Higson into Goal Keeper, Marvin Campbell into Wing Defence, Hannah Lord into Goal Attack and Lee Robnett into Goal Shooter. With one minute to go Lee Robnett slotted in his first goal of the game whilst Higson got herself on the stats sheet, winning a huge deflection from Watts.
And that was it! After 48 minutes London Giants Lions earned themselves the title of inaugural Mixed National Champions, beating South West Hawks by 47 goals to 34. Whilst Hawks put in a huge shift in the first 3 quarters of this game, London Giants Lions always looked comfortable, never giving in to Hawks’ pressure and maintaining at least a 5 or 6 goal lead throughout the game.
MEN’S GROUP STAGES – SATURDAY 7TH AUGUST
In the Men’s side of the tournament things worked slightly differently, each team playing in a group of 4. At the end of the group stage the top 4 teams would compete for the National Men’s Cup whilst the second 4 teams would compete for the National Men’s Plate.
In Group One there was Knights Swords, Northern Titans, NTU Men’s Netball and North East Men’s Netball. Knights Swords took on Northern Titans in the first game of Group 1, and although Titans forced Knights into a shaky start, Knights Swords eventually came away with a 27-8 win. In the 2nd game of Group 1 NTU played North East Men’s Netball. Although NTU eventually won the game 20-16, North East Men pushed them all the way. Up next for NTU was Knights Swords. This game was experience vs youth, Knights being a club for over 3 years whilst NTU had been a team for under 3 months. Unsurprisingly Knights came away with a convincing 35-7 win, however NTU showed huge grit to keep competing throughout the 32 minutes. It was then time for Northern Titans to display their status as real contenders, taking on North East Men in game 4 of Group 1, where they took a 38-9 win. In the final games of Group 1 Knights Swords faced North East Men, where they once again showed their experience over a new side. Knights Swords took the win 43-1. Titans played their final group game against NTU Men, taking another comfortable win 32-16. It was Knights Swords and Northern Titans who prevailed after the group stages, each team going on to compete for the Cup, whilst NTU men and North East Men went on to battle it out of the Men’s Plate.
Group 2 saw Manchester Spartans Men’s, Norfolk United Men’s, Knights Shields and London Giants Men’s battle it out for those Men’s Cup spots. Spartans Men’s started their day in a similar fashion to Spartans Mixed, taking a huge 43-6 win over Norfolk United. London Giants Men’s also started their campaign strongly, beating Knights Shields 28-9. London Giants Men then cemented their contender status in game 2, defeating Norfolk United 48-4. Spartans Men’s also continued on their merry way, defeating an inexperienced Knights Shields side by 26 goals to 14. Knights Shields redeemed themselves in their final game of Saturday, however, defeating Norfolk United by a comfortable 14 goals, the game finishing 24-10. Giants Men’s then played their most challenging game of the Saturday, coming up against a Spartans side brimming with confidence after their previous wins. Although Spartans managed to stay within 10, Giants Men’s took a reasonably comfortable 34-24 win. By the end of Saturday it was decided that London Giants Men’s and Manchester Spartans Men’s would go into the Cup semi-final, where London Giants Men’s would face Northern Titans and Manchester Spartans would play Knights Swords. In the Plate semis Norfolk United were set up to take on NTU Men’s, whilst Knights Shields were to face North East Men’s Netball.
MEN’S SEMI-FINALS – SUNDAY 8TH AUGUST
After a Saturday jam packed with incredible netball, we reached the business end in the men’s side of the tournament. Early on Sunday morning, the men’s teams played in their semi-finals to see who would reach the bronze medal matches and who would progress to the Plate and Cup finals to battle it out for the silverware.
In the Cup semi-final Knights Swords took on Manchester Spartans, easing past them with a 31-18 win to secure their place in the Cup Final. London Giants Men’s then played Northern Titans, grinding out a 26-14 win to book their spot in the Cup Final against Knights Swords. These two results set up a Northern derby for the Cup Bronze, Manchester Spartans left to play Northern Titans for 3rd place.
In the Plate semi-final, NTU Men’s Netball defeated Norfolk United Men’s Netball, taking a comfortable 28-12 win. Knights Shields then put their hands up to be crowned best of the rest, beating an injury-plagued North East Men’s Netball by a huge 27 goals to 8. These results meant that Knights Shields would face NTU Men’s Netball in the Plate Final, whilst Norfolk United and North East Men’s Netball would play one final time for the Plate Bronze.
MEN’S FINALS – SUNDAY 8TH AUGUST
MEN’S PLATE BRONZE – NORFOLK UNITED MEN’S NETBALL 21 def NORTH EAST MEN’S NETBALL 15
POTM – Josh Dyde – Norfolk United Men’s
MEN’S CUP BRONZE – NORTHERN TITANS 22 def MANCHESTER SPARTANS 20
POTM – James Firminger – Manchester Spartans Men’s
MEN’S PLATE FINALS – KNIGHTS SHIELDS 30 def NTU MEN’S NETBALL 17
Match report by Zara Collings
GS Joe White, GA Dean Iyavoo, WA Keir Murison, C Ed Smith , WD James Harris, GD Kevin Hargreaves, GK Jack Perham
GS Jack Huxley, GA Kyle Henderson, WA Solomon Wright, C Gurbinder Singh-Kooner, WD Matt Price, GD Robert Mann, GK Tom Mill
POTM – Ed Smith – Knights Shields
The first quarter was a truly defensive masterclass, with the defence from both teams turning over plenty of ball. Some outstanding intercepts from Ed Smith and James Harris took Knights out to an early lead. NTU struggled to keep up with the pace, as unforced errors crept into their game and their through-court power saw them lack the composure to take the ball safely to goal. The Knight’s defensive unit were ruthless, capitalising on each wayward ball or weak pass and the Shield’s shooters, Dean Iyavoo and Joe White worked well to create space in the circle and produced plenty of slick ball movement and accurate shooting.
The pressure from Knight’s Shield was so great that it took almost the entire first quarter for NTU to get themselves on the scoreboard. A last second long bomb from Kyle Henderson ensured that they didn’t go into the quarter break scoreless, leaving the scoreboard 8-1 in favour of Knights at the end of Quarter 1.
Knights took to court in the second quarter with an unchanged lineup, with NTU opting to bring Chris Lau in at Centre to replace Gurbinder Singh-Kooner and Marty Stewart in at Wing Defence. It was a better second quarter performance from NTU, with their new centre court line up proving to be much more patient with the ball. Yet, Chris Lau’s time on court was short-lived, after attracting plenty of whistle he was handed a warning for persistent obstruction and left the court only moments later as Kooner re-entered the game. This change did little to settle the momentum on court, as Knights continued to push on to end the second quarter 19-4.
Prior to the commencement of the second half, both Captains were pulled in by the umpire and asked to calm their teams down and cut down on the penalties in the second half. This was not undeserved, as some clumsy challenges had cost both teams in the first half, alleviating the pressure built by their defensive end.
NTU opted to move experienced campaigner Jack Huxley out of the circle and into the midcourt – much to the delight of the commentary team who had been highly critical of his circle positioning and movement. This move proved to be the key to unlocking their attacking potential, as Huxley drove the team to two early goals within the third quarter. Knights had also opted to change their Centre, bringing on Jazae Johnson from St. Vincent & Grenadines. He added immense speed and flair to an already singing Knights attack, also picking up multiple intercepts in his through court defence.
NTU were unable to sustain the fluidity from the opening plays of the quarter and soon reverted back to the error-ridden play that had plagued them in the first two quarters. Some sloppy handling errors allowed Knight’s to capitalise and the unwillingness of the NTU shooters to put up the shot at times proved costly.
However, it was not plain sailing for Knights, as Goal Shooter Joe White was blown three times for attacking contacts, as he backed in to his defender. Despite this his strong hold and partnership with Ivayoo enabled Knights to add a further 8 goals to their tally to lead 26-10 heading into the fourth quarter. This was a much better performance from NTU, only losing the quarter by 2 goals, the quarter score ending 6-8. Their half time changes paid off, begging the question that if the changes had been made earlier could the game have panned out differently. Yet in terms of building towards further competitions and a higher standard of play, this third quarter was a key turning point for NTU in their ability to work through on-court issues and think their way back into a game.
Heading into the fourth quarter, NTU were able to continue their third quarter momentum, with their Wing Defence proving to be a key cog in their midcourt, calming the play and being a consistent presence for a square ball. NTU centre Jack Huxley really came in to the game in the final period, turning over plenty of ball for his team and winning back vital possession.
Despite an exciting comeback from NTU, who won the last quarter 7-4, Knights were able to hold on to win the Men’s Plate Final 30-17. Both teams left everything on the court, in what really was a tale of two halves.
Ed Smith was awarded Player of the Match for his vital efforts in bringing the ball safely through court for Knights, combined with a strong defensive effort. Second half impact player Jazae Johnson was also in contention, bringing high energy to the attacking line, whilst successfully executing some explosive defensive intercepts.
NTU will be disappointed they left too much to do in the second half, but should be proud of the way they thought through the game and used their netball smarts to put themselves back in contention. Goaler Kyle Henderson had an outstanding performance under the post, using both his range and versatility to command the NTU goal circle and proved to be a real safe pair of hands for the side.
Both teams must work on the number of unforced errors they commit throughout the game, as both sides were guilty of handling errors, wayward passes and numerous footworks. However, this will all come with time as the Men’s sport continues to develop throughout the UK. After their first taste of final’s netball at the National Championship, I expect both teams to have learned a huge amount about both the game and themselves and this knowledge will be vital in the evolution of their clubs.
MEN’S CUP FINAL – LONDON GIANTS MEN’S 39 def KNIGHTS SWORDS 36
Match report by Eve Cobbett
London Giants Men’s
GS Ky Lewis, GA Damian Williams, WA Geoff Mackay, C Simon Taylor, WD Jason Somers, GD Jamal Nicholson, GK Ryan Allan
GS Lewis Keeling, GA Chris Green, WA Klem Speck, C Daniel Rix, WD James Thompson-Boston, GD Matt Ward, GK Sokonaia Eskay Kalou
POTM – Jamal Nicholson – London Giants Men’s
The weekend finished with the final of the Men’s Cup, which saw favourites Knights Swords take on underdogs London Giants. Coming into this tournament we had all seen what Knights could do, whether that be through matches against other men’s teams or showcases against VNSL teams. It was much harder to predict, however, how Giants would match up against their opponents. On the one hand, the Giants men’s team was made up predominantly of players who had once played at Knights and decided to move to pastures new. This, in theory, should have guaranteed them some stability across their starting 7, many of the Giants having played together before. On the other hand, the players were in a new set up, coached by new coaches, having only had 10 weeks to work out what their brand of netball is and how to be a cohesive squad. It’s fair to say that this made Knights the favourite, most people fairly confident they would come away with a win.
Knights had the first centre pass of the game and although Giants slowed them down somewhat, forcing the ball to first go backwards, it eventually found its way relatively easily to Goal Shooter Lewis Keeling. What was interesting about this first centre pass was the preview we got of how both teams were going to approach this final. Knights looked keen to look in to Keeling early, whilst Goal Keeper Ryan Allen, penalised for taking Keeling’s landing space, was clearly going to attempt to outmuscle Keeling to stop him from being able to set up a hold. Giants first centre pass also gave a clear indicator that Knights were going to play an aggressive man-on style, with Knights’ James Thompson-Boston sending Giants’ Wing Attack Geoff Mackay flying. Impressive early for Giants were Goalers Damian Williams and Ky Lewis, who used the full width of the circle and their ability to land in super wide splits, to separate the two Knights’ defenders and create lots of space. Giants got another win early on, disrupting Knights second centre pass by putting on a full court zone and forcing Knights’ Centre Daniel Rix to fumble the ball and fall out of court. With 5 minutes gone in the first quarter, and courtesy of Knights errors and an interception from Goal Defence Jamal Nicholson, Giants had earned themselves a 5 goal lead. An injury to James Thompson-Boston forced Knights into changes soon after, Jesse Hadfield coming on to replace him at Wing Defence. Knights also took the opportunity to make another defensive change, bringing James O’Connor on at Goal Keeper. O’Connor’s introduction had an immediate impact – he won a rebound off Damian Williams which was converted into a goal by Keeling. Upon scoring only their 2nd goal of the game Keeling gave a huge roar, exposing just how much this game meant to Knights. After getting their 2nd goal on the board, Knights settled into the game somewhat. Their attack kicked up a gear when Green and Rix started to utilise their pace, pulling apart the Giants defence and forcing them to play as individuals rather than a unit. They also drew Giants into giving away more penalties, Allen getting a caution on the 8 minute mark for intentional obstruction, gifting Knights a clear route to their 4th goal of the game. Giants then got another mini run of 2 goals, that could have been 3 when Knights Rix received the ball out of court. This was the 2nd time Rix had received the ball out of court, in the exact same spot, and whilst Giants must be praised for the pressure they were putting on the Knights players, it did lead to questions whether the players were having issues with the court markings, having to play the Finals on a different court to the group games. An offensive contact call with 30 seconds to go in the quarter, against Giants’ Geoff Mackay, gave Knights back the ball. They scored from this turnover and got themselves back to within 5, the quarter ending 12-7 to Giants.
Heading into the 2nd quarter Giants made no changes, whilst Knights opted to bring James Thompson-Boston on into Centre (thankfully not injured after all) and Rix into Wing Attack. Knights second quarter started off much the same as the first, an unforced error gifting Giants possession again. This time however, Thompson-Boston, newly reintroduced to court, won the ball back almost instantly, helping Knights to eventually score off their centre pass. Giants then scored easily off their centre pass and then another turnover from Knights helped Giants go on a two-goal run. Unforced errors were starting to become the story of Knights final and proved costly against a Giants side who played patient and measured netball from the first whistle. With 5 minutes gone in the second quarter momentum started to shift, Ky Lewis being called for an offensive contact and Knights defense getting their first real win against the shooter. Up the other end, though, Jamal Nicholson came through for another huge interception, not allowing Knights to capitalise on the ball they turned over. Damian Williams also started to shine in quarter 2, consistently sinking long bombs and playing with huge amounts of flair when feeding Lewis. Just when Giants were gaining some momentum Knights showed that they should never be written off, with Jesse Hadfield coming through to steal the ball of Mackay and sending Knights on a 2 goal run to bring them within 2 of Giants. Pressure from Rix then forced Giants to fumble the ball over the sideline, giving Knights the opportunity to bring the score back within 1. Mackay showed his experience, however, stealing the ball back, only to then be called for a held ball. Knights then streamed down court, only for Nicholson to ruin their fun once again with another huge interception. Giants’ Williams then spilled another ball over the sideline, neither team seeming able to capitalise on their turnovers and take them to goal. Eventually it was Keeling who took control, sinking his shot to bring the score back to 1, Knights centre pass to follow. Chris Green then coughed up possession, yet another unforced error stopping Knights from equalising. Momentum was clearly on their side, however, and with a minute to go a replayed ball call against Williams gave possession back to O’Connor, finally allowing Knights to equalise. Going into the second half, it was 17 all.
Neither side made any changes going into the third quarter, both teams clearly happy enough with what they saw from their players in quarter 2. Knights started quarter 3 the same way they had every other quarter so far, with an unforced error that gave Giants possession. This was a theme that developed throughout the game, Knights coughing up multiple chances to take the lead, all thrown away because of their own mistakes. The game went goal for goal for the next two minutes, until Allen got another win against Keeling, drawing the Knights goal shooter into an offensive contact which gave Giants back possession. Giants were able to capitalise courtesy of a Lewis mid-range shot and with their centre pass to follow they were able to put some distance between themselves and Knights, the difference back out to 4. Another period of back and forth ensued, until a footwork call against Nicholson gave Knights the opportunity to close the gap back to 2 with 4 minutes to go. Although Green missed his initial shot, ever-reliable rebounder Keeling came through with the rebound to edge Knights closer to Giants once again. An easy goal from Knights’ centre pass then saw them back within 1 and you got the sense if they could only get out in front that would be enough for them to then run with the game. Giants wouldn’t allow it, however, keeping calm, knowing it was enough for now just to score off their centre passes. Another Knights unforced error came, Rix going offside, which allowed Giants to extend the margin again. Giants co-captain Jason Somers then came through for his first interception of the game, attacking the ball from an arms-over position to send Giants into the final quarter with a 4 goal lead.
Despite the 4-goal lead it was all to play for going into the final quarter, however Giants were now looking like the favourites having played calm and controlled netball for the previous 36 minutes. Whilst Knights clearly had the talent it was still to be seen whether they could cut out the unforced errors and capitalise on the turnovers they were creating. Giants opted to stick with the team that had played the previous 3 quarters, whilst Knights chose to bring Kalou back on into Goal Keeper in a last attempt to stop Lewis’ dominating in the circle. Giants scored off their first centre pass, whilst Knights lost their first centre pass once again, Keeling being called for 3 seconds right under the post. Sloppy hands from Taylor gave the ball back to Knights, however, and despite some great work from the Giants defence to keep Knights’ attackers off the circle edge, the ball eventually found its way to Keeling who was able to redeem himself for the held ball a moment ago. The move to bring Kalou back onto the court seemed to have paid off when he went up for a huge rebound against Lewis, only for Lewis to tip the ball back to himself and eventually score. Whilst Williams’ shined because of his flair in at Goal Attack for the Giants, Lewis has to be commended for how strong and solid he was in at Goal Shooter, playing a very mature game and absorbing all the pressure applied by Knights, an impressive feat at only 20 years old. With 8 minutes left Simon Taylor then came up with the game’s ‘how did he do that?!’ moment, coming from the top of the circle to intercept the ball, keeping it on court by throwing it between his legs as he was falling off the backline. With 5 minutes left, and seeming unable to penetrate the 4 goal deficit, Knights coach Tallisa Haynes made changes, bringing Speck back on to the court in at Wing Attack and O’Connor into Goal Attack. This was a somewhat unexpected change, O’Connor having played Goal Keeper in the game previously. The changes helped to swing the momentum, however, with Knights picking up an interception and then forcing Giants into an offside call to bring the score back to within 1. With 2 minutes to go, the score at 37-36 Haynes made another change, bringing Rix back into Wing Attack with Speck moving back to the bench. As was customary for Knights, the ball was in the circle for them to equalise, only for Thompson-Boston to be called for offside and possession reversed. Despite there being more than enough time for Knights to win the ball back and equalise, given their habit for throwing away chances in this game, it was starting to feel unlikely, a Giants win pretty much sealed. With 1 minute on the clock, the experience of the Giants’ midcourt shone through, Mackay and Taylor both content to play the ball round to waste as much time as possible. And that was it! Time was called and Giants were officially 2021 EMMNA National Champions!
Whilst Knights will be disappointed in themselves for giving up multiple chances to take the lead, it was never really their game to lose. From the very first whistle London Giants played calm, patient netball, and never lost their grip on the game. Whilst their players are clearly capable of huge amounts of flair, they instead toned it down and opted to play a structured, safe game, always clinical with their own possession and punishing of Knights mistakes.