When the Sunshine Coast Lightning and Giants last met in Round 1, it was a thrilling to-and-fro game, which resulted in a three-goal win for the Giants.
This time, the teams were playing in Queensland, at USC Stadium which was overflowing with Sun Coast pride. This home court advantage may have been the shot in the arm the Lightning needed to bring back an 8-goal deficit to produce the first draw of the 2018 Suncorp Super Netball Season.
Kelsey Browne set the tone for the Lightning right from the start of the game, forcing the first turnover: a wayward centre pass meant for Bec Bulley, but which lofted over the sideline. The Lightning wing attack was a workhorse for her team, finishing the game with 24 centre pass receives, 20 feeds and three pickups.
The connection between Giants’ Serena Guthrie and Jo Harten seemed to have gone missing in the first half of the match. Early in the first, a feed from Guthrie, which was forced high and with too much curry, almost took off Harten’s head.
The errors were aplenty for Guthrie, who finished the game with eight turnovers, the most of any player on court. That is a stat which is very unusual for the usually reliable Guthrie, and something which she will no doubt rectify before next weekend’s game against the Thunderbirds.
Just when the Lightning looked to have settled into a comfortable rhythm, two footwork calls against Steph Wood and Maddy McAuliffe allowed the Giants to level the goals by the 6-minute mark.
From there the Giants went on a scoring spree. Harten and Susan Pettitt kept the Lightning defenders’ heads spinning with their quick switches and willingness to go to post.
Karla Pretorius decided that extra work needed to be done outside the circle, so she moved off her player and began defending the feeds. Her work on guarding passes between Kim Green and Guthrie almost ended in an intercept, or turnover on several occasions.
The first timeout of the match went to the Lightning. Coach Noeline Tarua saw the extra effort which Pretorius was making and decided to change up her defensive structure, opting to introduce Jacqui Russell into the match at wing defence and move McAuliffe to centre.
However the new-look midcourt took time to settle, allowing the Giants to score four of the last seven goals for the quarter.
The second quarter started with the Giants being unforgiving in defence. Sam Poolman used her footwork to perfection in getting around Caitlin Bassett’s body. She and Bec Bulley played hard on-body defence, causing seeds of doubts for Lightning’s feeders.
With every possession gain Giants earnt, the Lightning players were caught flatfooted. They were no match for the Giants midcourt who had blistering transition speed.
The Lightning’s reprieve came seven minutes into the quarter when Pretorius got her first intercept for the match. The moved spurred her team into fight mode as they made a mini goal run.
Defensive efforts were improved across the court for the Lightning. McAuliffe showed she was not afraid to put her body on the line when she made an AFL style tag to cause a turnover – admittedly she was trying to regain possession after giving it away seconds earlier.
Weathering the pressure made by the Lightning was Kim Green. The Giants captain utilised every drop of experience she has attained over nearly 200 national league games. Her impressive ‘fakes’, dodges, feeds and ball movement tricked the defenders on many occasions and allowed her to find her shooters with ease.
Kristina Brice was introduced into the game for the Giants in the third quarter. She started her spell nicely, with a quick goal. However, Brice’s holding style of play reduced the movement in the circle which increased the workload for Harten as she tried, in vain, to get into a better shooting position.
It also didn’t take long for Geva Mentor, and Pretorius to work out that Brice was not comfortable in shooting from range. The Lightning defenders opted to put themselves between Brice and the post, cutting off her options to get closer. The move forced the 196cm shooter to attempt the shots which allowed the Lightning to get crucial rebounds and deflections.
Not surprisingly, after only eight minutes on the court, Brice called for time, and Pettitt re-entered the game. The move didn’t help though, as Guthrie’s feeds were still off.
Guthrie’s errors and rare misses or ball handling errors from Harten allowed the Lightning to run away with a 16-11 quarter win.
The Giants were still searching for answers when they introduced Kristiana Manu’a into the game at goalkeeper in the final quarter. What she gives away in centimetres to Bassett she makes up for in dogged plays for the ball. However, Lightning knew this and opted for the safe option of lobbing the ball over her head to Bassett who scored nine of the Lightning’s 12 goals for the quarter.
The Giants were more cautious of their passes in the final term. They played with more patience and were willing to pass the ball back to reset their goal third.
The Lightning, on the other hand, could smell a victory and picked up their pace. On many occasions, Browne’s ‘flash’ speed left Jamie-Lee Price in chase mode. Because of this, Browne was often left undefended on the circle edge, allowing her to notch up seven feeds and five goal assists for the quarter.
The final term was a nail-biter as the lead changed six times. Harten argued with the umpire over a call against her which she deemed was inaccurate. Both benches were vocal in calling out encouragement and instruction for their sides. And, the other players on court were waving their arms or clapping their hands with each goal scored.
As the final siren sounded, the emotions were differing. The Lightning looked delighted with the result – the first draw of the 2018 Suncorp Super Netball season. But, after the game, Mentor said her side was “disappointed we couldn’t roll over them. In the clutch moments, we couldn’t push on.”
The Giants looked gutted. For a side who was sitting second on the ladder, they knew that the result would likely see them slip down to third or fourth position. They will look for redemption next week when they host the Adelaide Thunderbirds.
The Lightning has another home game next week, against the Queensland Firebirds.
Sunshine Coast Lightning 53 drew with Giants Netball 53
(12-17, 25-29, 41-40, 53-53)
Player of the Match: Geva Mentor (Sunshine Coast Lightning)
Crowd: 2,073 at USC Stadium
Sunshine Coast Lightning
Bassett 40/44 91%
Wood 13/16 81%
Harten 30/33 91%
Pettitt 21/25 84%
Brice 2/5 40%
Karla Pretorius (Lightning) 2
Jamie-Lee Price (Giants) 2
Kim Green (Giants) 25
Kelsey Browne (Lightning) 17
Steph Wood (Lightning) 14
Serena Guthrie (Giants) 8
Madeline McAuliffe (Lightning) 6
Steph Wood (Lightning) 4
Kelsey Browne (Lightning) 4
Geva Mentor (Lightning) 11
Karla Pretorius (Lightning) 6
Bec Bulley (Giants) 5
Jo Harten (Giants) 4
Sunshine Coast Lightning
GS Caitlin Bassett
GA Stephanie Wood
WA Kelsey Browne
C Laura Scherian
WD Madeline McAuliffe
GD Karla Pretorius
GK Geva Mentor
Changes: Q1 WD Russell, C McAuliffe, Q4 WD Mikaere, C Scherian
GS Jo Harten
GA Susan Pettitt
WA Kimberlee Green
C Serena Guthrie
WD Jamie-Lee Price
GD Bec Bulley
GK Sam Poolman
Changes: Q3 GS Brice, then GS Pettitt, then GS Harten, GA Pettitt, Q4 GK Manu’a
Umpires: Bronwen Adams and James Matthews
Report: Katrina Nissen
Images: Simon Leonard