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PHOENIX HUNGRY TO MAKE HISTORY
Daniella Miletic
The Sunday Age

Reigning dual premier Melbourne Phoenix came into the National Netball League finals an underdog, but will enter next Saturday’s grand final against the first-placed Swifts at the Sydney SuperDome with the intention of creating history. Last year Phoenix became the first team to win a grand final on the road, beating the Sydney Swifts on their home court in the championship game, 47-44.

This year, after struggling to finish third on the national ladder, the Phoenix are determined to become the first team to achieve three consecutive national league premierships. Coach Lisa Alexander said yesterday the Phoenix “want it bad”. “We have already experienced it twice, and just because we have done it twice, doesn’t mean we are tired of it. I think that the Brisbane Lions would tell you that as well,” she said.

She said the Phoenix, who slumped early on in the season as star players Sharelle McMahon and Eloise Southby-Halbish struggled with ankle injuries, had come into their best form late in the season.

“We have come into the finals as the underdog, because we haven’t been consistent through the season. However, what we are doing is showing that when a competition gets more mature, we are going to have things that change precedents. They say that the teams that finish in the top two win the grand final. Our goal this week is to make sure that doesn’t happen,” she said. “We feel we are coming into our best form at the right time of the year, and that’s really what counts.”

Phoenix, who have won four premierships titles, last defeated the Swifts in round 13 by just one goal, 48-47. The Swifts thumped the Phoenix earlier in the year, 63-46.Swifts coach Julie Fitzgerald yesterday said the game would be tough given the Phoenix’s ability to play under finals pressure.

“Even though Phoenix struggled in the first rounds of the competition, I do still think they are the benchmark of the competition. They obviously have enormous success in finals, so you always knew in the back of your mind that they were going to step up. And you are always weary of the fact that you know they perform well under a finals situation,” she said. “This premiership means everything in the world. We have worked really hard this year … we really think we have got a chance of getting this and we deserve it and will be giving it everything.”

Alexander said Sydney’s home court advantage would count for nothing. “Funnily enough, a home grand final is more exhausting for us than an away grand final. I know that sounds strange, but with girls who work full time and have study and other commitments, taking them away takes them from their busy lives and allows them to focus,” she said. “We don’t fear going to Sydney at all. Obviously we would love to play in Melbourne in front of a home crowd, but that’s just not the case.”

Phoenix goal keeper Bianca Chatfield, who is preparing for her fourth grand final, said the fight to the finals was toughest the team had encountered. She said that winning the grand final from third place was always going to be a “tough struggle”. “This is definitely the hardest challenge we have had, going through this season. We all feel that we got this far, why can’t we go that little bit extra?”

NATIONAL NETBALL LEAGUE GRAND FINAL

SYDNEY SWIFTS v MELBOURNE PHOENIX
4.30pm Saturday, Sydney
Live on ABC TV
Head to head: Swifts 10, Phoenix 8, draw 1

MELBOURNE PHOENIX
Coach: Lisa Alexander
Captains: Sharelle McMahon, Eloise Southby-Halbish

SYDNEY SWIFTS
Coach: Julie Fitzgerald
Captain: Liz Ellis