An emotional week for the Thunderbirds ended in a 19-goal drubbing at the hands of the Giants. The news that coach Dan Ryan won’t be retained next year wasn’t enough to inspire a winning performance.
The Giants took the maximum eight points available and moved up to second on the ladder; while the Thunderbirds scored their second-lowest tally for the season in front of a record crowd for a domestic match in Canberra.
The Giants took an early lead, but the Thunderbirds fought back, drawing level half-way through the first quarter. Kate Shimmin’s work over the shot and three first-quarter rebounds kept the Thunderbirds in touch.
In the absence of injured captain Kim Green, first-year player Kiera Austin took over duties at wing attack. In contrast to Green, her style is fluid rather than explosive; adapting to the play rather than creating it. It took some time for the youngster to find her feet outside her familiar shooting role, but she soon became involved and ended the game with the highest number of feeds and goal assists on court. Her adaptability was impressive given the positional changes throughout the match.
The first major change came after a head clash between Sam Poolman and Bec Bulley. Blood flowed as Poolman left the court with a gash to the nose. Eerily, she later revealed she had dreamt the previous night about leaving the court with a bloody nose.
Poolman put in a solid performance in her 50th game, pressuring Thunderbirds shooter Shimona Nelson into committing 14 turnovers. Most of Nelson’s turnovers were handling errors, the 19-year-old not yet solid enough to control contested balls under physical pressure. High balls with an angled landing proved difficult for the youngster.
A head clash between Serena Guthrie and Charlee Hodges in the second quarter left Guthrie dazed. Concussion was ruled out, but Guthrie didn’t return to the court. Giants coach Julie Fitzgerald later revealed that the English star had a tooth removed during the week, which was irritated during the clash.
Jamie-Lee Price took over at centre and Kristiana Manu’a at wing defence, with Poolman coming back on at goal keeper. Again the Giants adapted to the changes easily, with all three circle defenders unusually playing on court at once.
Facing only a two-goal deficit at quarter-time, the Thunderbirds had a horror run of missed shots and misplaced passes to blow the margin out to 9 goals by half-time. Hodges was replaced by Sasha Glasgow late in the second quarter, but the damage was done; the Giants scoring 18 goals to 9 in that quarter.
Every Thunderbird took the court at some stage during the second half, but the changes had little effect as the lead continued to extend. Chelsea Pitman and Shimmin were the only starters to remain on for the whole match. The best performing Thunderbird was Pitman who kept her work rate up the entire game, but committed seven turnovers.
The only Giant who did not take the court was last-minute replacement player, Latika Tombs. The daughter of Diamonds legend Carissa may have been close to making her debut, given the number of injury timeouts and the blowout margin.
Regaining second place on the ladder will soften the cuts and bruises this week, as the Giants prepare to face cross-town rivals the NSW Swifts.
Questions about which players the Thunderbirds will build a team around next season are no closer to being answered.
Giants 63 def Adelaide Thunderbirds 44
(13-11, 31-20, 48-34, 63-44)
Player of the Match: Jo Harten (Giants)
Jo Harten 30/34 88%
Susan Pettitt 27/35 77%
Kristina Brice 6/6 100%
Charlee Hodges 10/14 71%
Shimona Nelson 23/27 85%
Sasha Glasgow 11/16 69%
GS Susan Pettitt
GA Jo Harten
WA Kiera Austin
C Serena Guthrie
WD Jamie-Lee Price
GD Bec Bulley
GK Sam Poolman
GS Shimona Nelson
GA Charlee Hodges
WA Chelsea Pitman
C Hannah Petty
WD Fiona Fowler
GD Leana de Bruin
GK Kate Shimmin
What they said
Julie Fitzgerald, Giants coach
“I’m just so happy we can have that many of our regular players out and having to keep throwing the bibs around and bringing in changes. Kiera played her first ever game in WA, and Kristiana out of position on the wing, I’m really proud of how they got away with that game.
To lose Kim on the day before; then to lose Serena during the match and have Sam off for a period of time with blood; I think they regrouped really well and showed a lot of maturity to get the four quarters.”
How is Serena Guthrie?
“She is (OK). Serena had her tooth out earlier in the week and she hasn’t been feeling too good since, so the heavy knock really did knock her around. We could have brought her back on if we needed to, but we didn’t need to … No concussion, she had all the tests, but no concussion.”
Jo Harten and Kiera Austin’s games
“She is a freak (Harten). I think you’ve got to give credit to Kiera because the players around her had to keep changing so much. Usually when you bring a young player on you want the people to be around her to stabilise for her, but we were forced to make so many changes and she just kept her head and kept going.”
What pleased you about such a scrappy game?
“I said at the beginning of the year that I thought we had one of the deepest teams in the league and I was really happy with the strength we had on the bench. We not only had to use them tonight, but had to use them by throwing them out there unexpectedly, so I’m very happy with how they controlled that and it shows we’ve got the depth we need.”
On where they stand at this stage of the season
“I’m exhausted! We’re getting a little bit better every week, things that we’re working on are starting to come together in patches, those patches are getting a little bit longer and we’re building well towards the end of the season.”
On earning all four bonus points?
“We needed that, I was happy with all the changes we were forced to make and all the changes we made tonight, it’s hard to get eight points in this league so I’m happy with that.”
Sam Poolman, Giants
What happened with your injury?
“I just went for the ball and clashed with Bec’s (Bec Bulley) head and unfortunately came off second best, aha that’s OK. So yeah, I just hit my nose but it’s fine. I haven’t actually had time to look at it, I was just trying to get back out on court as quick as I could.”
How were you feeling leading into your 50th game?
“All week I had lots of messages and I think it was time for me to reflect on what an actual achievement that is. I don’t think I ever thought that that was something I would be able to achieve. And for me it’s really special coming up against my old club (Thunderbirds), I loved being able to play them for my 50th game and Jane (Woodlands-Thompson) was my coach for the first couple of years, so it was nice to have her on the sideline as well.”
On being able to control their own destiny and potentially finish in top place
“I think that with the bonus points coming in now, you have to win those quarters, and for us last week we didn’t finish that off. So we needed to get eight points today and I’m proud that all of us got on court to be able to do that as a team.”
Can this team go on and win it all?
“Yeah absolutely, I fully back us, it’s just about being more consistent and playing one game at a time. This competition is so tough, so you can’t look too far forward, and I think that we could move up and down the table really easily with bonus points coming into play, so it’s just a week at a time.”
How was playing in front of the record Canberra crowd?
“We love playing in Canberra, it’s always a packed crowd and they always get along to the music and push us along, especially with those last minutes in a quarter. So yeah, we love coming to Canberra and I think it was a great game to play in front of them.”
How disruptive were all the changes on court?
“I actually think, well I can speak from our defence end that we changed over quite nicely. We’re obviously three circle defenders and it was fun to be able to all get out there and I think that Kristiana did an awesome job at wing defence as well, so it just shows the depth in our squad which is what we are all about.”
Report: Lou Patton
Photos: Ben Southall