Coming second on the ladder with wins in the first three rounds in their best-ever start to a Super Netball season, the NSW Swifts were showing new energy and connections in 2019. Facing off against two-time premiers the Sunshine Coast Lightning was a stiff challenge, but with both sides able to rack up 80 goals in earlier matches it was impossible to predict the outcome.
Despite the Swifts building a nine-goal lead in the third quarter, a clever change in goal shooter for Lightning allowed them to stunningly reel in the deficit, and in a goal-for-goal final stanza it was the Sunshine Coast who kept their errors low and their accuracy high to triumph by two goals.
From the outset there was intense quality play in all battles across the court. In particular Laura Langman showed her defensive nous, forcing opposing captain Maddy Proud to match her, continuing her hard drives past 2.5 seconds.
With both import goal shooters dominating the scoring, there were two different attacking patterns. Swifts’ Sam Wallace took easy front balls at the edge or outside of the circle and flicked it back to a feeder immediately, then repositioned closer for a shot.
Meanwhile for the Lightning, Peace Proscovia worked from before the Lightning centre passes to assertively hold space against Sarah Klau, making a very obvious feed available to Steph Wood from just outside the circle. The Ugandan star also cleverly dropped into the back space, taking her team to a 10-7 lead, before her coach Noeline Taurua called a tactical timeout.
Karla Pretorius and Phumza Maweni attacked the ball relentlessly, covering both the rotation of shooters and the edge of the circle. In one surprise play, Maweni lifted Pretorius over the shot of Helen Housby but the shot sank.
Klau was ably contesting the high ball into Proscovia, and starting to deflect the ball, but the backup came from Wood and she used her deceptive skills to get the ball past two Swifts defenders to her shooting partner under the post.
Having lead 15-10 with five minutes remaining in the quarter, a break by Wood helped open the door for Swifts. In a dramatic end to the quarter, a stunning 10 metre feed from Langman to Proscovia was undone when the shooter stepped with only 12 seconds left. Eddy did even better than Langman, feeding from the centre third to Wallace, who drained a rare long shot to bring the Swifts to 16, only down by one goal.
The two teams came back even more committed to their mission for the second quarter. A mistimed lob from Housby to Wallace was rescued spectacularly, with a desperate captain Proud leaping out of court and flicking the ball to Wallace, thereby evening the scoreline at 18 all.
Langman and Laura Scherian were communicating very well, a quick glance from Langman enough to organise their leads and rotation outside the circle. The shorter, zippy Scherian was finding it easy to outpace tall wing defence Kate Eddy, sprinting to circle edge, turning and sighting the moves from Proscovia with class.
For her part, Proscovia was manipulating Klau, sometimes holding tough, and sometimes taking Klau away from the post to create a massive space to drop into. Scherian had very good placement for the shooters’ comfort, getting 10 goal assists from 11 feeds in the first half. In another remarkable statistic, Scherian and Wood were getting across the line for centre passes very easily – Swifts defenders took 21 centre passes for the match, but Lightning defence only two.
The Swifts started to show more confidence and slickness, taking the lead for the first time with five minutes left in the first half. During a Lightning timeout Sophie Halpin had been brought on in wing defence to be a better match in height for Scherian. Halpin came on with a much more body-on approach compared to her predecessor. In fact, the whole Swifts defence tightened up at the transverse line, forcing Lightning to make multiple passes under great threat from the energised NSW players. Also, Helen Housby was impressive all night with strong reliable hands on the take, even under tight pressure from two defenders. She took control of the front-end for the home side, scoring seven of her team’s goals in a row, lifting them to a two-goal win for the quarter and a leading scoreline of 32-31.
Swifts Coach Briony Akle made a defensive change to begin the second half, bringing Eddy back on the court at goal defence, while Turner went to the bench. Within three minutes Halpin had two more deflections, the ball falling to her team and the NSW shooters were absolutely dictating play against Pretorius and Maweni, leading to a 4-1 run of goals to the home side. Lightning called a tactical timeout to calm the troops. Taurua brought on Jacqui Russell to replace McAuliffe. Straight away Housby chimed in with a deflection, picked up by Klau, and the crisp attack and stunning shooting from Swifts gave them a 39-32 lead barely 4 mins into the quarter.
Russell was copying Halpin’s tactics, very tough on the body and hungry for the ball, wrestling Proud to the ground. Eddy received a caution from the umpire Tara Warner for deliberate contact on Proscovia after a goal was scored. The Swifts were absolutely muscling up on the Lightning attack, keeping them dodging, off balance, and exhausted. Proscovia was taken off having scored only two goals in nine minutes of play, with Cara Koenen joining the game for the first time, the lead 44-35 to NSW.
There was still fight in the Sunshine Coast, Pretorius suddenly starting to light up the court with two quick intercepts and a picked up deflection from Maweni’s rebound. There was hesitancy in the attacking flow of the Swfits created by physical attention on their shooters. The hosts needed to quickly adjust to quell the momentum shift towards Lightning, having abandoned short sharp passing, and not yet adapting to the increased movement of Koenen.
Proud attempted to screen Pretorius away from a pass to the pocket, but nobody drove into the space, and the Swifts kept passing long cross-court balls. The margin was seven with four minutes remaining when Eddy pulled off a spectacular blocked shot – unfortunately the umpire called Hadley for stepping on the backup. The opposing goal defence Pretorius continued to be a menace, taking four intercepts in the quarter, creating doubt in the Swifts feeders, leading the fightback for the visitors, who scored seven consecutive goals, now trailing only 42-45 with 15 mins to play.
The stage was set for an epic final quarter. Lightning showed very impressive transition defence after Scherian’s pass was deflected and collected by Klau. Swifts absorbed the intensity and patiently played the ball to circle edge, but Proud did not baulk the feed and Pretorius snaffled it. The resolve and skills of the more experienced players were on display: Housby ravenous in defence, Hadley darting into the perfect spaces and delivering electric passes, Langman calmly evading her opponent and catching the defenders napping with goal assists, Wood rolling the circle and dominating the front space. Halfway through the quarter the scores were 51-49 to the Swifts.
Koenen was mixing up her play enough to confuse Klau and had hit eight goals from nine when her team equalised 52-all with six minutes remaining. Even when it took Lightning ten passes, eventually the ball found a very secure shot under the post in her hands. Coach Akle elected to switch her circle defenders in a tactical timeout, and scores continued to be locked with the visitors having the slight advantage due to the flow of centre passes.
Tension mounted in the stadium as the clock ticked down. Very sensible classy play from the leading experienced players kept parity. Langman in particular was making great use of the ball, picking the right option with beautiful placement and timing.
A missed shot by Wallace with two and a-half minutes to go gave Maweni the rebound, and all of a sudden the game looked lost. The Lightning were in possession and leading 57-56, but a heroic intercept by captain Proud gave Swifts another attempt which drew them even again. The Swifts were under huge pressure, and Russell pounced on a hesitant pass. Wood took a successful shot, the lead 59-57 at the final whistle.
Swifts were to sit atop the Super Netball ladder for about six hours, courtesy of two handy bonus points, but awaiting the clash of Vixens and Fever where the powerhouse Victorians only need one bonus point to reinstate themselves as competition frontrunners. Still, it was a galvanising position for this proud club of youngsters to find themselves in.
The Swifts will face a challenge next week in Melbourne against the Vixens who remain at the top of the table after a surprising draw against the West Coast Fever. The Lightning will head home to face the Giants.
Final score: Sunshine Coast Lightning 59 defeated NSW Swifts 57
(17-16, 14-16, 11-13, 17-12)
Player of the Match: Karla Pretorius (Sunshine Coast Lightning)
Sunshine Coast Lightning
Cara Koenen 18/20 90%
Stephanie Wood 14/19 73%
Peace Proscovia 27/29 93%
Sam Wallace 33/36 (92%)
Helen Housby 24/26 (92%)
Karla Pretorius (Lightning) 6
Sarah Klau (Swifts) 2
Maddy Proud (Swifts) 4
Karla Pretorius (Lightning) 3
Centre Pass Receives
Laura Scherian Lightning) 32
Steph Wood (Lightning) 22
Helen Housby (Swifts) 18
Goal Assists as a proportion of feeds
Steph Wood (Lightning) 16/22
Laura Scherian (Lightning) 19/27
Maddy Proud (Swifts) 18/27
GS Samantha Wallace
GA Helen Housby
WA Maddy Proud
C Paige Hadley
WD Kate Eddy
GD Maddy Turner
GK Sarah Klau
Sophie Garbin, Sophie Halpin, Lauren Moore
Q2 Eddy bench, Halpin WD
Q3 Turner bench, Eddy GD
Q4 Eddy GK, Klau GD
Sunshine Coast Lightning
GS Peace Proscovia
GA Stephanie Wood
WA Laura Scherian
C Laura Langman
WD Maddy McAuliffe
GD Karla Pretorius
GK Phumza Maweni
Cara Koenen, Jacqui Russell, Annika Lee-Jones
Q3 McAuliffe bench, Russell WD; Proscovia bench, Koenen GS
Umpires: Tara Warner and Bronwen Adams
What they said
Briony Akle, coach, NSW Swifts
Regarding the sudden improvement in the team during a tactical timeout and wing defence substitution in the second quarter
“We made a conscious effort not to be so ‘man on’, we were getting too caught on the body. I think they worked together much better after the break – we defended the space rather than just one-on-one, so they just clicked and started working together like they can! No special secret!”
On the hesitancy of their feeders in the third quarter
“I think there was a lot of off-ball contact that wasn’t getting pulled up, so our girls were very hesitant to give the ball – but in hindsight maybe we should’ve given it and we would’ve drawn some penalties, so that fine line you know between being patient and getting that held ball.”
Regarding what you pick to work on week to week with a player like Wallace
“Actually I just think the hold attack end, under pressure we get a bit one-eyed, and we don’t see two options. It’s probably about continuing to learn and build from every game, so they’ll still get better, they only lost by two goals. For us, nothing much will change, we’re still in the game of playing some really good netball.”
Regarding the tactical differences between herself and opposing coach Noeline Taurua…
“Yeah, I LOVE Noels, I think she’s got a great netball brain, and she’s up there as the queen I think! So, I thought it was interesting they took their shooter off, but then Cara [Koenen] did a great job coming on, moving that circle around, and made our defenders think about something else. So, we probably didn’t adjust quick enough, Cara did a great job.”