Wanting to bounce back from their loss to West Coast Fever last week, the NSW Swifts had a sold-out crowd of vocal fans pumping them up throughout the afternoon.
Having already beaten the Giants and Queensland Firebirds, both top four teams, they came out with tenacity and passion and a great game plan. Collingwood Magpies meanwhile languish in seventh spot on the ladder, with a loss almost spelling the end of their season.
With April Brandley ruled out for concussion, the remaining Diamonds stars in the Magpies squad welcomed Matilda Garrett for her first start in Suncorp Super Netball. Despite a run of goals into quarter time, Collingwood only lead briefly, as Sam Wallace, Helen Housby and Paige Hadley were simply too slick and organised in attack, while Sarah Klau outmuscled the Pies shooters.
The Swifts once again showed that the potential of 2017 had turned into victories this year, and that a champion team definitely can beat a team of champions.
Both teams were energised from the outset, putting in every effort on defence. It was an impressive intercept by Paige Hadley of a miscalculated centre pass from Kim Ravaillion that allowed the Swifts to settle.
Sam Wallace used deceptive and economical movement to give Sharni Layton the slip, and Hadley and Maddy Proud rotated well and were finding Wallce and Housby with ease. Half way through the quarter the scores were nine apiece, but the Swifts having the edge in momentum.
Arms were flying everywhere in the goal circles – Sarah Klau, dubbed the “silent assassin” by Swifts coach Briony Akle, in particular undermined the composure and structure of Collingwood in the middle part of the term. Fortunately for the visitors, both Caitlin Thwaites and Erin Bell were extremely cool on the shot, scoring at 85% accuracy.
Gradually the Magpies’ timing improved, Bell in particular opening up space and creating good connections. The ball was no longer moving so slickly for the Swifts, with both Hadley and Proud throwing intercepted passes to Ash Brazill. Magpies took ascendancy in the last few minutes and lead 17-13 at quarter time.
The Swifts were able to dominate with a very simple tactic: Housby taking most of the centre passes, allowing Hadley to thunder to circle edge, and otherwise the English goal attack sprinting out of the circle, drawing the attention of Matilda Garrett. Neat passes would then be available to the one-on-one, Wallace able to hold Layton off easily time and again. The formula was working so well that Housby’s first shot was seven minutes into the quarter – and then nailed six from as many attempts.
Meanwhile, Bell’s shooting radar slipped, and in converting the rebound, the hosts drew within one goal. The Magpies’ new recruit was determined not to lose possession twice, taking a spectacular rebound off her next miss.
After ten minutes, trailing 11-6 for the quarter and shooting at just 60%, Collingwood called a timeout. Resuming with no changes to either team, the Swifts kept their steady progress with some particularly good patience and pass selection from the whole attack end. Housby sank a long bomb that pushed the Swifts lead to 32-27 just before the half time break.
In a somewhat unheralded change for the Swifts, Kate Eddy came on at wing defence for the second half, replacing captain Abbey McCulloch.
“It was more about getting Kate (Eddy) out there. She’s got big tall arms which we knew would maybe frustrate Madi (Robinson) in that midcourt,” coach Briony Akle explained.
Indeed Eddy was effective with three intercepts in a half compared to none from McCulloch, but there was lesser punch through from defensive gains into attack.
Magpies converted their first two centre passes despite a few poor passes and dropped balls. Bell opened well with two goals and a rebound, but sabotaged all the good work with an overcooked pass over Thwaites and out of court.
After calling a timeout, Ash Brazill immediately misplaced a pass to Ravaillion, allowing the Swifts to go out to a six goal lead. Layton came up with a thrilling intercept, but once again it was Brazill spoiling possession by fumbling an easy pass moments later.
The Swifts shooters were combining brilliantly, netting 95% accuracy for the quarter, despite Layton totally flattening Housby just inside the top of the circle. It was just too easy for Hadley and Proud to craft the ball to the circle.
Garrett, appearing exhausted, couldn’t keep up with Housby any more and she was replaced by debutant Melissa Bragg. Even though Bragg was considerably shorter than Garrett, her jump over the shot was impressive, and she easily eclipsed Garrett’s stats with half as many minutes on court with three gains, two intercepts, and a rebound.
Magpies changed defensive structure to focus more on blocking the top of the circle, but this merely allowed Proud acres of space to attack laterally. Wallace kept up the dazzling one-handed takes, bagging 14 goals in the term. The Swifts went into the last change leading 51-40.
Shae Brown entered the match at centre, replacing Ravaillion. The home side kept along on their merry way, scoring the first three goals. Layton was getting frustrated, having to watch the good work of Brazill getting an intercept turned straight back as Bragg threw a pass which Proud snaffled.
The Magpies, intent on scoring quickly to close the margin, were sighting Thwaites much earlier and from far off the circle, leading to a steady cascade of six goals in the first seven minutes. In contrast, Swifts played a very large number of short crisp passes in attack, converting reliably.
Still making no inroads, Magpies’ Erin Bell was subbed off with the lead at 12 and six minutes remaining, replaced by Alice Teague-Neeld. A couple of uncharacteristically errant feeds from Hadley to Wallace gave the Pies a glimmer of hope, closing the lead to eight at one stage.
However, two very notable rebounds from Klau and an intercept and a scramble to pick up a loose ball by Eddy were enough to keep the visitors at arm’s length, with the NSW Swifts taking their third win of the season.
NSW Swifts 64 def Collingwood Magpies 54
(13-17, 32-27, 51-40, 64-54)
Player of the match: Sam Wallace (Swifts)
Wallace 43/48 90%
Housby 21/23 91%
Thwaites 39/44 89%
Bell 14/21 67%
Teague-Neeld 1/2 50%
Helen Housby – 22 goal assists, 2 intercepts, 2 rebounds, 2 turnovers
Paige Hadley – 23 goal assists, 1 intercept, 7 turnovers
Maddy Proud – 2 intercepts, 3 deflections, 11 penalties, 6 turnovers
Kate Eddy – 3 intercepts, 2 deflections, 9 penalties
Maddy Turner – 1 intercept, 5 deflections, 2 rebounds, 18 penalties, 1 turnover
Sarah Klau – 2 intercepts, 4 deflections, 2 rebounds, 21 penalties
Madi Robinson – 17 goal assists, 1 intercept, 5 turnovers
Kim Ravaillion – 10 goal assists, 3 turnovers, 8 penalties, 5 turnovers
Ash Brazill – 6 intercepts, 4 deflections, 5 penalties, 4 turnovers
Sharni Layton – 4 intercepts, 1 deflection, 2 rebounds, 21 penalties, 2 turnovers
GS Sam Wallace
GA Helen Housby
WA Paige Hadley
C Maddy Proud
WD Abbey McCulloch
GD Maddy Turner
GK Sarah Klau
GS Caitlin Thwaites
GA Erin Bell
WA Madi Robinson
C Kim Ravaillion
WD Ash Brazill
GD Matilda Garrett
GK Sharni Layton
Umpires: James Matthews, Tara Warner, Andrea Booth (reserve)
What they said
Briony Akle, NSW Swifts coach
On the turnaround in form compared to Round 4 loss against Fever
“I was a bit nervous in that first quarter, but we worked extremely hard at training this week on actually converting ball that we were getting back and they finally did it!”
On what she said in the second quarter tactical time out
“Ummm… some tough love! Just about possession and staying in the game. It was all about possession and keeping the movement going, because we knew what they were capable of, we knew who was in the (Magpies) team. And for us to stay stagnant, we were a bit stationary, and they got on the move, it was much better.”
On whether she was impressed with the Swifts shooting combination this week
“I think for us there’s been a lack of connection. I think today they came to play with each other, and they were unstoppable. Making that eye contact and giving that ball to Sammy (Wallace), I think Sammy had a great game – it’s probably the best game I’ve seen her play this season. They did a great job out there.”
On how she would guard against complacency in coming weeks
“I even think that last quarter, I’m not that happy. I’ll never be complacent, in terms of what that score could look like. For us it’s probably, being that young team, it’s keeping them focused on the hard work, week in, week out. That’s what we did this week – it’ll be no different!”
On how the whole team came out with tenacity
“I think this team knows that they’ve got to use those connections, in terms of how close they are off the court, on the court. I thought today they probably had an extra thing to prove to each other. They came to play for each other, instead of out there as individuals. They were a real team.”
On whether there was an injury that send captain Abbey McCulloch to the bench
“No, it was more about getting Kate (Eddy) out there. We know Kate can do a great job, and she’s got big tall arms which we knew would maybe frustrate Madi (Robinson) in that midcourt, and I thought she came on and did a beautiful job as well.”
On how Klau undermined the confidence and poise of Thwaites
“Yeah, I think she was a bit of a silent assassin out there today. I think she’s stopped Thwaites obviously from getting possession of the ball. I think Erin only put up two shots (in the fourth quarter) and so they had to make a change in the goal attack position. Maddy and Sarah are building a beautiful connection, hopefully in good stead for the next few games.”
Paige Hadley, NSW Swifts
On her overall feelings about the match
“Yeah, tough win. Really happy to get the win, obviously would’ve liked to get that last quarter win, but coming up against a Collingwood side, and to push on, winning by ten goals is magnificent.”
On how all three feeders improved their quick release to Wallace
“Yeah, that was our focus this week, I think last week we went off her too quickly. She is our big target, she can take balls like there’s no tomorrow. So, our focus was to look in early, and if she’s not there we play ‘round til she opens up”
On what might have been said before the game to pump the team up so much
“Oh look we always want to go out and win, and we want to play for each other. I think the disappointing game last week, we wanted to come out and show our brand of netball, and obviously the first quarter they got on top of us, but the second and third quarter were really tough, and the crowd were just awesome at the Quay Centre.”
On whether she is critical of herself for a couple of bad passes late in the match
“Absolutely! Obviously, I didn’t want to throw those balls away, we wanted to get the win in the last quarter. But to be able to sight Sammy in those pressure situations and to give those balls just builds my confidence, so I guess when you’re up by a bit you can have that confidence to do that.”
On her matchup with Ash Brazill today
“I felt first quarter she ready had it on top of me, she’s really good in the air, and her foot speed is incredible. But I just kept it really short in that second and third and and fourth quarters, and she couldn’t get as much hand to ball. I think I made her a little bit frustrated.”
On the number of collisions and bodies on the floor
“Look, Maddy Proud’s always on the ground, so we don’t count her, she just dives on the ground. But I think Helen was really strong in there today, they obviously know that she was a big target for us as well, and they were coming for her and hitting her.”
“For us, it’s all about taking the hit and being strong, obviously we want to give the ball so we get the contact, especially against the Magpies, they’re not gonna back out, they’re going to commit to that first ball contest. It’s not deliberate to take people out, I think someone like Sharns (Layton), you know I’ve played with her for so many years, she’s just first ball contest and she’s just hungry for it.”