There were plenty of world champion medallists on court on Sunday: each team had two silver medallists and one bronze from the Australian and English teams. This reflected a contest that should have been an even match contest between fourth and fifth on the ladder going into round 10 after a five week break. The final seven goal margin flattered the Jekyll and Hyde Magpies lineup, where only the GS and GK bookends were not substituted today. In reality, the Magpies were a long way from challenging the slick strategies of the Giants, who could afford to rest their star players after three quarters of effective team play.
Ash Brazill started at C for the Magpies, and her aerial takes and fast passing opened up clear passages to GS Shimona Nelson. The Magpies put Nelson under plenty of pressure early. They feed the ball to her high at the goal post, requiring an aerial take that often takes her further away from a safe scoring zone than might be necessary with a ground level pass. Nelson seemed to be feeling some nerves, committing a couple of handling errors, two missed shots and a stepping call in the first eight minutes of the game. It was at this point that some more engaged circle work from Medhurst might have helped reduce the exposure of her shooting partner, in preference to her usual long-bomb passes from the transverse line.
Each team had patches of sparkling play that they could not sustain for more than a few minutes in the first quarter. Magpies converted turnovers on three Giants centre passes in a row, owing to good full-court defensive pressure, and took an early lead at 10-6. The Giants demonstrated their co-operative determination to convert defensive gains on three of the next four Magpies centre passes. Jamie-Lee Price at C was timing her feeds from the circle edge to make effective connections with GA Jo Harten, who was shooting accurately from extended range with breathtaking speed. GS Caitlin Bassett was left with little to do but keep Geva Mentor out of the way.
In the second quarter Kim Ravaillion moved to C, but Price continued to have too much time and space to approach the Giants circle edge. The Magpies kept pace with the Giants in the first ten minutes, and brought the scores back to level at 19-19. An uncharacteristic bad pass from Jo Harten gifted the Magpies a defensive gain, and they patiently navigated a difficult transition to get around a circular zone defence that the Giants quickly set up.
The Giants immediately called a timeout, which the Magpies took advantage of to substitute Matilda Garrett at GD for April Brandley, who was having an ineffectual contest with Harten. The Giants came out of this pause with swift passes zigzagging across the centre third, and won three defensive gains from four Magpies centre passes by forcing errors in the goal circle.
Rob Wright decided that a substitute at WA might solve the problems, and brought Kimiora Poi on for Kelsey Browne. The errors continued however, with both Collingwood shooters giving up turnovers through bad hands and bad passes. Giants defenders Sam Poolman and Kristiana Manu’a were having great success with their uncompromising body work. The passes to the circle became increasingly desperate from the Magpie feeders, to holds that were not often well-advised. The Magpies struggled to explore alternatives to their first attacking strategy when Nelson was not available. Medhurst in particular had no opportunity nor inspiration to exploit her speed against Manu’a to create more space and movement. In the last seven-and-a-half minutes of the second quarter, the Magpies scored two goals to the Giants’ eleven. Basset asserted herself with greater confidence, and scored seven of her ten goals for the quarter in this period.
The substitution of Kiera Austin to WA for Kim Green in the second quarter was an interesting decision by Giants coach Julie Fitzgerald. Green had respectable figures of six goal assists and six centre pass receives in the first quarter, but was hanging back from the goal circle at times. While Austin had a couple of nice feeds to bring Bassett more into the game, her primary virtue seemed to be getting out of the way of Jamie-Lee Price and Harten as they went about carving up the goal third. Price in particular dominated the circle feeding with nine goal assists, and her new second-quarter opponent Kim Ravaillion had no demonstrable ideas in dealing with her straight lines and calm timing.
The Giants gave the Magpies few opportunities to reduce their lead in the third quarter – the Magpies were able to convert only one defensive gain on a Giants centre pass. The Magpies struggled to match the Giants’ consistent play across the quarter. Over the course of twelve centre passes from three minutes into the third quarter, the Magpies were able to move the ball directly to the goal post for a scoring shot on only four occasions. From these eight turnovers the Giants scored five times, extending their lead to eighteen goals by the end of the third quarter to 52 – 34.
Just when you thought the Magpies were going to win the rabble award, the final quarter gave them a bit of hope for the future. Gabby Sinclair had entered the game at GA in the third quarter, and began to provide some fast, purposeful leads in attack. She executed some brilliantly quick feeds to Nelson, demonstrating how to play the static defence of Poolman and Manu’a. The impact of her play was evidenced by the Magpies’ shooting for the quarter: Nelson scored 15 from 17 attempts, and Sinclair 7 from 10, the best output of any combination on the court in this game.
In this quarter, the Giants were able to rest two of their world championship players: Harten went to the bench in favour of Austin at GA and Price swapped WD bib with Parmenter. The slower pace of the Giants attack end enabled Brazill and Mentor to pull off four defensive gains each. The Magpies played with visible enthusiasm to win the final quarter 22-11, although informed spectators could avoid a charge of cynicism if they concluded that the Giants would not have allowed the seven-goal margin to narrow further with their best players out of position.
The big question for Rob Wright post-match was his perspective on his second-quarter exchange with Browne before benching her in the second quarter. In reponse to Browne’s request for some positive feedback, Wright was captured by the broadcast camera’s telling her, “I can’t give you any. Do your role,” followed by, “I don’t need the attitude.” After the game he was happy to explain, if not quite contrite. “If I had my time again we would not have had that on a camera,” he said with disarming candour. “But unfortunately there’s mikes there so I probably could have done that better. The good thing is that we can have a really good conversation and then she comes out and plays exceptionally well in the second half. I couldn’t fault her, and I said that to her at three quarter time. I thought her play in the third quarter was exceptional and then she came out and did exactly the same in the fourth quarter. And look at the result we got in the fourth quarter.”
Wright had a bit of a chat with Browne after the match and he affirmed, “Yeah, we’re all good. Look, it gives people some insight into what goes on on the sidelines. But I’m always looking to do things better, so I can come up with a better way to do that.”
Of the Magpies’ varying fortunes in this match, Wright was left wondering what might have been. “In the fourth quarter, we looked like we just came to life. There was no fear, and they just let the ball go in attack. There was good strong leads and they were patient in attack. We kept scoring off our centre pass which we hadn’t done all game. In two of the quarters, I think we were down at a 40% conversion rate on our centre pass. We were about 90% in the final quarter. Defensively, we tightened up and put ourselves in a position to win the ball. That’s the standard we need from the last quarter for the rest of the year.”
Wright said that the team had been playing with the starting lineup of Brazill in C and Ravaillion in WD for a couple of weeks. “It has certainly been looking really good. It was okay in patches, but didn’t go quite as well today, so we changed it back to a more comfortable combination. But it’s been going well in training.”
Shimona Nelson had nine turnovers today, arising from a range of bad hands statistics and unrealistic passes from her feeders. “Some of it is about making the passes easier on her,” Wright said, “and some of it is her own work. I thought a number of the errors were in those middle quarters. Later in the game I thought she came our far better. Her hands were super strong in the last quarter. She’s going to make some mistakes as she learns this game. At the end of the day this is only her third year. From a feeding point of view, we need to try and get a little bit closer rather than trying to force the ball early. At times I thought we tried to force the bally into her. When we were a bit more patient, the circle opened up a bit more and then the feeds to her were good.”
Wright was really happy with what he saw from substitute GA Gabby Sinclair in the second half. “Most of the time when she has come on out here it’s been in terrible situations. It’s really hard as a youngster to come on when it’s not already going well. For her to get a whole half is really pleasing. I thought she built really nicely into the game, and her shot was good.”
Of the Magpies prospects for the rest of the season, Wright is taking heart from the last quarter. “We haven’t made it easy to get into the top four. But if we can see that performance quarter after quarter in the last weeks then we can have a real shot. We are now having to rely on other people as well to lose games, which is never ideal. At the moment we can still make it, and I still believe we can make it.”
Next week in Round 11, the Magpies play the Thunderbirds in Adelaide, while the Giants have a home game against the Firebirds.
Giants Netball 63 def Collingwood Magpies 57
(16-14, 18-9, 18-11, 11-22)
Player of the match: Jo Harten (Giants)
GS Shimona Nelson
GA Nat Medhurst
WA Kelsey Browne
C Ash Brazill
WD Kim Ravaillion
GD April Brandley
GK Geva Mentor
Q2: WD Brazill; C Ravaillion; GD Matilda Garrett; WA Kimiora Poi
Q3: WA Browne; GA Gabrielle Sinclair; GD Brandley
Q4: GD Garrett
GS Caitlin Bassett
GA Jo Harten
WA Kim Green
C Jamie-Lee Price
WD Amy Parmenter
GD Kristiana Manu’a
GK Sam Poolman
Q2: WA Kiera Austin
Q4: GA Austin; WA Green; WD Price; C Parmenter
Kelsey Browne (Magpies) 31, Jamie-Lee Price (Giants) 30, Kiera Austin (Giants) 15
Shimona Nelson (Magpies) 9, Kiera Austin (Giants) 8, Jo Harten (Giants) 6
Kim Ravaillion (Magpies) 3
Kim Ravaillion (Magpies) 13, Amy Parmenter (Giants) 12, Geva Mentor (Magpies) 10, Sam Poolman (Giants) 10
Giants 17, Magpies 15