The Melbourne Vixens were simply too strong for the Adelaide Thunderbirds on Sunday. The Thunderbirds were able to test the clearly exhausted Vixens for much of the game, but the Vixens’ consistency won out in the end as they look towards the finals series in a few weeks.
Caitlin Thwaites, Liz Watson and Jo Weston were all in the Australian Diamonds world cup squad, Kadie-Ann Dehaney played for the Sunshine Girls and Emily Mannix, Kate Moloney and Tegan Philip all travelling to Liverpool as training partners. The Vixens were then probably one of the most affected teams in the league, with Renae Ingles their only regular player to not have gone to Liverpool. The Vixens brought in three players to top their squad up to 12, with Mwai Kumwenda returning from an ACL rupture last year. Kim Commane and Jacqui Newton also joined the squad.
The Thunderbirds were also significantly affected by returning players with gold medallist Maria Folau, English Roses Chelsea Pitman and Layla Guscoth, South African wing defence Shadine Van Der Merwe and Sunshine Girl Shamera Sterling all returning. Maria Folau was ruled out of the game hours before, having been unable to recover from illness in time, while Guscoth suffered a season ending Achilles injury at the World Cup. The Thunderbirds brought in two shooters in Emma Ryde and Cody Lange, wing defender Maisie Nankivell and training partner Chelsea Blackman, all of whom got on court.
Thunderbirds coach Tania Obst opted to start with Cody Lange in goal shooter and Sasha Glasgow in goal attack. The Thunderbirds made a strong start, with Hannah Petty picking up an early deflection to put them out to a lead. However, as was to become a pattern for the game, they lost it on the very next centre pass when Pitman sent in a poor feed from the circle edge.
The Thunderbirds, to their credit, were not making life easy for the Vixens. Sterling caused Thwaites to miss her first shot with an impressive lean and the usually well-structured Vixens were having trouble getting the ball into the circle. Step up unwanted Diamond, Tegan Philip. Philip shot well from range all game and was instrumental in the Vixens being able to put points on the board when it counted.
While the circle defence from the Thunderbirds was excellent, they lacked through court defence when they lost the ball. The lightning quick transition from one end of the court to the other went virtually undefended through the midcourt at times with the players struggling to keep up with Moloney and Watson. Lange was struggling on the shot, able only to net one from four in the first quarter. Pitman and Petty also struggled with the pace of the game turning over the ball twice each in the first quarter.
The pressure to shoot was wearing on Lange and Weston and Mannix were able to take full advantage of this. Lange was forced to feed the ball in and out of the circle in order to get into a shooting position. Glasgow on the other hand provided a safe pair of hands, netting eight goals from nine attempts, but with no goal assists to her name to end the quarter.
When the Thunderbirds did win ball against the Vixens, it was thrown away down the court. Sterling came close to earning herself a turnover with a lob down to the attack end that was luckily touched by a Vixens player before it went out of court. This lack of care taken with turnover ball was to be an issue for the Thunderbirds throughout the game. Despite their troubles, the Thunderbirds went into the first break down by just four goals.
Emma Ryde was brought onto court for Lange at quarter time and responded exactly as Obst would have wanted, holding well under the post and shooting accurately. Down the other end, the toll that the long tournament had taken on Thwaites was now beginning to show. She wasn’t moving around the circle with her usual energy, making it harder for the ball to get to her. The Thunderbirds managed to go goal for goal for much of the second quarter. Inexplicably, a tactical timeout was called by the Thunderbirds just as they were gaining momentum.
As the quarter progressed with Ryde in at shooter, you could see Mannix beginning to find the best way to defend her. She managed to outmuscle her for the ball partway into the quarter, but Sterling imitated her down the other end. Glasgow was probably the unsung hero for the Thunderbirds, shooting with high accuracy from around the circle all game.
The Thunderbirds were being a lot more careful with the ball than we have seen so far this season and Ryde’s ability to hold and take the high ball was proving effective. In an attempt to stem the flow of goals and to disrupt the Thunderbirds centre pass, Simone McKinnis brought on Dehaney and sent Mannix to the bench. The bonus point was on the line for either team with just three minutes to go, but the defensive switch up worked well and when Ryde chose to feed the ball back out of the circle, it was gobbled up by the new defensive line.
The Vixens made a strong start to the third quarter, winning the ball twice off the Thunderbirds’ centre pass. The Thunderbirds seemed a step behind them and were unable to convert when the Vixens made mistakes. For the game, they converted just 19% of turnover ball, while the Vixens managed a slightly better 23%. The Thunderbirds feeders were also hesitating getting the ball into Ryde and the hesitancy was carrying over to her shooting, with Ryde feeding the ball back out even when in good shooting position.
It was the defensive intensity from the Thunderbirds that brought them back into the quarter. Obst had sent Van Der Merwe to the bench and brought on Maisie Nankivell. The change paid dividends with a tiring Watson being restricted to just four goal assists for the quarter. Nankivell also provided a lot more drive through the centre court and held Watson well off the circle edge.
The Vixens would have usually put more pressure on the scoreline in a game like this, but it was clear that this game was going to be a lot closer. An impressive win in the Thunderbirds’ shooting circle was thrown away down the other end with a miscommunication between Weston and Thwaites turning the ball back over.
With six minutes to go in the quarter, Mannix returned to the court, this time in goal defence and Kelly Altmann came on at centre to replace Petty. With four minutes to go in the quarter, a timeout was called by the Vixens and Thwaites and Philip swapped bibs. What seemed a surprising move to many watching on – forcing Thwaites to run around even more seemed a little cruel – the change was able to interrupt the effectiveness of Sterling, who plays much better on tall shooters. Philip was shooting from around the circle accurately and keeping her mostly in the goal circle was a coaching masterstroke.
The fight for the bonus point in the third quarter again went down to the wire going into the last minute. This time it was a missed shot from Ryde – only her second for the game that saw the quarter score end in a tie.
The Vixens kept the shooting combination the same in the fourth quarter. Sterling pulled off an impressive rebound to bring the score back to within five, but the Thunderbirds were unable to score off their own centre pass after a missed shot. This represented the game as a whole for the Thunderbirds, who had plenty of opportunity to make inroads against a team that were struggling to reach their usual heights.
Professional sportspeople tend to be good at hiding their fatigue, but it was the small moments when you really began to see the toll that the Liverpool tournament had taken on players. Weston batting a rebound out of court she usually would have easily taken, Watson missing a feed back out from Thwaites that bobbled over the sideline, Pitman with feeds clearly out of reach of either shooter and Thwaites opting not to take a shot she usually would. The main difference between the teams was in the experienced players who hadn’t played in the Netball World Cup and here the Thunderbirds lacked leadership. Philip had an exceptional game, Moloney provided a safe pair of hands finishing the game on just one turnover, an outstanding stat for a centre and was able to step into the feeding role when Watson was struggling.
The Thunderbirds again had opportunity to convert from the turnover ball they were getting and to pick up the last bonus point, but lacked the consistency to do it. They got within four goals and went goal for goal with the Vixens for much of the rest of the quarter, but as they had all day the Vixens fought back denying them yet another bonus point in the final minutes of the game.
The Thunderbirds will certainly take heart from a performance where they were able to stay within a couple of turnovers of the Vixens for much of the game. Ryde had an impressive outing for them, but will need to work on taking shots in pressure moments. The Vixens were clearly tired and out of sorts, but worked hard to shut the Thunderbirds out of the contest, particularly in the last minutes of each quarter.
From here, the Thunderbirds go home to face the Collingwood Magpies. The Vixens have another home game, perhaps just as well for the players, against the West Coast Fever.
Final score: Melbourne Vixens 63 beat Adelaide Thunderbirds 57
(13-9, 18-16, 16-16, 16-16)
MVP: Tegan Philip
Caitlin Thwaites 30/33 90.9%
Tegan Philip 33/40 82.5%
Melbourne Vixens 63/73 86.3%
Emma Ryde 28/30 93.3%
Sasha Glasgow 28/32 87.5%
(Cody Lange 1/4 25%)
Adelaide Thunderbirds 57/66 86.4%
Watson 27, Moloney 25
Sterling 7 (3 intercepts, 1 deflection with gain, 3 rebounds)
Mannix 4 (2 intercepts, 1 deflection with gain, 1 rebound)
Dehaney 4 (3 intercepts, 1 rebound)
Centre pass receives
Watson 31, Pitman 30
GS Caitlin Thwaites
GA Tegan Philip
WA Liz Watson
C Kate Moloney
WD Renae Ingles
GD Jo Weston
GK Emily Mannix
Q2: GK Kadie-Ann Dehaney; GD Mannix
GS Cody Lange
GA Sasha Glasgow
WA Chelsea Pitman
C Hannah Petty
WD Shadine Van der Merwe
GD Kate Shimmin
GK Shamera Sterling
Q2 GS Emma Ryde
Q3 WD Maisie Nankivell; C Kelly Altmann
Q3 GD Chelsea Blackman
Vixens Coach Simone McKinnis
On managing the players returning from the Netball World Cup
Look it was an awareness that that was going to be the case today and it was not pre-planning but being aware and keeping an eye on the girls throughout the match and that was a tough match so I’m happy we got through with what we did.
Would you have liked to pull away from them a bit more to give your attack and midcourt a bit more of a rest?
You know what – I was enjoying too much seeing Caitlin out front of Tegan. It was working really well. Let’s see how long this is going to work for. Yes and no, but it’s probably been a big week for Lizzy so she’s got through today and we’ll work on it again this week.
Overall the second half was level, so what did you take from that
I think that it was a hard grinding game. I thought Thunderbirds played really well. I think we were a little bit off it defensively, but I also thought that we did some great stuff in attack and the movement of the ball and I liked that we were pulling away in the moments we needed to, particularly in that first half. I’m just happy to come through with a win and whatever points that is.
On Tegan’s performance in her milestone game
Yes. I will acknowledge that. She did really well and nice and sharp back at goal shooter.
On MJ’s return on the bench
She’s playing and training as normal and has been in all our match play and everything in the last four plus weeks. And there’s an opportunity with Ine-Mari out and being able to have extra players. There’s nothing like getting your head in the game and knowing that you could be out there at any minute so it’s great for her to be there.
Will Ine-Mari be okay for next week?
Not sure. With a calf it’s just a day to day thing.
Is it good just to get that one done, given how busy the girls have been?
I was just having a chat to Renae about that. I’m glad to get through it, as I said, because it was always going to be tough and even though we had a really good week and the girls were really good when they came back, but it’s not until we get into a contest like that when you start to feel the emotional toll and all of that, so I’m really proud of the girls – the way that they’ve come back and the way that they’ve stepped out on court and absolutely rapt to have the win by six points.
A big change with Emma Ryde in for Maria Folau – how did you deal with that change coming into the match?
It was a late change and I was really excited for Emma, but it’s not too hard because it’s not like we don’t come across tall holding shooters. So it was just getting the heads around it and the awareness of the change that might be coming in. But as I said, we were a little bit off in terms of our contesting, but that will come.