Contributors: Andrew Kennedy, Ian Harkin, Jenny Sinclair, Katrina Nissen
Photographers: Marcela Massey, Simon Leonard
NSW Swifts 63 d GIANTS Netball 59 (17-15, 15-13, 17-12, 14-19)
A huge congratulations to Jo Harten who played in her 150th National League match. While unfortunately the result didn’t fall Harten’s way, she showed her pure class in leadership on and off court, with a magnificent captain’s speech after the game.
Kate Wright, Justin Barnes, Bronwen Adams (reserve)
Swifts’ goal defence Maddy Turner was a fitting choice for the grand final MVP. She not only picked up a match high five gains, but nullified her opponent, Sophie Dwyer. Dwyer has had an outstanding season, after being elevated to starting goal attack in the absence of Kiera Austin. This was a crucial battle for the outcome of the match and Turner was able to get the better of it.
Turner used body positioning to force Dwyer into the traffic, from where she struggled to find room to move, and also kept her boxed out of rebounding position. While big game nerves might have added to Dwyer’s struggles, the impact of Turner kept her to one of her quietest games of the season, finishing with just nine feeds, 11 centre pass receives and giving away six turnovers.
It was a wonderful testament and full circle for Turner. Having moved from Adelaide to Sydney aged 20, she played a full season and a losing grand final in 2016. Turner then cemented her spot in the Swifts starting seven for the past five years of Super Netball, leading now to dual premierships. Her growing muscle and tenacity, glowing team spirit, commitment to four quarters, and experience of the biggest stages including representing her country, have now been recognised with one of the rarest accolades in Australian sport.
MOST INFLUENTIAL PLAYER – MIDCOURT
It was a triumphant grand final for Maddy Proud, who completely shaded her direct opponent, Jamie-Lee Price. Proud, who finished with 36 feeds and an intercept, played a smart game against Price. Knowing the strength of her opponent, Proud didn’t try to outmuscle Price, but rather used her footwork to either get around her, or draw her wide and out of the passing lanes.
Proud’s passes were also perfectly weighted, safely finding Wallace or Housby in the circle.
MOST INFLUENTIAL PLAYER – SHOOTING CIRCLE
There were winners all over court for the Swifts, and Sam Wallace went very close to the grand final MVP award with a sparkling performance that included a 51/55 at 92.7% accuracy. Completely unflappable despite some at times questionable body work against her, Wallace’s positioning was on point. Whether she was defended from in front or behind, she perfectly held position, allowing the ball to drop into the space of her design.
Swifts’ coach Briony Akle wrapped up her second grand final win in just four seasons of coaching, an incredible record at this level. During her tenure she has built a highly flexible squad who can rotate on and off court as needed, without a loss of momentum. Akle’s recruiting has also been spot on, with a variety of options for each position.
During the game, Akle’s substitutions were masterly, particularly in the midcourt. As soon as opponent Amy Parmenter started to influence play, Akle whisked Paige Hadley off court, replacing her with Nat Haythornthwaite. The duo swapped wing attack bibs on three occasions, running Parmenter off her feet, as she tried to adjust to two quite differing styles.
Akle and her players also paid credit to the incredible defensive coaching provided by Bec Bulley.
Julie Fitzgerald has done an incredible job with the rookies at her disposal this year, particularly with Sophie Dwyer following the round one injury to Kiera Austin. Unfortunately only time buys experience, and Fitzgerald was severely limited by options off the bench. Four circle defenders in a team of 10 impacts the midcourt options, and some tough decisions might need to be made across the off season to balance the team.
One question on the commentators and fan’s lips was when Dwyer was struggling, why Harten wasn’t swung into goal attack to have a greater impact on the game.
PLAYS OF THE ROUND
Is there anyone more humble in victory or gracious in defeat than Jo Harten? In her press conferences this year, particularly in the heartbreaking post match ones, Harten praised her team, her coach and particularly the rookies, remaining upbeat and positive rather than letting her disappointment shine through. Harten is all class.
In the post match press conference, Maddy Proud commented that for the first time in her life she was speechless, then proceeded to demonstrate that this unusual state of play only lasted a second.
GIANTS ended up having one more shot at goal than Swifts during the match, but there was certainly a big difference in accuracy (Swifts 92% v GIANTS 77%). As the match wore on and they found themselves falling further behind, GIANTS attempted more and more super shots and their overall accuracy dropped off.
Where this hurt them was in “missed goal turnovers”. Seven times in the match, GIANTS lost possession due to a missed attempt, compared to just two from Swifts. Interestingly, if you removed the super shots and only counted the regulation goals, GIANTS’ shooting % was actually marginally better than Swifts’.
After conceding a season record-low 30 penalties last week against Fever, GIANTS gave away almost double that in this game (59), compared to just 40 by Swifts. Goal keeper Sam Poolman was penalised just three times in last week’s game, but conceded three times that many in 49 minutes in the grand final. Most penalised player on court was GIANTS’ wing defence Amy Parmenter with 16.
The GIANTS will also rue their inability to convert gains into goals. While they picked off as many gains as the Swifts did – 10 apiece – they were only able to convert 4 (at 40%) compared to the Swifts 7 (at 70%).
TALKING POINTS OF THE ROUND
With the season officially done and dusted, and international players already winging their way home, there is still no Collective Bargaining Agreement on the table. It’s an incredibly difficult situation for clubs, coaches and athletes, with no job certainty, and overseas leagues looking to snaffle a few players. It’s understood that the current hold up is between Netball Australia and the clubs, but it’s a matter that will need to be resolved as soon as possible.
With all players out of contract, there’s been plenty of speculation about their futures already. Which international players might head home, as the impacts of Covid bite into the length of time they can spend with family or national preparation for the Commonwealth Games? Which local players might switch sides in search of greater court time? Jhaniele Fowler has already jetted off to Jamaica with no word on her future, while Nat Haythornthwaite was visibly teary after the grand final.
During the week, test series between England and New Zealand, and England and Australia were announced. With the Roses already quarantining in New Zealand, that leg of the tour will feature matches on the 20th, 22nd and 24th of September in Christchurch, current Covid lockdown permitting. The Roses will then travel to Australia for three matches in October, with dates and locations yet to be announced.
England’s travelling squad includes:
Shooters: Ella Clark, Rhea Dixon, George Fisher, Eleanor Cardwell, Sophie Drakeford-Lewis
Mid courters: Laura Malcolm, Hannah Joseph, Serena Guthrie, Beth Cobden, Imogen Allison, Jade Clarke
Defenders: Geva Mentor, Layla Gusgoth, Fran Williams, Vicki Oyesola
They will be joined by Jo Harten, Helen Housby, Nat Haythornthwaite and Stacey Francis-Bayman for the Australian leg only.
Special mention goes to Geva Mentor, who inexplicably had to fly from Melbourne to New Zealand, via Singapore.
TWEET OF THE WEEK
If we could give out awards for this year’s most influential Twitter user it would go to the Swifts’ social media team. They have successfully found the social side of social media, often poking fun at themselves or just bringing us joy through their witty banter and clever videos. We particularly love these two entries from this week.
— NSW Swifts (@NSWSwifts) August 23, 2021
And, we can’t go past this bonus one posted Sunday morning!
STAND OUT STATISTICS
Centre pass receives
31 Maddie Hay
23 Paige Hadley
36 Maddy Proud
32 Maddie Hay, Jamie-Lee Price
3 Jo Harten, Maddy Turner
5 Maddy Turner
4 Amy Parmenter
6 Sophie Dwyer, Paige Hadley
5 Jamie-Lee Price
Gains to goal percentage
NEW SOUTH WALES SWIFTS 63 def GIANTS NETBALL 59
MATCH REPORT by Andrew Kennedy
In the first ever Sydney-derby in national league history, two crack squads channeled all the struggles and sacrifices of 2021 into focus to win the 2021 Suncorp Super Netball Premiership. Swifts had the advantage of fielding a starting seven from their recent title in 2019, and even three players from their grand final loss in 2016, plus their two weeks off thanks to a win in the major semi-final. Meanwhile the GIANTS had momentum and confidence from overcoming competition leaders Fever in the preliminary final, and their connections were gelling together at precisely the right time.
The opening saw NSW Swifts leap out suddenly to a six-goal margin, quickly yanked back to parity by GIANTS. From then on the local Brisbane fans were treated to some exceptional netball from the Sam Wallace juggernaut, who left the defence in her dust on many occasions. But it was actually one of the unsung backline that was the greatest hero, as Maddy Turner squashed the influence of her rookie opponent and helped Swifts push out steadily to a nine-goal lead after three quarters. GIANTS kept using the risky power five to try clawing back, and finally in the last quarter it worked, yet the gap was too big and the run too late. Briony Akle led her team to another championship, Swifts ecstatic in their 63-59 win.
Saving her best for the match that counted, Maddy Turner at goal defence ran Sophie Dwyer into the ground and out of the game. Debutant Dwyer had been peaking ahead of the finals, but she struggled with six turnovers and five missed supershots, flagging with 73% accuracy overall. Meanwhile, Turner’s style of tagging and blocking normally doesn’t see her high on the stats sheet, but in the grand final she was best on court with five gains, her second best tally of the whole year. Her play interrupted the whole attacking system of GIANTS, as Hay in particular didn’t have the clear passing options that she normally enjoys.
Samantha Wallace also could barely have played any better. “I thought Sam Wallace was unstoppable today,” said GIANTS’ coach Julie Fitzgerald. “All we tried to do is win ball early so we could keep it away from her.” But it was never enough – the dominance of the Trinidad and Tobago shooter started with her strength in securing a hold in the circle periphery, giving the option to feeders to feed front or back whenever the defence gave a hint of moving off the mark. “I accused [Wallace] of being too casual in the first half,” reflected Briony Akle. “She’s definitely got a presence, and we can’t predict what she’s going to do, she reads the game and stays in the moment. Sammy does need gentle reminders to be dominant and that includes turning and throwing from half way. Giants didn’t have an answer for that today.”
Solid all year for GIANTS, their two young wing players fought valiantly. Maddie Hay was best for GIANTS, with no turnovers in the second half and continuing her instrumental midcourt defence. And the Swifts needed an incredible double act from Hadley and Haythornthwaite to combat the dominance of Parmenter, who was singled out for special attention from opposing coach Akle – “We didn’t pre plan [the changes at wing attack] – you need a team of ten in this comp. It’s getting so fast, so physical. Everyone needs confidence, and I know how good Amy Parmenter is, to beat her single handedly for 60 minutes means using two players. Paige got Parmy on the move and get her head turning, so it was trying to isolate her a bit.”
The teams had a largely similar game plan of short, sharp, safe passing, with the Swifts using fast feet and quick release, and GIANTS being a bit more patient working into space and selecting options. The key differences were in the circles. Swifts were highly successful using the one-on-one of Wallace versus Poolman or McDonell, and Poolman wasn’t able to undermine the balance and confidence of the Swifts’ goaler. This week the umpiring was hot onto holding calls by both sides, and this reduced the influence of the GIANTS’ goal keepers. Only April Brandley really had the footwork to confuse space but the GIANTS were often caught on the front foot seeking ball at circle edge, making the drop to the post easy for Swifts.
At the other end, GIANTS had a measured buildup, weathering well the constant first-ball contest of the Swifts. GIANTS actually bested the Swifts on turnovers, with a tidy 17 compared to their opponents’ 19. Both were also sharp in denying gains, allowing only 10 each for the opposition.
The balance of Swifts midcourt was beautiful to watch. Maddy Proud took advantage of a below-energy performance of Jamie-Lee Price and balanced the court, compensating for when her wing attack was sewn up on the side lines and in fact leading the team with 23 goal assists. Housby contributed to the structure, dominating the periphery of the circle while leaving room for the midcourt and creating the right angles as she reset and cleared for the next pass.
WHAT needs improvement?
It’s tough to pick on small individual deficits when the match was so close. GIANTS revitalised their season after a slump in the middle, making sure that Sophie Dwyer grew from week to week, they retained possession, and they took a lead and kept it. Unfortunately, some ineffective tactics and habits came back in the grand final. To start, GIANTS defence were caught napping, and Swifts romped out 6-0 before Giants got the next four goals. The intensity occasionally rose to grand final standard but never convincingly threatened the Swifts.
Another area that can be fortified is the conversion of GIANTS possession. Swifts pushed Giants into uncomfortable spaces, separating them and causing frequent held balls or rushed and misplaced passes in the first half especially. Swifts were better 77% to 68% on centre pass conversions, and better 64% to 55% in converting gains and turnovers.
Both teams played the first, second and third phases similarly. The centre pass generally went away easily to attack – GIANTS went backwards 23% of the time, and Swifts a scant 8%. But from then, the closest lead for second phase was often double teamed, forcing a cross-court pass, the goal shooter to come out, or a long ball to the pocket. The problem was that Tayla Fraser and Parmenter hardly ever got close to disrupting those pocket balls, due to the snappy release and exceptional accuracy of the passing, whilst the goal keepers were too slow to come out and pounce. This created depth and space, particularly for Swifts, and all 2022 teams will need to have a solution for this play.
WHEN was it won?
It was a tale of a classic “championship quarter” setting up the victory. The beginning flurry from Swifts was dramatic and impressive, but the GIANTS quickly hit back and actually gained the lead 10-9 in the eleventh minute of the first quarter. After the nerves and the sprints were all done, it was a persistently classy Swifts that ground out small runs of momentum for the next 35 minutes to have a nine-goal lead for the last quarter.
While the second quarter was messy both ways and luck fell to NSW Swifts, their third quarter was particularly good, as co-captain Maddy Proud described post-match – “We talked about the third being the premiership quarter, and if we were ever going to turn it, it would be at that time. How did we get to that kind of gap? We stuck to the game plan – which really set us up for the last quarter.” Her team won that period 17-12, thanks to a couple of three-goal runs and 89% accuracy, whilst Giants got back-to-back scores only twice, making only 65%.
WHERE was it lost?
The most unhelpful stat was the GIANTS questionable reliance on supershots. In the preliminary final they scored 3/7 2-pointers and seemed to be abandoning the impulsive tactic, but in this match it was common to see one supershot land, followed by two misses. Some say that they were forced into risky 2-point attempts to catch up in the end, but with 4/8 at 50% in the last quarter they actually fared much better than the 5/14 at 38% they’d managed up to that point. With seven missed goal turnovers, and only one conversion from 15 missed shots for the game, Harten and Dwyer would’ve done better to quell their instincts and stick with 1-pointers which they landed at 95.3%, more accurately than Swifts.
Even though GIANTS mounted a comeback from 11 goals down with six minutes to go, scoring four supershots, the Swifts had a mental strategy ready and did not crumble. GIANTS were not able to create panic in their opposition. “I always remember the game against GIANTS last year we were ahead 10 goals with five minutes to go,” said Proud, “[you have to] score off our centre pass. It meant that we drew the clock down, when they got turnovers it wasn’t a shock. Just remember you get every second centre pass, and when Helen got that intercept…. It hit me with 30 seconds to go, I looked up at the clock and nearly started crying.”