*** Netball Scoop does not have a photographer in Tasmania. The cover photo for this story was taken by Danny Dalton in round 6.
The Collingwood Magpies put on their best performance in Suncorp Super Netball history, taking down the ladder leading NSW Swifts by eight goals in a packed Launceston arena. The win was overshadowed by what looked to be a serious knee injury to wing attack Kelsey Browne. To their credit, the Magpies continued to fight the whole game despite the injury, and picked up three bonus points in the process.
The Swifts were again without Helen Housby who is still battling an injury to her thigh. While the Swifts were guaranteed a finals place, this loss meant they could be overtaken on the ladder and lose the opportunity to host the major semi-final. The Swifts were steady for the duration of the game, but lacked the defensive intensity to stop the Magpies front line who were firing on all cylinders.
It was the defensive work done by the Magpies back line that set them up to take a significant lead in the first quarter. The Swifts were struggling to drive into their shooters, with the defensive duo of April Brandley and Geva Mentor able to confuse the space and pick up the loose ball. Crucially, early hand to ball from Mentor and Brandley put fear into the Swifts feeders and balls that would usually have gone into Wallace were not being released.
Exceptional defence from the back four also forced the Swifts into swinging cross court balls which were picked up easily by the defenders. The Magpies went out to a three goal lead and the Swifts quickly called a time out. There was little the Swifts could do to halt the momentum at this point and the Magpies increased their lead thanks to some stunning defensive plays from Ash Brazill.
The Swifts, for one of the first times this season, looked out of sorts. The work of Brandley on Sophie Garbin saw her reluctant to shoot, often trying to pass the ball to a double defended Sam Wallace rather than taking the shot. After Garbin hit a beautiful long shot, the Swifts prevented the Magpies from scoring for the last two minutes of the quarter and scored the last three goals. The Magpies went into the first break up by four.
Briony Akle rang the changes to start the second quarter, moving Nat Haythornthwaite to goal attack, Paige Hadley to wing attack and Katrina Rore to goal defence and bringing on Sophie Halpin in wing defence and Tayla Fraser in centre. The changes had an immediate impact with Haythornthwaite going to the post with confidence and able to break through the gruelling circle defence by making strong drives onto the ball.
The Swifts were able to make some inroads, drawing within three goals at several points during the quarter. The work of Paige Hadley in centre was key, delivering seven goal assists and two pickups for the quarter. Yet the Swifts, who are usually so good at converting gains and turnovers, would turn a ball over and score a goal only to lose it on their next centre pass. They ended the game having converted just 62% of their own centre passes.
The newfound attacking prowess of the Pies was on show. Kelsey Browne burnt Katrina Rore for speed, forcing a change in the second quarter. Her vision into Nelson was exceptional. A hush went over the crowd as Browne went down with what looked like a serious knee injury with two and a half minutes left in the quarter. She was carried off to see medical staff and later returned to the bench to support her teammates. Kiwi Kimiora Poi came on in her place and it was immediately apparent she was not going to have the same impact in terms of goal assists and feeds as Browne.
In what was becoming a pattern for the game, the Swifts capitalised on the midcourt change and again scored the last four goals of the quarter meaning the bonus point didn’t go to either side and the lead for the Magpies remained at four goals.
The third quarter opened with a huge momentum swing to the Swifts, not all that surprising as the Magpies had just lost Browne, who had been leading all on court for goal assists and circle feeds up until that point. Losing a player of Browne’s calibre was always going to be a challenge. The Swifts drew level five minutes in with defensive gains from Paige Hadley and Tayla Fraser.
Poi had a quiet game statistically, but played an important role bringing the ball down court and finding Medhurst or Brazill on the circle edge. In some ways, given her lack of game time with Nelson, it was good that she didn’t try to rush the feed in; the ball had to be in exactly the right place. Medhurst and Brazill both stepped up in the third quarter, providing further links in attack, feeding into the circle and providing brilliant on-court leadership. Brazill finished the game on an impressive 25 goal assists and 35 feeds. Medhurst was at her silky best, running rings around the circle defenders, finding goals from range and making excellent drives through the circle.
The Magpies have struggled in recent weeks with huge off-target lobs from the transverse line. These were generally pulled off with more finesse when they were used. The Magpies did tend to play best in attack when they could feed in straight from the circle edge, and they looked best in the latter part of the game when Brazill was driving through the middle and finding the perfect feeding position at the top of the circle.
The performance of Nelson was also impressive. Throughout the game, Medhurst, Brazill and Browne had put some tough balls into her. Her incredible elevation and much improved hands in the air made her a target. Despite Sarah Klau’s best efforts, she could only watch on helplessly as Nelson took in the feeds despite intense defensive pressure. Medhurst was at her brilliant best, finding space to move into and leading Maddy Turner and then Rore on wild goose chases outside of the circle to open up the space for Nelson to take the ball.
Despite Browne’s absence, the Magpies continued to extend their lead. Mentor continued an incredible game, putting Wallace off her shot and gathering two rebounds from missed shots and an intercept to top it off. The Magpies didn’t look like losing from the middle of the third quarter onward, and after Rore received a caution and a warning, Turner was brought back onto the court. The Swifts struggled to shift the momentum in their favour and they threw away countless opportunities to make inroads into the Magpies’ lead. The Magpies went into the final break up by six goals and with an extra bonus point.
The fourth quarter saw further changes made by Akle with cross-coder Elle Bennetts coming onto court in wing attack. The Magpies looked in control for much of the quarter with Brazill seemingly now with the ball on a string to Nelson under the post. Klau was beaten by the pace of the ball into Nelson from Brazill and Medhurst. Her inability to find ball in defence saw Akle bring on Rore in goal keeper to combat Nelson’s aerial moves.
The Swifts had an opportunity to draw the quarter score level in the final quarter but were unable to convert their own centre pass. The Magpies went on to win by eight goals, earning themselves a third bonus point.
The Swifts will rue missed opportunities in a game where they couldn’t get a single competition point on the board. The Magpies played with heart and brilliant teamwork, which hasn’t been a common theme for them this season. If the consistency can continue, they could be in with a real chance to outrun the Giants into finals. The Magpies will face the Vixens next week at home, while the Swifts take on the Firebirds.
A closer look at
If the injury to Kelsey Browne is what it looked to be, it will be the fifth serious knee injury this season. Amidst the debate about the close scheduling of the Netball World Cup and Suncorp Super Netball, this high injury rate does not look good.
Sharni Layton’s recent article about the issues with the less than one week turnaround between the World Cup and round 10 highlighted the potential physical and mental health dangers of placing these expectations on players. It is difficult to pinpoint a single reason for the number of injuries this season, but it is clear that fatigue in players can contribute to injuries. This is compounded when you consider the five day turnaround between games for the Magpies, which also involved flying back from Perth and then onto Tasmania.
That change to the midcourt
The positional switch between Brazill and Ravaillion has worked wonders in the last two games. Brazill is fast shedding her reputation as a one position player and while Ravaillion doesn’t have the same impact in defence as Brazill, she provides good backup through the midcourt and is able to shut her opposition player out of the game. Ravaillion forced two switches in the wing attack position during the game and was key to the Magpies’ transition from defence into attack.
Brazill is simply brilliant with shades of Laura Langman’s fitness levels coming through in her game since she’s taken up AFLW. She has a tremendous connection with Medhurst, built on their time playing together for Fever. Her ability to play with flair in attack and still pick up plenty of ball in defence is unparalleled. Spending the past two weeks at centre and winning MVP both times, Brazill is going from strength to strength and her stats for the game speak for themselves: 25 goal assists, two gains, one intercept, four deflections and four pickups. Her continued exclusion from the Australian Diamonds squad continues to puzzle and off the back of these performances, she surely must be in the frame for selection.
Collingwood Magpies 64 beat NSW Swifts 56
(17-13, 15-15, 16-14, 16-14)
MVP: Ash Brazill
Shimona Nelson 52/54 96.3%
Nat Medhurst 12/14 85.7%
Collingwood Magpies 64/68 94.1%
Sam Wallace 39/43 90.7%
Sophie Garbin 8/10 80%
(Nat Haythornthwaite 9/10 90%)
NSW Swifts 56/63 88.9%
Ash Brazill 25
Nat Medhurst 18
Sophie Garbin 16
Geva Mentor 8
Tayla Fraser 3
April Brandley 2
Ash Brazill 2
Sarah Klau 2
Katrina Rore 2
GS Shimona Nelson
GA Nat Medhurst
WA Kelsey Browne
C Ash Brazill
WD Kim Ravaillion
GD April Brandley
GK Geva Mentor
Q2: WA Kimiora Poi
GS Sam Wallace
GA Sophie Garbin
WA Nat Haythornthwaite
C Paige Hadley
WD Katrina Rore
GD Maddy Turner
GK Sarah Klau
Q2: C Tayla Fraser, GA Haythornthwaite, WD Sophie Halpin, WA Hadley, GD Rore
Q3: GD Turner, C Hadley, GA Garbin, WA Bennetts
Q4: WA Haythornthwaite, GK Rore