The Melbourne Vixens have recorded their third win in as many games after overpowering the Adelaide Thunderbirds by 16 goals on Saturday afternoon.
The match could have further implications for the Thunderbirds, with starting seven players Beth Cobden and Chelsea Pitman leaving the court in the second quarter with injuries.
After resounding victories against the Queensland Firebirds and Giants Netball, the Vixens went into the match as favourites; in contrast, the Thunderbirds were looking to bounce back after a reality check against the NSW Swifts.
The final margin betrays the closeness of the match, particularly in the first quarter, where the lead changed hands many times. A missed pass by Maria Folau gave the Vixens a three-goal head start early on, but a gain to Layla Guscoth evened out the scores. A misplaced pass by the Vixens which seemed destined to go out of court was miraculously retrieved by Caitlin Thwaites, but a similarly poor circle feed was lapped up by Shamera Sterling, and allowed the Thunderbirds to leapfrog into a two-goal lead.
However, even as the early margin see-sawed, there were signs that the Vixens would pull out eventually. Their pinpoint passes and comfortable passage to goal were no more evident than one play where Tegan Philip collected a rocket pass into the circle in mid-air on the baseline, and managed to effortlessly tip it into Thwaites’ waiting hands.
To the Thunderbirds’ credit, there was more fluidity in their attacking end than previous rounds, but they were making hard work for themselves but putting the ball a little higher or wider than it needed to be. A miss by Sasha Glasgow under the ring was snatched up by the Vixens to level the scores, and in the last minute of the quarter, the Vixens seized the lead with two late goals to Philip. The Vixens were settling faster, although Glasgow was holding strongly and winning her battle against Australian Diamond Emily Mannix.
In the fourth minute of the second quarter, the Thunderbirds were transitioning a turnover ball down court when Cobden landed awkwardly after a mid-air take. Cobden is only two games into her return from an ACL injury recovery, and Adelaide (and English) supporters fear she has re-injured the same knee. While no injury diagnosis will be made until scans have been undertaken, Cobden’s shattered face may have told the story. To make matters worse, five minutes later co-captain Chelsea Pitman – who missed a chunk of pre-season after injuring her calf in the Team Girls Cup – called an injury time-out and left the court with a lower-leg complaint.
Despite the injuries, the margin was still hovering around the 2-3 goal mark, and the Thunderbirds seemed to be on the verge of snatching at least the quarter lead back. However, it all went wrong for the Adelaide side in the final minutes as the Vixens knuckled down. Coach Simone McKinnis substituted rising Jamaican star Kadie-Ann Dehaney on court to defend Glasgow, and her impact was immediately felt with an intercept. A late gain to Renae Ingles saw the margin blow out to nine goals on the half time whistle. The Vixens were proving they had the poise when it mattered, and were the far cleaner side with the penalty count 19 to 39 in their favour.
The Thunderbirds shuffled their line up in the third quarter, and the attacking switch ups caused some initial congestion on the transverse line and circle edge. Even once the players had settled, unforced errors were still wasting the ball won by Kate Shimmin and Sterling in their defensive end. The Vixens, in comparison, were patient. The pressure Ingles was applying off the ball was starting to yield results, and Dehaney was curbing Glasgow’s influence in the ring and rebounding any of her missed attempts. Once again, it was the final five minutes of the quarter where the Vixens took hold of the game and lengthened the margin by four goals, thanks to an intercept by Jo Weston and steady shooting from Philip and Thwaites.
Sterling took an intercept to spark her side in the final quarter, and rebounded a miss by Thwaites to pull the scoreline back to ten. The Thunderbirds kept fighting, and had their noses in front for the quarter until an Ingles intercept at the halfway point. Once the margin blew out to 15 goals, the Thunderbirds called one final time out in an attempt to salvage a bonus point from the game, but it was not to be. Another gain to Sterling was wasted with a miss by Folau, which Dehaney rebounded. A Weston deflection was followed up by Ingles, and sealed both the match and quarter win to the Vixens. A late intercept to Shimmin scraped the margin back to 16 goals, and left the final score at 42–58, befitting of a low scoring game with lots of defensive ball gains.
The Thunderbirds were wasteful in attack, missing gettable goals and using poor circle feeds, and the Vixens pounced on these simple errors, which is to be expected of a team which has been playing together for several seasons and consistently pushes for finals. Given the Thunderbirds are a team of green combinations, they should take a lot of positives from their ability to contest strongly and run with the Vixens for large portions of the match.
The story of the game, unfortunately, looks to be a sad one if the Thunderbirds do lose Cobden for the season. With a potential injury to Pitman further diluting their midcourt stocks, versatile circle defenders Guscoth and Shimmin will most likely swing out to cover Wing Defence.
The Thunderbirds face another imposing task next week, coming up against the Collingwood Magpies – another side which has felt the impact of injury – in Melbourne on Friday night.
The Vixens, meanwhile, have a road trip to the west, where they will take on the Fever on Saturday night. And, scarily for the Fever, these well-drilled Vixens are looking more polished with every week.
FINAL SCORE: ADELAIDE THUNDERBIRDS 42 def by. MELBOURNE VIXENS 58
(13-15, 10-17, 8-12, 11-14)
Player of the Match: Renae Ingles
Sasha Glasgow 24/30 (80%)
Maria Folau 18/22 (82%)
Caitlin Thwaites 29/31 (94%)
Tegan Philip 29/39 (74%)
Shamera Sterling (Thunderbirds) 7
Kadie-Ann Dehaney (Vixens) 2
Caitlin Thwaites (Vixens) 2
Sasha Glasgow (Thunderbirds) 2
Jo Weston (Vixens) 5
Shamera Sterling (Thunderbirds) 5
Kate Shimmin (Thunderbirds) 3
Renae Ingles (Vixens) 2
Kadie-Ann Dehaney (Vixens) 2
Shamera Sterling (Thunderbirds) 13
Jo Weston (Vixens) 6
Renae Ingles (Vixens) 5
Kadie-Ann Dehaney (Vixens) 4
Emily Mannix (Vixens) 3
Kate Shimmin (Thunderbirds) 3
Starting Line Ups
GS Sasha Glasgow
GA Maria Folau
WA Chelsea Pitman
C Kelly Altmann
WD Beth Cobden
GD Layla Guscoth
GK Shamera Sterling
Changes: Q2 C Hannah Petty, WD Kate Shimmin, WA Kelly Altmann, GS Maria Folau, GA Sasha Glasgow
Q3 GS Sasha Glasgow, GA Maria Folau, WA Hannah Petty, C Kelly Altmann
GS Caitlin Thwaites
GA Tegan Philip
WA Liz Watson
C Kate Moloney
WD Renae Ingles
GD Jo Weston
GK Emily Mannix
Changes: Q2 GK Kadie-Ann Dehaney
Q4 GS Tegan Philip, GA Caitlin Thwaites
What They Said
Simone McKinnis (Vixens Coach)
On the win
“Yeah, rapt to get the eight points, and we’re working hard for them each week. We’re probably a bit slow to start in our quarters, but certainly the finish in each quarter has been pretty strong.”
On the improvements to be made
“I think (there are things we can take out of that game) – you know, Sharelle and I have both got a list – but yeah, there’s definitely things that we’ve gotta improve on and work on. But it is early in the season, that’s the same with any team out there. Each team is learning something each week.”
On Renae Ingles’ game
“It’s great for her to be playing back in Adelaide and playing so well. She’s been working hard, so I’m really enjoying her enjoying being out there and playing.”
On taking all eight available points
“Every week counts, and every bonus point counts. We found that out last year, that you can’t afford to be chasing points … you gotta be putting it out there each week, quarter to quarter, match to match, and I think that was an aim of ours at the very start of this season, is that consistency. So, you know, it’s a work in progress, but I think it’s progressing quite well.”
Tania Obst (Thunderbirds Coach)
On the Thunderbirds’ lapses in concentration
“We’re able to – at this point in time – able to go for around that seven or eight minutes, and then we’ll just have a little bit of a mistake, and a mistake costs you at this league. So, you know, they are learning, I kept challenging them to come back and they actually did for most of those quarters. They did come back, they didn’t allow it to blow out completely quarter by quarter, and I think that showed a lot of character.”
On their defensive pressure
“I think to keep the Vixens to 58 goals, I think that that is very good and I think we were unlucky in maybe not getting some more turnover, but I think that that is superb and we just then need to look at how we score off those turnovers when we do get them, and then maybe making sure that we then score off our own centre passes.”
On Beth Cobden’s Injury
“It didn’t look great, obviously. I haven’t seen her since it’s happened. We’ll just get it scanned and make some comments after we’ve had that.”
On Chelsea Pitman’s Injury
“I believe it is (the same calf she injured in pre-season) and she did come up to me and said that she was feeling better already, so I’m not sure what that means, but we’ll get that scanned as well and make some comment around that later.”
On the resilience of the team
“I really did challenge them on their ability to come back into quarters, because they’re not a team that’s just going to lay down and die, but I think there were some good things in there, I really do, and it’s now just tidying up some of that stuff so that we can put some more goals through the ring.”