Have you ever wondered what an elite coach is thinking as a game unfolds? How they prepare for a match? The decisions they make under pressure? Netball Scoop is delighted to share insights from Lisa Alexander AM. With a lifetime of coaching experience behind her, including an extraordinary 81% success rate as head of the Australian Diamonds programme between 2011 and 2020, Alexander will reveal her thoughts about one Suncorp Super Netball game per round. Her expert commentary will include a few general insights, analysis of some aspects of the game plan, key match ups and athletes, and what a coach could have done differently to change the game.
NSW Swifts 63 d GIANTS Netball 59
The match played out as I thought, and while the Swifts took control early, I really admired the GIANTS ability to fight back.
The Swifts knew they had to get on top from the start, and their first five minutes were outstanding. They executed well and the GIANTS didn’t know how to handle that. If the Swifts had been able to maintain their defensive work for longer, which is very hard to do, it could have been a blow out. And all credit to the GIANTS for not being overwhelmed and then working their way back into the game.
With the Swifts getting out to an early lead, it would have created doubt in the GIANTS, and I was particularly concerned about the defenders. At times April and Sam looked a bit uncertain of what to try next. They needed some clear guidelines – which they got from Julie – and went to a split circle defence. It was definite and they did pick up some ball from that.
However, the increased defensive effort had to come from the whole team. Amy Parmenter and Jamie-Lee Price were out of play too often, and you can’t do that to your circle defenders, particularly in the first five minutes.
I was so impressed with both coaches who did a brilliant job with their players and their changes. As Julie said in her press conference, there wasn’t a lot more that she could do – it was hard to stop Sam Wallace who put in an outstanding performance.
Sam Wallace (Swifts) v Sam Poolman/Tilly McDonell (GIANTS)
The feeders played in Sam Wallace’s playground. They put the ball so expertly into her space, and that gave her a lot of confidence. They also picked the right times to do it – they didn’t just throw it up, but waited for her first movement, balked and then placed the pass beautifully. Maddy Proud said Sam was a Venus Flytrap, and it was a perfect description for the way she was pulling the ball in. Wallace finished with 51/55 (92.7%) and the GIANTS’ defence just didn’t have any answers to her outstanding performance.
Sam Poolman mixed up her defence, but it didn’t matter if she played in front, behind or from the side, Wallace was just too strong.
Helen Housby/Sophie Garbin (Swifts) v April Brandley/Kristiana Manu’a (GIANTS)
Helen has been a little quieter by her standards this season, but when she injects herself into the game, she is unbelievably good. Her work out the front of Sam Wallace was outstanding, and she used the right time to either leave the circle clear for Sam to be one on one against her goal keeper, or to drop into the circle.
Briony Akle took Helen off at just the right time to give her a rest, and she went up another gear when she went back on court.
The combination between Helen and Nat Haythornthwaite on the line was superb. Nat was getting more depth on second phase, and so the ball was going in more quickly to Sam. Nat and Helen have a great understanding that they’ve developed with the English Roses, and that was needed in the final quarter when the GIANTS were pushing back.
April, together with Amy and Jamie-Lee, received early penalties in the match, and really needed to stay in play to increase defensive pressure.
The wonderful intercept that Helen got at the end of the game was really telling, and it broke the hearts of the GIANTS. Assistant coach Bec Bulley was delighted on the sidelines, and it’s what you tell your goal attack and wing attack – just that one tip or intercept could make all the difference. Helen worked hard on her defence and was rewarded in this game.
Paige Hadley/Nat Haythornthwaite (Swifts) v Amy Parmenter (GIANTS)
Paige started well with 8 centre pass receives and 12 feeds, but she started to get expensive with 6 turnovers, and also was getting into some niggly body work with Amy Parmenter. It’s hard to get out of that. Nat Haythornthwaite entered the game in the second quarter, and rotated with Paige in the 3rd and 4th quarters as well. Nat plays more of a space marking game, and doesn’t use her body quite as much. She has a fantastic ability and agility to provide very penetrating leads that are strong, definite, and made with pinpoint accuracy.
The switching between the two didn’t ever allow Amy to settle herself into one style of defence, and so was hard for her to cover. She had moments when she impacted and was able to get some ball (4 gains) but she was also the most penalised on court with 16 penalties.
Midcourters need to keep their turnovers and penalties as low as possible, because at an international level that can be the difference in a match. I would generally put up with one turnover per quarter from this group, but if it got to two or three per quarter, that’s getting dicey and we would look at making a change.
Care is needed however, as it can disrupt the flow. The Swifts changes are seamless, and they have been practicing them ever since Briony took over as coach. She’s trained her players to rotate off and on the court with immediate impact, and that augers well for the Diamonds and Roses in that group. Their concentration levels were outstanding.
Maddy Proud (Swifts) v Jamie-Lee Price (GIANTS)
Despite playing with a fractured rib, Maddy Proud had the better of the match up. Her work rate was high and she finished with 36 feeds which built across the game. She was also able to stay on her feet more than usual, which is important because she can then influence play.
I remember her fondly from our days together at the Adelaide Thunderbirds. It was a difficult decision for her to leave and move to the Swifts, but it was important for her to take the opportunity that was offered, and she’s done it well.
She’s one of the most loved players in the league because she’s such a good person and great athlete, really gutsy, just gets out there and puts her heart and soul on the line.
I remember interviewing her for the captaincy of the Australian U21s, and she was up against Jo Weston, Kim Ravaillion and Gabi Simpson. One of the reasons she became captain was because her authenticity shines through. She will bleed for her country, and I have no doubt that if she gets into the Diamonds she will give it her all, and she will be brilliant.
Jamie-Lee didn’t get an absolute beating – she put some beautiful balls into the circle. However, she needed to come off the body as she had far too many penalties at the start of the game. She was trying hard, but her footwork wasn’t quite right and she was reaching for the ball rather than using her footwork to get around her opponent. When she does that, she is very good.
Jamie-Lee is so strong defensively, but she does have some work to do as an attacking centre – the real high end skill as a feeder. You need to be able to pass to every goaler, not just the ones you are used to playing with, and this will be a challenge for all the centre courters at the upcoming Diamonds’ camp.
Tayla Fraser (Swifts) v Maddie Hay (GIANTS)
Maddie looked a bit nervous at the start of the game, and the passing between her and Sophie Dwyer in the first quarter was difficult to watch. It was completely understandable as the pressure the Swifts were putting on was immense. They knew they had to disrupt play from the start of the game, and pile the pressure on the young GIANTS’ attackers. To their credit Maddie and Sophie both worked their way back into the game, and showed great guts and determination to keep going.
Maddie’s performance was tidy overall, but I think Tayla took the points. As a wing defence she was also able to attack down court, and wasn’t disrupted by Maddie as much as we usually see, so that was a win for Tayla.
Maddy Turner (Swifts) v Sophie Dwyer (GIANTS)
This was an outstanding game by Maddy Turner – reminiscent of her great outing for the Diamonds in Perth in 2019. She played the spaces really well, either forcing Sophie Dwyer into congested areas, or out wide where misplaced balls would head out of court. So Maddy was able to either pick up ball (5 gains) or create indecision when she isolated Sophie.
Maddy also attacked down court – she did it really well and it was important to the Swifts.
Her performance was a testament to some great defensive coaching by Bec Bulley, but it’s also important to remember that Maddy and Sarah Klau have been building this combination since they were teenagers back in South Australia. They know how to win, and they picked apart the GIANTS game really well.
Another strength of Maddy’s was the ability to keep Sophie out of rebounding position. It’s subtle work that aren’t picked up on the stats sheet, but it was important for the win. The GIANTS shooters missed 15 attempts at goal, and while Maddy and Sarah picked up five rebounds between them, Jo Harten managed three and Sophie none.
The commentators wondered if Jo and Sophie should have swapped so that Jo could influence court play a bit. We don’t know the considerations behind such a move though – Jo could be carrying an injury, while it also could have impacted even more negatively on a young player like Sophie, taking her out of her comfort zone for positioning and timing.
Sarah Klau (Swifts) v Jo Harten (GIANTS)
Jo walks a fine line between being calm and controlled, and using her voice and actions to inspire her team. She looked a little reticent in the first half, but after half time I really admired how she injected herself into the game. Her enthusiasm really gave the GIANTS a lift – she got the balance right in the second half, and it’s no coincidence that the GIANTS upped the ante.
I believe Sarah is Australia’s number one goal keeper at the moment, as she has the all-round ability to play on different types of goal shooters. She’s just a little bit tighter on moving players than some of the other goal keepers. In this match she managed to limit Jo’s effectiveness, stay in the contest and not be heavily penalised.
Australia is in the fortunate position of having both Sarah and Courtney Bruce in the Diamonds. I think we will see both her and Courtney used in the circle together at times, with Jo Weston at wing defence. They are agile players, have great flexibility and big bodies, and the three of them will be a hard combination to get around.
Looking ahead to next season
Both teams will be hoping they can keep most of their players together.
While the GIANTS would’ve hated losing, it’s a particularly exciting time for them, as they will see a lot of growth in their young players. The GIANTS really overperformed this year, all things considered, and with Kiera in the mix the grand final could have been a different story.
However, they have four circle defenders, and three midcourters who are all traditionally wing defences, so they need another utility player, preferably someone who is a wing attack/centre to rotate with Jamie-Lee and Maddie.
With Kiera Austin fit to play next year, it potentially will be a challenge for them to use the right mix of her, Jo and Sophie. They all deserve court time, and I hope we don’t see Kiera pushed out to wing attack again.
The Swifts have got the balance of their team right, have a strong starting seven and bench, and players that can rotate seamlessly as needed with immediate impact. As travel is difficult due to Covid, it will be interesting to see if Helen and Nat choose to stay with the Swifts, or head home. Nat in particular might be looking for more court time ahead of Commonwealth Games selection.
Potentially there might be some hard decisions for both teams and players to make.