NS EXCLUSIVE: View from the bench with Michelle Phippard, Team Girls Cup 2022

NS EXCLUSIVE: View from the bench with Michelle Phippard, Team Girls Cup 2022

Michelle Phippard played and coached netball in her earlier years, and went on to forge a reputation as one of the world’s greatest umpires. During her 20 plus years at elite level, she presided over almost 200 national league games, 112 internationals, and worked at four Commonwealth Games and three Netball World Cups. Behind the scenes, Phippard volunteered her expertise at all levels, working with athletes, coaches and fellow umpires. In this View from the Bench, and with a wide ranging perspective as former player, coach and elite umpire, Phippard shares her thoughts on the weekend’s Team Girls Cup.


The highlights

  • It’s fantastic seeing the Thunderbirds were more successful because they’ve had a number of years in the doldrums – it’s a testament to coach Tania Obst and the work that she’s done.
  • I was pleased to see Chelsea Pitman get some court time – she’s such a valuable player with a lot to offer, so seeing her get that opportunity to show her smarts was terrific.
  • It’s amazing to have Liz Watson back playing netball – she is such a fabulous operator and a joy to watch play.
  • I was so impressed with Rahni Samason’s composure. She really hasn’t been at this level for long but looks very comfortable.


General thoughts

It’s preseason for the players and the teams, and they are still a month off where they will be at the start of Suncorp Super Netball. They’ve had various amounts of time together, and that was noticeable in what we saw play out on court.

It’s no different for the umpires. Some of them they mightn’t have been able to take to the court since last season due to Covid restrictions, and their ability to go to trainings and match play.  We will see their timing of decision making and speed of reaction continue to sharpen over the weeks ahead.

We are also seeing the introduction of some new umpires and players, and I remember vividly that it’s a steep learning curve. You can’t fast track experience, and they will all take a lot from the weekend.

For umpires, one area that I think we will see significant change is in applying advantage. Once umpires move into the season they will have more confidence in allowing the game to play on, but until you’re experiencing it regularly you don’t want to make a mistake and so go to the decision. It does take time to adjust at the start of each season, to having a comfort level around the skill and intensity of this level.

From an umpiring and review perspective, some of the broadcast’s wide shots are good at looking at how teams set up early, so it’s going to be instructive for the umpires to adjust their timing and vision to take in the beginning of the movement. You can see things differently, and in particular when you might need to start scanning down the court earlier.

As an example, I noticed that when the goal attack sets up just inside the top of the circle and then puts on a cut towards the sideline quite often their first movement is into the defender and drawing the body. As the goal attack and defence are often on the far side of the court, the umpire might not sight what is going on until there is physical contact, and so it can be the defender that gets penalised for the hold.


Melbourne Vixens win the Team Girls Cup 2022. Image Aliesha Vicars.


Melbourne Vixens defeat West Coast Fever in the grand final

The Vixens looked more polished in terms of what they put out there, while Fever looked like they are a few weeks away from where they will need to be. They have a new coach, a strong culture previously established under Stacey that Dan Ryan has inherited, and there is a process to bed all that together – the base he’s been given while bringing himself to the role as well. He is a very intelligent coach, has worked hard to gain experience and he is up to that challenge.

It was very obvious in the final that Fever had only had four training sessions together – their normal attacking connections weren’t quite there, particularly in the second quarter. On the second phase between the transverse line and the top of the circle, their attackers really got pushed wide and taken out of play. So they were reverting to passing the long ball in, which sat up and allowed defenders time to have a go at it, and put Jhaniele Fowler under a lot of pressure.

The Vixens did a great job of pushing them wide and breaking up connections, but the main issues were passing errors from the Fever. So the Vixens restrictive play meant that the error was forced rather than creating an intercept.

More than any other team, Vixens have a style of play that involves a lot of hands over defence – it’s very much Simone’s philosophy. There are times when it’s threshold obstruction, particularly on the side furthest from the umpire where the goal defence is defending the pass.

It’s one of the difficulties for umpires striking a balance with playing advantage – with hands over pressure, teams can be banking on the umpires moving off down court and calling advantage at the top of the goal third. The pass then goes in under a little bit of extra pressure, it can fall short, sit up and isn’t always on target. Obstruction can be quite strategic at times.

Having Olivia Lewis as a recruit gives Vixens a real point of difference in the defence end than what they’ve had previously. She is incredibly talented and has a lot of exuberance, but is still developing court smarts about when to use her intensity and when to back off and do the hard work to set up the play. There was more discipline in what she put out. Vixens have massive versatility now, and with the likely effects of Covid and the disruption it will bring, versatility is going to be key.

Vixens have always had bench depth – switching players on without losing a great deal. Other teams can have some weaknesses exposed when they go away from their starting seven, and this season teams might pay for it if they don’t get players out there. A lot of the players waiting in the wings are very capable and just need the opportunity, much like Sophie Dwyer did last year.

The game was a real contrast of ends – from the Fever’s long passes, to the Vixens, particularly in the first half, who used really short, sharp attacking play between the transverse and the edge of the circle. The short passes made it so hard for Fever to have a go at the ball. They had to be really on point with their timing or they were going to get penalised, and they did. The Fever defenders were having to work around bodies due to the short set ups, and ended up infringing on the way through to the ball.

Having Liz Watson back is such an advantage because she is so commanding, in the way she structures the play and keeps the ball safe. Even when they bought Hannah Mundy on, and she runs slightly longer lines than Liz, that ability to structure the attack end around the shorter passing kept the ball safe.

I was incredibly impressed with Rahni Samason – the level of composure for a player who is quite new at that level. She’s come through the Victorian pathways – I remember seeing her at ANL level and thinking she was one to watch for the future. Ruby Barkmeyer has also developed her court craft. It was a big step up for her last year, but you can see the lessons that she’s been able to put into practice.

Courtney Bruce and Sunday Aryang had 25 penalties between them, and some of them were ill-disciplined. Courtney could benefit from moving off her player and repositioning, as she tends to get pulled up for wrapping her arms around a player and grabbing. With Courtney out of play, Ruby was taking the penalty while Rahni was setting up on the hold, and at times Sunday struggled with that through inexperience. Her footwork was bouncy, and so she’d jump into her opponent and attract the whistle, moving the Vixens shooters closer to the post. Geva Mentor is the benchmark in this respect – she is masterly at staying low, and using her footwork to turn the goaler around to where she wants them.

Given that Fever haven’t had any preseason games, it was unsurprising that they were using the match play to look at their rotations. In the second half it was good that Dan changed it up when he brought on Chelsea Pitman and Zoe Cransberg. The beauty of Chelsea is her experience – she those smarts to match play, and I do think with Covid that training partners will receive court time at some point.

Vixens look like they will be back to their best, particularly with Mwai Kumwenda and Kiera Austin still to come back into the side. Coach Simone McKinnis has very high standards and expects discipline from her players. I think they were frustrated last season when they couldn’t reproduce that, and they will have been working hard across the preseason.


Rahni Samason was a stand out for the Vixens, and her body positioning made it hard for Fever to set up cleanly against. Image Aliesha Vicars.


Adelaide Thunderbirds defeat Sunshine Coast Lightning to take 3rd

Thunderbirds were impressive over the weekend, and they’ve invested in some nice young strong players. I’m happy to see Hannah Petty back playing consistently and showing her strengths after that nasty concussion a few years ago. Playing her in wing defence showcases what she is good at.

Jamaicans Shamera Sterling and Latanya Wilson provide that aerial element which is so exciting, and it’s a real treat to watch. It makes the attacking teams think about what they are doing because we aren’t used to it. They also have some of the more unconventional reads on the ball – ones that you don’t think they are going to get to, and they do.

Seeing Lenize Potgeiter back playing so strongly after her time off court was a highlight. She has such a deceptive hold that is difficult to play against. It allows her to put the defender behind her so she can get that shot up as quickly as she can, which she needs to do because it’s a low shot.

Watching the use of Georgie Horjus and Tippah Dwan is going to be fascinating. Having two such capable long range shooters, and with rolling subs and the supershot in play, strategically creates opportunities to roll players through allowing the Thunderbirds to use that capability. Both players are shorter but they are fast, deceptive, have beautiful court craft, and being able to change that up with a strong international player like Lenize gives them a lot of firepower.

Lightning are famous for starting slowly – it wasn’t the best we’ve seen them play but it’s early days and their quality will come through. Reilley Batcheldor is really exciting, and that’s a great pick up. I’ve seen a lot of Annie Miller in the GIANTS pathways – she’s a really hard worker, and it’s great to see her get an opportunity.

With Phumza Maweni, Karla Pretorius and Maddie McAuliffe out, their defence is a big change for them. It’s not just their play but what they bring to the team. Karla for example – it’s her presence, her smarts, her leadership, and she is one of the most analytical and intelligent players I’ve ever worked with.

Lightning do have players with really unique skills. Kate Shimmin has amazing elevation and an uncanny ability to read the play at times, so it will be a real chance for her to step up. Kadie-Ann Dehaney has also been an impact player at Vixens for some time now, and this will also be a different role for her, which does take some time to adjust to. There’s a lot of potential, it might just take a little more time.

The Thunderbirds haven’t had many changes – most of the players have been there for a few years now now and they have established connections. But you can never underestimate a coach like Kylee Byrne who is a masterly operator, and they are still in preseason.


Kate Shimmin (Lightning) shows off her elevation against Thunderbird Lenize Potgeiter, who was back to her best after time away from court. Image Aliesha Vicars.



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About the Author:

Physiotherapist, writer and netball enthusiast. Feature articles, editorials and co-author of "Shine: the making of the Australian Netball Diamonds". Everyone has a story to tell, and I'm privileged to put some of them on paper. Thank you to the phenomenal athletes, coaches and people in the netball world who open a door to their lives, and let me tiptoe in.
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