The tough mantra “We play with heart, we play with hunger” from Vixens’ captain Kate Moloney has seen them scorch up the Suncorp Super Netball ladder this year. Giants’ finals aspirations needed to crystallise now, with Magpies breathing down their necks on the leaderboard. Early season teething problems with injuries and new combinations were no longer an excuse as they faced the Vixens at home. And so the hosts were very competitive but for a 10 minute period straddling quarters one and two, where Melbourne scored seventeen goals to five. The rot was irretrievable and Vixens strode home with seven competition points in a 66-57 victory.
After the Giants were first to score, play ran goal for goal until 4-all after five minutes. The two Giants defenders were very intent at muscling up against the visitors, but it seemed never to fluster Caitlin Thwaites and Tegan Philip, who had impressive balance, positioning and accuracy. There was relentless contest on the receipt of the ball by newcomer Amy Parmenter, making anointed Diamond Liz Watson stretch to the maximum around the circle edge. Price was very effectively blocking driving paths of the Vixens, with her impressive strength stopping them in their tracks.
Caitlin Thwaites was a line of rescue for the Melbournites several times, driving hard through the middle when there seemed to be no options. This freed up Tegan Philip for spectacular cuts into space, as she shot her first six goals in a row. Another early difference was Emily Mannix’s four clean grabs for the first quarter, starting off a feast of possession to her credit as she broke the league record for intercepts in a match. With Giants using a tactical timeout after nine minutes, Vixens enjoyed a 9-7 lead.
The defence from the Vixens stepped up further and caused chaos for Caitlin Bassett and Jo Harten, with multiple uncertain and delayed passes, and bad choices and poor placement making the hosts lucky to get any feeds through at all. Giants captain Kim Green ended the first quarter with only two goal assists, and three turnovers, while her opposing number Watson had 10 assists and no turnovers. Vixens dramatically scored seven goals in a row over only three minutes, to close the quarter with 100% shooting and a shell-shocking 19-11 lead.
Julie Fitzgerald made changes in the shooting circle – Bassett was sent to the bench, with Harten now at goal shooter and Kiera Austin introduced at goal attack. The rout continued for the Giants, their defence posing no impediment to Watson as she fired an exceptional feed straight after the centre pass through a mountain of traffic to Philip on the baseline, resulting in a goal from Thwaites. The visitors continued to have all the answers, with inadequate Giants’ vision in attack allowing Moloney to get an easy intercept. Vixens changed up their plan for centre passes, with Watson heading out for 53% of centre passes and letting Philip and Moloney take more feeding duties.
After less than four minutes there was a tactical timeout called by Giants who were down by nine goals and flailing. The brief pause seemed to work to help them slow down the ball and balance the court better.. They only went down by four goals for the term, trailing 24-36.
With no changes to either team to start the second half, the Vixens consolidated their authority in every position. Thwaites had the displeasure of the physical pushing from both her opponents constantly etched on her face, only bettered by the grimaces of opposing captain Green with late overzealous contacts from Weston and Mannix.
The Giants needed some inspiration and it came in the form of an intercept by Austin. The play was completed by a fabulous double roll on the baseline by Harten. Repeating the story of the night, the very next play was a turnover from Austin herself. Both she and Price fed brilliantly on occasion, but gave away an equal number of balls by not widening the vision or waiting an extra moment and resetting to a safe option.
The visitors called a tactical timeout with six minutes left in the third, now leading only by 10 goals, and Bassett was brought back on for the Giants. The balance of Philip and Thwaites was still dynamite; the goal attack in front and the shooter lingering behind. They shared the shooting load throughout, with 26 and 40 goals respectively for the game. The scoreboard read 52-38 heading into final 15 minutes.
Unlikely to taste victory but hoping to find form and a bonus point, in the fourth quarter the hosts reverted to Bassett and Harten as their shooting combination, while Austin took Green’s place on the wing. Harten was the key to the Giants’ composure, calmly holding off Weston and being deceptive on the pass versus shot option. There was overall patience in the home team. Mannix and Weston continued their outstanding footwork to either cover Bassett together, or cover the front move from Harten. In fact, Mannix, in taking nine intercepts for the match became the new record holder for Suncorp Super Netball. Unusual for an attacker, Austin had three intercepts of her own.
There was a slight waning in spirit from Melbourne knowing the victory was in hand, allowing quite a swing to give Giants a five-goal victory in the final stanza. All night Thwaites had been unbeatable on both front and back holds, with outstanding placement from all three feeders she romped in 40 goals at 95% and took player of the match honours. The victory extended the gap between Vixens, Lightning, and Swifts over the other five teams who will be desperate to claw into the last finals berth.
Final score: Melbourne Vixens 66 def Giants Netball 57
(19-11, 17-13, 16-14, 14-19 )
Player of the Match – Caitlin Thwaites
Caitlin Bassett 20/22 91%
Joanne Harten 24/27 90%
(Kiera Austin 13/14 93%)
GIANTS Netball 57/63 (90%)
Caitlin Thwaites 40/42 95%
Tegan Philip 26/29 90%
Melbourne Vixens 66/71 93%
Mannix – 9 intercepts
Parmenter – 4 intercepts, 1 deflection with a gain
Weston – 4 intercepts, 1 deflection with a gain
Goal Assists and Feeds
Liz Watson – 32 goal assists, 45 feeds
Kate Moloney – 21 goal assists, 31 feeds
Jamie-Lee Price – 15 goal assists, 20 feeds
GS Caitlin Bassett
GA Jo Harten
WA Kim Green
C Jamie-Lee Price
WD Amy Parmenter
GD Kristiana Manu’a
GK Samantha Poolman
Q2: GS Harten, GA Austin
Q3: GA Harten, GS Bassett, WA Austin,
GS Caitlin Thwaites
GA Tegan Philip
WA Liz Watson
C Kate Moloney
WD Renae Ingles
GD Jo Weston
GK Emily Mannix
Umpires: Helen George, Bronwen Adams
Julie Fitzgerald, Giants coach
On why the team couldn’t find their connections in the beginning of the match
“I think it was a very very disappointing start for us, and… we’ve been so good at starting, and not finishing off, and now we seem to be finishing off, and we couldn’t start! They get very hard on themselves and then they’re reluctant to let the ball go and play the game that they’re really good at they overthink things. It just accumulates into errors that we don’t need to make.”
On the muscling up of her defenders
“I think they’re developing over time as a combination. Kristiana [Manu’a] certainly gives it everything, and it’s a new position for her, so it’ll take a little while to nail it. [She’s a big tall strong player] but she’s mobile and she reads the ball really well, she knows where it’s going.”
On how the Vixens’ midcourt defence took her players very wide and caused frustration
“Yeah! And we certainly didn’t have that drive up the middle that we needed, it became difficult to feed the ball into the circle – but I thought Kiera did a really good job of opening that space up for us.”
On what the players not competing at the World Cup will be doing for the next four weeks
“We’ll continue to train, and we’ve got a game against the Diamonds this week, because the Diamonds are in Sydney. Then the girls have a week off, then we’ll all come back and continue training as per normal. [With my time off] I’m going to the World Champs, so I’ll be over in England to see how Jo [Harten] and Jamie-Lee and Caitlin [Bassett] go!”