This Round 12 matchup between Collingwood Magpies and NSW Swifts offered plenty of interest for the keen netball viewer.
Sharni Layton’s announcement of her retirement during the week means that there is now a finite number of opportunities to watch this true character of the game strut her stuff in the goal circle.
And while the Swifts’ chances of making the finals are diminishing, a smashing win with eight points would be enough to keep them in touch with Lightning, at fifth on the ladder.
It was hugs and smiles all round as Layton bounced onto the court with something like her old vigour, and early on she was responsible for two defensive gains, with an intercept and a deflection caused by working her opponent Sam Wallace high in the goal circle and then moving swiftly around in front of her.
The Swifts quickly regrouped with a counter-plan. Maddy Proud took responsibility for carrying the ball to the circle edge to feed Wallace, causing Layton several intercept-related existential crises that left her behind the play. Wallace also executed some well-timed leads out of the circle and gave a couple of lovely feeds to Housby at the post, who was burning Brandley for speed in the goal third.
Klau and Turner were working hard at blocking space in the Magpies goal circle, forcing Thwaites and Bell to abort their leads, and bouncing off the Swifts defenders like pinballs. On the ninth centre pass this strategy paid off, with an offensive contact awarded against Erin Bell.
This was a break that the Swifts held on to, and in the last five minutes of the quarter, following a Magpies tactical timeout, they converted another when Madi Robinson spilled the ball at the top of the goal circle. The Swifts went to the first quarter break with a lead of four goals.
Swifts coach Briony Akle introduced English import Natalie Hathornthwaite in the second quarter, attempting to get a greater output from the WA position. Ash Brazill was giving Paige Hadley a difficult time, restricting the Swifts WA to five feeds in the first quarter and diverting much of the workload to Maddy Proud.
The second quarter proved much steadier for both teams, with Magpies giving up only one turnover, and converting two defensive gains courtesy of Kim Ravaillion’s unassuming work in the defensive goal third.
Layton started to pay much closer attention to the goalers around the goal post, and while she was penalised twice for ugly-looking trips against both the Swifts shooters, she also caused Wallace to be penalised for two offensive contacts. Layton had a significant impact on Wallace’s access to the ball in this quarter, with the Trinidad import scoring only six from seven attempts.
The Magpies played out the quarter with a 12-10 lead, and went to the half-time break only two goals down.
The Swifts brought Sophie Garbin in to GS, sending Wallace to the bench – Briony Akle observing after the match that Wallace’s “head had not been in the game”, after a second quarter return of seven from eight attempts.
While Garbin’s game lacks the movement and variety that Thwaites was displaying in the Magpies goal circle, she held position at the goalpost gamely against Layton, scoring 11 from 12. Hadley’s time on the bench in the quarter had given her some opportunity to reflect, and she set her goalers up with eight feeds in the quarter.
The Swifts followed a judicious timeout at the eight-minute mark with two defensive gains, one courtesy of a brain-fade delay by the Magpies in returning to take their next centre pass. The Swifts won the third quarter bonus point 16-15, and took a four goal lead at three quarter time.
The Magpies were the more determined team entering the final quarter, with Erin Bell nervelessly scoring four of her team’s first five goals, to put the Magpies ahead 46-45 four minutes into the quarter. From then on, the two teams battled over a one-goal margin until the final minute.
A short pass between Bell and Thwaites gave the lead back to the Swifts, and they might have consolidated it when captain Abbey McCulloch, brought on at WD halfway through the third quarter, took an intercept against Madi Robinson in the goal third.
The Magpies’ every-reliable intercept queen Layton returned the favour two centre passes later. With twenty seconds to go, Erin Bell converted the Pies final centre pass, and the result of the match was neatly squared off: two bonus points each, and a drawn match 57-57.
Neither coach was indulging in any particularly Dickensian handwringing over key moments after the match. “At the end of the day, it’s better than a full loss,” said Akle and, “As I said to the girls at the end, ‘It’s not a win; it’s not a loss though’ ”, was Keppich-Birrell’s observation.
Akle did admit that it was “very frustrating”, given that the Swifts had started well, and that it was merely patches of play that had let them down again.
“It was a bloody tough game,” she said. “The competition’s crazy, and if you don’t put your best out each week, you don’t come away those bonus points or the win.
“The good thing I am taking away from that game is that in the past we might have lost that game. The positive for me as a coach is that we stick together and we can only get better, and learn from these situations. I think this team’s got it. Hopefully moving forward we can learn from the stuff we did out there that didn’t get us the win. They’re great netballers and I’ve got their backs.”
While admitting that it might be a relief for her team not to have to play against Sharni Layton again, Akle was warm in her praise of the retiring defender.
“At the end of the day she’s great for netball and she’s done a huge service for netball. She did an awesome job when she was at the Swifts and a great job for netball overall, so we wish her all the best.”
“We walk away with two for the win and two bonus points,” said Keppich-Birrell.
“Ultimately it’s not what we’re after, but the spirit shown out there to be able to come back and fight hard for each other – I was pretty proud of that. The game was like a tennis match at times out there, due to the pressure exerted by both teams defensively. Offensively, there was a lot of creativity between both teams, which is what made it a good show.”
Collingwood Magpies 57 drew with NSW Swifts 57
(14-18, 26-28, 41-44, 57-57)
Player of the Match: Caitlin Thwaites (Magpies)
Thwaites 34/37 92%
Bell 23/29 79%
Wallace 17/19 89%
Housby 19/22 86%
Garbin 21/22 95%
GS Caitlin Thwaites
GA Erin Bell
WA Madi Robinson
C Kim Ravaillion
WD Ash Brazill
GD April Brandley
GK Sharni Layton
GS Sam Wallace
GA Helen Housby
WA Paige Hadley
C Maddy Proud
WD Kate Eddy
GD Maddy Turner
GK Sarah Klau
Magpies 7 (Sharni Layton 4)
Report: Jane Edwards
Photos: Aliesha Vicars