The race to the finals and just how the 2019 season of the Suncorp Super Netball will unfold became very interesting over the weekend. Now at Round 12, we are at the business end of the competition.
A Saturday night at the Quay Centre in Sydney saw a capacity crowd ready to cheer the home side onto a win, and reclaim the top spot on the ladder that the Sunshine Coast Lightning had stolen earlier in the day with their four-goal win over Giants Netball.
State pride was also on the line as the NSW Swifts and the Melbourne Vixens were also playing for the Sargeant-McKinnis Cup and with the Vixens retaining the trophy since 2017, the Swifts were hoping to get it once again in their hands.
With the Vixens hitting good form at the right time of the season and the Swifts battling on bravely despite being plagued with injuries, this game would go a long way to deciding which teams would hold the all-important top two spots come the end of the regular rounds.
Star Swift, Helen Housby was unable to beat the clock in time to be named at goal attack, which meant that Sophie Garbin had the opportunity to step up and play 60 minutes. An ankle injury has ended Kate Eddy’s season but has given new recruit and World Cup champion, Katrina Rore, the reins at wing defence. Hardly a terrible option for coach, Briony Akle, but it did mean that her new defensive combination needed to find their familiarity instantly, as time for it to develop is no longer a luxury.
Back from an ACL injury, Mwai Kumwenda, was a welcome addition to the Vixens’ bench, and a great come-back story. Kept out of SSN until Round 11 and missing the Netball World Cup with Malawi, she is also a handy player for Vixens Coach, Simone McKinnis, to be able to call on at the right end of the season.
It was hard to know where to look when the game started: there were mouth-watering match-ups all over court and alot to take in.
Would Garbin be able to run out an entire game against Jo Weston and still be effective under the post? Would Paige Hadley prove her selection over Kate Maloney in the Diamonds team was correct? Would new Swift, Katrina Rore be able to back up last week’s performance and seamlessly blend into the established defence line-up? Would Sarah Klau be able to stop the momentum of Caitlin Thwaites?
The Swifts started the game fast and accurate and were out to an early lead. Within the first few minutes Klau had her hand to a ball which instantly put doubt into the heads of the Vixens feeders, so much so that it took ten minutes into the first quarter before Caitlin Thwaites had her first shot at goal.
With the tight defensive unit of Klau and Maddy Turner being so successful this season, their extra job in this match was to bring Rore into the fold and show the confidence they shared with Eddy. However, there was no job to do, as the skill, timing and on-court fierceness of Rore, made it look like she had been in the Swifts colours all season.
The Vixens were forced to call and early time-out when they found themselves down 5-1. After the huddle they came out with purpose and the score was back to one within a blink.
Halfway through the middle of the first quarter the game looked more like a tennis match as no team was able to score despite each having numerous opportunities. Turnovers and missed goals saw the ball swing from one end to the other. It was the Swifts who finally scored in that broken passage of play and looked the more settled of the teams after that.
Though the Vixens defence were working hard, the Swifts were prepared to be patient with the ball and wait for the right feed. At times the path to post was not pretty for the Swifts due to the work and pressure being applied by Jo Weston, Emily Mannix and Renae Ingles. But, Hadley was calm in the attacking end and her steady hand saw her steer her team to a two-goal lead that her team were able to hold onto until quarter time.
The start of the second quarter saw the Vixens manage to level the score as the Swifts lacked drive in the attacking end and with three turnovers to her name already in the first quarter, Garbin was starting to look a little nervous. However, just as they have been able to do many times this season, the Swifts found an extra gear.
As the quarter continued the leadership of Hadley stood out on court, in centre she was the link between the defence and the attack, she was able to create speed in play and then slow it down and keep her team calm when it was called for.
Though Garbin was not looking confident to take a shot, the screens she was setting up for Sam Wallace were a feeder’s dream and neither Weston nor Mannix had any answers.
Vixens wing attack dynamo, Liz Watson, was shouldering most of the attack work, despite being under enormous pressure from Rore who made getting the ball into the circle laboursome. Rore’s work, combined with the extra Swift’s mid-court defence down court gave Klau extra time to set up on Thwaites.
Realising they needed a change before the game got away from them, McKinnis injected Kumwenda on for the final two minutes of the half where she immediately made an impact and brought some life and enthusiasm to the court for the Vixens.
It had been a blistering and hard fought second quarter for the Swifts and they had a seven-goal lead heading into half time, winning the quarter 16-11.
At the start of the third the Vixens kept Kumwenda at goal shooter but Mannix had been replaced by Kadie-Ann Dehaney, who McKinnis has had a good return from as an impact player this season.
The energy lift was instantaeous from the Vixens as they tried to make inroads into the score line. Kate Moloney and Kumwenda were loud on court as they tried to inspire a revival from the visitors.
Ingles was having a fine game on Natalie Haythornwaite and was making her life very difficult. The height difference was just one of the obstacles Haythornwaite had to contend with and by the end of the third quarter had amounted five turnovers to her name. Though Akle had Tayla Fraser on the bench, who has impressed over the last weeks, Akle decided to stick with Haythornwaite, showing great faith in the English Rose, and possibly showing us her intentions for the wing attack position come finals time.
An intercept each from Weston and Dehaney in the third quarter were impressive for the Vixens. The defensive efforts were rewarded by Kumwenda who converted each, adding to her eight goals from eight attempts. Which each conversion the game started to tighten.
Though the Swifts still held a healthy lead, they only won the third quarter by one goal and there was no doubt the Vixens were going to come home strong.
In the fourth quarter Weston was sent to the bench and Mannix resumed play at goal defence. It was a move to perhaps put Garbin off her game because her second half was shaping up better than her first. Her feeds into Wallace were sure and though she was sucking in the air at every opportunity, she was not shying away from the work she knew she had to do to get the Swifts over the line and when on the hold, she protected the space well making Weston’s efforts for naught.
The Vixens had nothing to lose in the final quarter and knowing how important a top two finish on the ladder is, they threw everything at the Swifts. Two more intercepts in the defensive end for the Vixens started a revival which saw the Swifts tighten up.
With seven minutes left on the clock and the score now at 49-43, the Swifts were the ones who needed to hold their nerve and show courage against a Vixens team who were hoping that they could put enough doubt in a new Swifts line up, to expose some cracks.
In previous seasons when teams came for the Swifts in the final quarter, they had neither the confidence or belief to hold onto a lead. In 2019, they are no longer that team. Anytime the Vixens mounted an enthusiastic attack, the Swifts both in defence and attack, were able to neutralise the threat.
Garbin had a quarter to be proud of, and while she was almost out on her feet, she showed what sort of nerve she has as a player. In the second and third quarters she had been hesitant to put up shots, but in the fourth quarter she stood strong and delivered seven goals from eight attempts.
In the end the grit and determination of the Swifts won the game 57-51.
It is a game that the Vixens will look back on and realise they could have won; as they only converted 50% of their gains and 28% of their turnovers. The Vixens also had 20 turnovers for the game, which is high for such a disciplined team. There is a lot for them to take away from the game and improve on for the coming weeks. While they will be disappointed with the loss, they will know that was not their best performance, and while they had some brilliant passages of play, they were not able to maintain consistency or covert their opportunities.
The Swifts take on the Collingwood Magpies next week in Tasmania. Their last meeting was a landslide for the Swifts who took the win by 16 goals. The Magpies were certainly not at their best that day, and though they have had another inconsistent season, they will be hoping that a top four birth is still within reach and so will have to play the game of their season if they are to take the win.
FINAL SCORE: NSW Swifts 57 defeated Melbourne Vixens 51
SWIFTS: 57/67 (85%)
S Wallace: 45/49 (92%)
S Garbin: 12/18 (67%)
VIXENS: 51/61 @ 84%
C Thwaites: 9/11 (82%)
T Philip: 24/30 (80%)
M Kumwenda: 18/20 (90%)
MVP: Sam Wallace (Swifts)
Quarter by Quarter scores
SWIFTS | Q1: 12, Q2: 28 (16), Q3: 43 (15), Q4: 57 (14)
VIXENS | Q1: 10, Q2: 21 (11), Q3: 35 (14), Q4: 51 (16)
Emily Mannix: 4
Jo Weston: 3
Kadie-Ann Dehaney: 2
Centre pass receives:
Natalie Hawthornwaite: 29
Liz Watson: 27
Tegan Philip: 19
A look at the unification of the Swifts
The strength of the Swifts this season is that they have been a team that has relished the roadblocks that they have come up against; they see them as challenges rather than season ending and it has unified them. Under the guidance of Briony Akle and the leadership of Maddy Proud and Paige Hadley, they have developed a strong team culture and accountability, ensuring that no matter who wears the Swifts colours, they each know exactly what is expected of them.
What they said after the game:
Briony Akle NSW Swifts coach
The Lightning took the premiership lead on the ladder before the start of the game, did that mean anything to the team before the game?
“Yes, it did actually…what did that look like for us? What did it mean in terms of effort and goals for this game? We knew that bonus points are now huge, and we did talk about it. It was a huge importance that we needed to win quarters tonight not just the game.”
On the performance of Sophie Garbin:
“I thought that Sophie Garbin did a great job. She’s been under heat, she’s not a goal attack but she worked through it tonight.”
“We did not put too much pressure on her. I thought she did well last week and we just knew minute by minute she would get better.”
On Katrina Rore being a Swift:
“She is intimidating and I think that for us it is a good thing having her out there. She has so much experience that she can draw from and with that last penalty she just used her body and got a key penalty for us.”
We are thrilled that she is wearing the red dress. It adds value to our defensive end, there is so much that they can learn from her and so much knowledge.”
Going back to basics after last week’s performance:
“Last week we did really silly ‘netball things’, we dropped the ball for no reason, we threw balls out and I don’t think we did that tonight…”
On her star shooter Sam Wallace:
“She’s grown in confidence over the last few weeks, I think. Coming back off world cup, she has slotted right back in and demanded that ball. I think when she is demanding the ball the opposition is in trouble.”
How she will keep the team going the way they are with two games left in the regular season:
“I think for us it is about not being a team that chokes. What that looks like under pressure and that is what we are focussing on…that under pressure we can still come away with a win and win well. There is so much to work on, but we are enjoying doing it.”
On ladder positions after tonight’s game, one point clear of the Lightning, being six points clear of the Vixens and a top two finish:
“We spoke about that. We’ve worked too hard all year to let that go and we don’t want to come third or fourth. It does give us a nice buffer, but it does drive us as well.”
Katrina Rore NSW Swifts wing defense
Settling in with the Swifts after a whirl wind month:
“I am very lucky, this bunch is very welcoming. The first day I came, everyone gave me hugs on the welcome, they are a really lovely bunch. I feel very privileged to be here.”
What is training like and what she is working on to fit in with this established defensive unit:
“Communication, and getting to know their structures. I am here to fit in with them and not the other way around. It is a little bit different than what I am used to, but I love it, it is a challenge which is exactly what I am up for.”
What impresses her most about this team:
“The way they are together. It is not a team of individuals. It is a group that when they play together well, they are all superstars. They are a tight-knit group, they trust each other and their structures and how they are off court, I feel, brings such great connections on court.”
After throwing her eye over the rest of the SSN teams, what do the Swifts need to do to win the competition:
“I feel like we need to take a little bit of a step up. The way we cope under pressure is really good and hopefully that will stand us in good stead coming into finals.”
Could there be a return the to the SSN competition one day?
“Crazy things can happen! My last year has been a whirl wind, I did not think I would be here at all, so who knows what could happen in the future.”