SSN 2023 Mid-Season Report Card

SSN 2023 Mid-Season Report Card

We’ve reached the halfway mark of the regular season in Suncorp Super Netball. We thought it would be good to do a rundown on how each team has gone so far and what their prospects look like as we head into the second half. First off, the defending champions…


 

WEST COAST FEVER

Alice Teague-Neeld is having a stand-out season at WA for Fever. Image – Simon Leonard

(GRADE: A)

Rd1 – Fever 62 v Vixens 61
Rd2 – Giants 73 v Fever 74
Rd3 – Fever 80 v Magpies 53
Rd4 – Swifts 67 v Fever 78
Rd5 – Firebirds 71 v Fever 73
Rd6 – Fever 63 v Thunderbirds 64
Rd7 – Lightning 64 v Fever 74

(Won 6, Lost 1)
24 Points, 111.26%

Home: 2 wins, 1 loss / Away: 4 wins
Average goals for: 72.0 / Average goals against: 64.7
Biggest winning margin: 27 / Biggest losing margin: 1

 

With six wins out of seven, on the face of it, West Coast Fever are looking in mighty good shape to go back to back. They top the ladder and look almost certain to finish in one of the top two spots. It must be said however that it hasn’t all been completely plain sailing. In round six, Thunderbirds showed everyone that they could be beaten, even if it took till the dying seconds to do it.

Meanwhile, two of Fever’s wins (Vixens & GIANTS) have been by just one goal, and another (Firebirds) by two goals. So there is definitely reason for hope from the challengers.

There’s no big secret to what has Fever on top. It all starts at the attack end with the almost unstoppable Jhaniele Fowler. The Jamaican goal shooter is having another tremendous season, with a ridiculous 396 goals from 402 attempts. And she’s being assisted by the other attackers around her.

Sasha Glasgow at goal attack mostly plays the support role, but when it comes time for super shots, she is as good as almost anyone in the competition. However, the highlight this year has been the form of wing attack Alice Teague-Neeld. She comfortably leads both the goal assist and centre pass receives statistical categories. It’s noteworthy that her one poor game this year was in Fever’s only defeat.

Elsewhere in the Fever team, everyone is doing their job. Captain and goal keeper Courtney Bruce has been quieter this year, but she still regularly comes up with the big plays when needed. Meanwhile, Jess Anstiss, Verity Simmons and Sunday Aryang have all starred at various times.

With Dan Ryan at the helm, all the players, including those on the bench, know their roles well and he’s got them all working together as a team. Fever are far from sure things, and they’ve shown themselves to be vulnerable at times this year, but of all eight Suncorp Super Netball teams, they are still the most likely winners.

 


 

ADELAIDE THUNDERBIRDS

Eleanor Cardwell and Tracey Neville have both had an impact in Adelaide. Image – Marcela Massey

(GRADE: A)

Rd1 – Firebirds 44 v Thunderbirds 59
Rd2 – Thunderbirds 25 v Swifts 25
Rd3 – Lightning 42 v Thunderbirds 66
Rd4 – Thunderbirds 54 v Giants 59
Rd5 – Thunderbirds 61 v Vixens 50
Rd6 – Fever 64 v Thunderbirds 64
Rd7 – Thunderbirds 52 v Magpies 47

(Won 5, Lost 1, Drawn 1)
22 Points, 115.45%

Home: 2 wins, 1 loss, 1 draw / Away: 3 wins
Average goals for: 58.6 / Average goals against: 50.8
Biggest winning margin: 24 / Biggest losing margin: 5

 

There is no doubt that Adelaide Thunderbirds look the most likely challenger to Fever’s crown. After all, they’ve beaten the champions on their own court in round six, so they’ve shown it can be done. They’ve suffered just one defeat so far this season and they currently sit only two points behind Fever in second position.

Who knows what may have happened if the round two match in Adelaide had been completed. A win there would have seen them on top of the ladder now. In any case, Thunderbirds have recorded five wins in each of the three previous seasons, and they’ve already notched up that many in 2023 and we’re only half way through.

The reasons for the improvement? Of course there’s the major signing of shooter Eleanor Cardwell. She has certainly played a big part in lifting the attack end, including sinking that memorable super shot to defeat Fever. But the added experience of former Roses coach Tracey Neville as Tania Obst’s assistant can’t be overlooked. There has just been a general lift in performance overall and the team looks more settled.

The strength of the Thunderbirds is still defence. It seems incredible to say it, but Shamera Sterling is having her best ever season in Super Netball. Then there’s the improvement in Matilda Garrett’s performance which has seen Latanya Wilson moved to wing defence. And what a move! She has proved to be the shutdown queen, stifling the attacking game of some of the best wing attacks in the competition.

The attack end is now converting more of the opportunities their defence creates. Combining with Cardwell, Tippah Dwan’s game at goal attack has seen a big improvement this year, while Georgie Horjus is showing more consistency at wing attack.

It’s still not perfect however. In their only loss this season, they had 24 costly turnovers against GIANTS. Compare that to the win over Fever when they had just 16. That is what they would be aiming for in every game. If they can keep those turnover numbers low, Thunderbirds have a good shot at winning their first title in 10 years.

 


 

NSW SWIFTS

A happy Swifts camp post game. Image Marcela Massey

(GRADE: B)

Rd1 – Magpies 71 v Swifts 63
Rd2 – Thunderbirds 25 v Swifts 25
Rd3 – Swifts 74 v Firebirds 71
Rd4 – Swifts 67 v Fever 78
Rd5 – Lightning 63 v Swifts 64
Rd6 – Swifts 67 v Vixens 66
Rd7 – Giants 64 v Swifts 67

(Won 4, Lost 2, Drawn 1)
18 Points, 97.49%

Home: 2 wins, 1 loss / Away: 2 wins, 1 loss, 1 draw
Average goals for: 65.7 / Average goals against: 67.4
Biggest winning margin: 3 / Biggest losing margin: 11

 

NSW Swifts find themselves sitting in third place at the halfway mark. That didn’t look at all likely when they lost their first game against Collingwood, but they’ve recovered very well since. There’s one fact about Swifts’ season so far that is quite fascinating. They have so far been involved in four matches decided by a margin of no more than three goals. And they’ve won every one.

Added to that, they were trailing going into the last quarter in all four matches and finished stronger than their opposition to win on each occasion. Incredibly, Swifts have been behind at three-quarter time in all of their matches that have gotten that far.

If you were being harsh, you could say that they need to get off to better starts in their games so they don’t have to rely on a strong last quarter. But you can’t deny that they’ve been incredibly good under pressure and found a way to win tight matches, which holds them in good stead for a possible finals run.

One of the major reasons for Swifts’ good position on the ladder has been the signing of Romelda Aiken-George as a training partner for this season. With Sam Wallace still sidelined, that decision has turned out to be a masterstroke. Aiken-George has given the team a strong target up front and taken some of the pressure off Helen Housby.

Aiken-George is the only change to the 2022 Swifts team which narrowly missed out on playing finals, so their current position shouldn’t be a huge surprise. The line up is a settled one and it’s the usual names who have been getting it done in the first half of the season although there has been no absolute standout.

Housby, Paige Hadley, Maddy Proud, Maddy Turner and Sarah Klau have all played together for seven seasons now under the coaching of Briony Akle, so they know each other’s games inside out. And they were part of champion teams in 2019 and 2021. Could they do it again in 2023?

 


 

MELBOURNE VIXENS

Mwai Kumwenda celebrates with teammates after taking the match winning shot. Image: Shaun Sharp | Moments by Shaun

Mwai Kumwenda celebrates after the win against Magpies. Image: Shaun Sharp | Moments by Shaun

(GRADE: B)

Rd1 – Fever 62 v Vixens 61
Rd2 – Magpies 61 v Vixens 62
Rd3 – Vixens 62 v Giants 57
Rd4 – Vixens 60 v Lightning 56
Rd5 – Thunderbirds 61 v Vixens 50
Rd6 – Swifts 67 v Vixens 66
Rd7 – Vixens 72 v Firebirds 60

(Won 4, Lost 3)
16 Points, 102.12%

Home: 3 wins / Away: 1 win, 3 losses
Average goals for: 61.8 / Average goals against: 60.6
Biggest winning margin: 12 / Biggest losing margin: 11

 

There is a lot of pressure on Melbourne Vixens in 2023. After finishing as runners up in 2022, we then saw the announcement that this year’s Super Netball grand final would be held in Melbourne. That immediately placed great expectation on the Vixens team to be there on that day. To give themselves a chance, they will need to at least make the finals first and as of now, they’re in that all important fourth spot.

Vixens will certainly be used to playing tight matches. Of their seven games to date, five have been decided by five goals or less. That includes three one-goal thrillers, two of which they lost, while the other one was the controversial defeat of Magpies where Mwai Kumwenda landed 4 last quarter super shots to get Vixens home.

In round seven, the team appeared headed for defeat against bottom-placed Firebirds before a second half resurgence. One of the stars of that comeback was Liz Watson whose form came under scrutiny earlier in the season. Watson’s reputation is such that whenever she’s not dominating the feeds and assists column, people take note.

The other player who lifted the team in round seven is perhaps a surprise. Defender Olivia Lewis has been given substantial court time in recent weeks and has made the most of it, inspiring her teammates with her performances at goal keeper.

Having now played every other team once, the results make for interesting reading. Vixens have defeated all of the teams who sit below them on the ladder, and lost to all the teams above them. As mentioned, there are some tiny margins in there, but nevertheless it is perhaps a sign of just where they sit currently.

Has round seven clicked the Vixens into gear? Apart from the injured Rahni Samason, this is the same team that made it all the way to last year’s decider. The talent is all there, including four players recently named in the Diamonds squad (Watson, Kiera Austin, Kate Moloney and Jo Weston), so it would not surprise if they made a good run at the playoffs.

 


 

SUNSHINE COAST LIGHTNING

Steph Wood rocks back to shoot. Image Kirsten Daley

(GRADE: C+)

Rd1 – Lightning 66 v Giants 50
Rd2 – Firebirds 55 v Lightning 65
Rd3 – Lightning 42 v Thunderbirds 66
Rd4 – Vixens 60 v Lightning 56
Rd5 – Lightning 63 v Swifts 64
Rd6 – Magpies 50 v Lightning 65
Rd7 – Lightning 64 v Fever 74

(Won 3, Lost 4)
12 Points, 100.48%

Home: 1 win, 3 losses / Away: 2 wins, 1 loss
Average goals for: 60.1 / Average goals against: 59.9
Biggest winning margin: 16 / Biggest losing margin: 24

 

After a very disappointing wooden spoon season in 2022, the Sunshine Coast Lightning are definitely on the improve in 2023. They recorded just four wins in total last year and already have three wins at the halfway mark so far this year.

Currently in fifth spot, has Lightning found their mark in this competition or can they go higher? We shall see. Just like Vixens, they have beaten the teams that sit below them on the ladder, but lost to all four teams that sit above them. They started the season with two impressive victories and were on top of the ladder heading into round three, but have won just one out of five games since.

The Lightning team came crashing back to Earth big time in round three when Thunderbirds dominated them and won by 24 goals. Fever also defeated them fairly comfortably in round seven. They have however been highly competitive against the two teams they will likely be competing with for a spot in the finals, Swifts and Vixens.

It’s no secret that the Diamonds shooting duo of Cara Koenen and Steph Wood are very important to the performance of this team. They have been in sparkling form for much of this season so far. Wood in particular is crucial to Lightning’s success and it’s no mere coincidence that her poorest performance of the year came in the heavy Thunderbirds loss.

Goal defence Karla Pretorius is back in the team after giving birth and her effort in round six was incredible. It was like the Pretorius of old. Meanwhile, her defensive partner Kadie-Ann Dehaney has enjoyed getting more court time this season. In the midcourt, Laura Scherian has impressed in recent games and Annie Miller has also been starring in her first year as a regular starter. Unfortunately for the Lightning, news broke earlier today that replacement player Shannon Eagland has ruptured her ACL and will miss the rest of the season. That makes three Lightning players sidelined with the same injury this season.

There is no doubt that Lightning has a team capable of playing finals, but can they get the wins to make it? We will probably know fairly soon as they play Swifts and Vixens in the next two weeks. They will have to beat at least one and preferably both of them to make it.

 


 

GIANTS NETBALL

The accuracy of Sophie Dwyer is on show again this season. Image – May Bailey | Clusterpix

(GRADE: C)

Rd1 – Lightning 66 v Giants 50
Rd2 – Giants 73 v Fever 74
Rd3 – Vixens 62 v Giants 57
Rd4 – Thunderbirds 54 v Giants 59
Rd5 – Giants 59 v Magpies 55
Rd6 – Firebirds 70 v Giants 66
Rd7 – Giants 64 v Swifts 67

(Won 2, Lost 5, Drawn 0)
8 Points, 95.54%

Home: 1 win, 2 losses / Away: 1 win, 3 losses
Average goals for: 61.1 / Average goals against: 64.0
Biggest winning margin: 5 / Biggest losing margin: 16

 

It’s hard to believe GIANTS are in this position. On paper, they have a strong team, and past results certainly suggest they should be aiming for a finals spot. In fairness, their season got off to a very difficult start when two of their most important players, captain Jo Harten and wing attack Maddie Hay, were missing from the line up for round one.

They duly suffered a 16 goal loss to Lightning, and have seemingly been playing catch up ever since. Since that big opening round defeat, every game they’ve played has been decided by five goals or less. Unfortunately, they’ve only managed to win two of them.

At times, they’ve shown the form of a genuine top four team. In round two, they had just a one-goal loss to defending champions Fever, and in round four, they became the only team to have beaten Thunderbirds this season after a five goal win in Adelaide. But their season to date has been a story of what could have been.

Consistency of performance has been a problem, but best players so far have been Jamie-Lee Price, Amy Parmenter, Sophie Dwyer and Hay. At the halfway mark of the regular season, Dwyer has already landed 40 super shots at an incredible 69% accuracy rate. But is the reliance on the super shot hindering the team?

In a couple of matches this year, the opposition successfully prevented GIANTS from scoring two pointers in the last quarter when the match was up for grabs. It seems the team has become very successful in using the super shot to stay in games, but not so successful in using it to actually win games.

Can GIANTS make the finals? They will struggle, being two games and percentage out of the top four. They have the ability to do it, but it’s going to take something special. They will have to turn all those narrow defeats into wins.

 


 

COLLINGWOOD MAGPIES

Geva Mentor takes an intercept for Collingwood Magpies. Image: Shaun Sharp | Moments by Shaun

Geva Mentor and Jodi-Ann Ward have been formidable for the Magpies. Image: Shaun Sharp | Moments by Shaun

(GRADE: C-)

Rd1 – Magpies 71 v Swifts 63
Rd2 – Magpies 61 v Vixens 62
Rd3 – Fever 80 v Magpies 53
Rd4 – Magpies 69 v Firebirds 61
Rd5 – Giants 59 v Magpies 55
Rd6 – Magpies 50 v Lightning 65
Rd7 – Thunderbirds 52 v Magpies 47

(Won 2, Lost 5)
8 Points, 91.86%

Home: 2 wins, 2 losses / Away: 3 losses
Average goals for: 58.0 / Average goals against: 63.1
Biggest winning margin: 8 / Biggest losing margin: 27

 

It has certainly been a bumpy ride in the first half of the season for Collingwood Magpies. And it started out so promisingly. The first round saw an eight goal win over Swifts and fans were getting excited. Then they faced rivals Vixens in round two and Magpies were seemingly in control, leading by as much as nine goals in the last quarter.

That’s when the problems started. Vixens began a comeback and eventually won thanks to a super shot right on full time. But it soon became apparent that they had been helped by receiving two consecutive centre passes late in the game. Coach Nicole Richardson was livid at this mistake.

The following week, Magpies were trounced by Fever, falling to the biggest defeat of any team this season. Richardson said that the disappointment over the centre pass controversy wasn’t an excuse for the team’s poor performance, but it surely must have played at least some part.

As the season has progressed, there’s no hiding the fact that one major problem area has developed. That’s the shooting circle. And more particularly the goal attack position. After starting the year quite well, Sophie Garbin’s form has dropped off alarmingly in recent weeks. She will need to very quickly rediscover the form from the first couple of weeks or Magpies’ season will effectively be over.

The shining light for the team is at the other end of the court. The defensive combination of Geva Mentor and Jodi-Ann Ward has starred. Both players are in the top five for deflections, while Ward is number one for intercepts. Mentor turned back the clock with a brilliant game in round seven against the Thunderbirds. Ash Brazill, Molly Jovic and Kelsey Browne have all played well at times, but not as consistently as they would have hoped.

As it currently stands, Collingwood has just two wins to their name. It’s not entirely impossible for them to make the playoffs, but it’s going to be very difficult. They will need to start this week with a win against bottom-placed Firebirds.

 


 

QUEENSLAND FIREBIRDS

Donnell Wallam copping some close attention. Image - Simon Leonard

Donnell Wallam copping some close attention. Image – Simon Leonard

(GRADE: D+)

Rd1 – Firebirds 44 v Thunderbirds 59
Rd2 – Firebirds 55 v Lightning 65
Rd3 – Swifts 74 v Firebirds 71
Rd4 – Magpies 69 v Firebirds 61
Rd5 – Firebirds 71 v Fever 73
Rd6 – Firebirds 70 v Giants 66
Rd7 – Vixens 72 v Firebirds 60

(Won 1, Lost 6, Drawn 0)
4 Points, 90.38%

Home: 1 win, 3 losses / Away: 3 losses
Average goals for: 61.7 / Average goals against: 68.3
Biggest winning margin: 4 / Biggest losing margin: 15

 

Coming into the season, it’s fair to say that not many held high expectations for the Queensland Firebirds. With Gretel Bueta out due to pregnancy, that left the team well short on big game experience in the goal attack position. There was also a lack of elite level experience in defence. Added to that, the team parted ways with their assistant coach leading up to game one.

So, not a lot was expected of the team which finished sixth in 2022. Those negative predictions have largely been borne out as they currently sit on the bottom of the ladder with just one win. But there is reason for optimism from fans.

After a poor start to the competition in the opening two rounds, Firebirds have performed well in most subsequent weeks. With a close loss to Swifts and an even closer loss to premiers Fever, as well as a good win against GIANTS, there’s no doubt who the star of the show has been.

In all of these games, Donnell Wallam was a major reason for the strong Firebirds performance. She is sitting second behind only Jhaniele Fowler in terms of number of goals this year. Whenever the Firebirds have concentrated their attack solely around Wallam, they have proven hard to beat.

Three players with little or no SSN court time have proven to be a hit this year. The oldest rookie in the league at 29, Remi Kamo has teamed up beautifully with her old Brisbane North clubmate Ruby Bakewell-Doran in defence. Meanwhile, Emily Moore has played well when given the chance at goal attack, and midcourter Macy Gardner has come into the team in recent weeks and shone.

Unfortunately, Gardner suffered a fractured wrist in round seven and it’s now been announced that she will miss up to six weeks. This is a big blow to her and the Firebirds. On the weekend, the form of the team fell right away when she left the court.

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