The Swifts put on a show in Melbourne to claim all eight points on Sunday night. It was their first win against the Vixens in the Suncorp Super Netball and the Vixens’ first loss of 2019. The Vixens lacked their usual fluidity for much of the game and struggled to find their shooters in attack. The Swifts’ ball movement and work in defence was instrumental as they rebounded from a loss against the Sunshine Coast Lightning last week.
While the Vixens had the better start, the first five minutes of the game were to be the only time they looked the better team on court. The early feeds from Liz Watson into Caitlin Thwaites looked strong and they gained ascendancy through their usual and straightforward route to goal.
But it wasn’t long before the Vixens started losing their structure. The Swifts had done their research and were able to crowd the centre channel through the court. At all times, there was at least one Swifts player blocking the easiest path into the circle. This forced Kate Moloney and Watson to drop into the pockets and limited their options to drive forward in attack leading to dangerous cross-court passes.
Eddy was having the game of her career against Watson, pulling in two intercepts in the first quarter and matching Watson by cutting off her drives towards the circle edge. Watson could not lead into space as easily, and this problem was mirrored across the court as the attacking players struggled to connect with their signature clarity. The Vixens were also guilty of some early coach killers including a step by Thwaites on an easy shot and a break on a centre pass by Philip. The Swifts went into the first break up by three goals.
The second quarter was more of a seesaw affair with the Swifts scoring the first four, and then the Vixens the next six, drawing to within one goal. The Vixens’ shooters were simply less accurate though, turning over the ball twice during the quarter with missed shots.
A positional swap between Thwaites and Philip had a good impact early in the quarter, but it didn’t take long for Sarah Klau and Maddy Turner to catch on. Klau pushed Philip out to the edge of the circle and forced her to take long shots. The extra work Philip was doing just to become available led to some poor decision-making in attack and two missed shots, one of which resulted in a turnover.
Soon after, Ine-Mari Venter got her Suncorp Super Netball debut, replacing Philip as goal shooter. She had a good impact to start, drawing the defenders out to the edge of the circle to allow space for Thwaites to run into. The Swifts gained their second bonus point, going into the halftime break up by six goals.
Philip came back on the court to start the third quarter and the break seemed to have benefited her. The ball came through the middle of the court more easily. The Vixens’ defenders were getting some defensive tips to the ball, but the Swifts were refusing to lie down. The Vixens were once again their own worst enemies; as Philip came into her own, Thwaites was guilty of some shocking passing to the edge of the circle and just as the Vixens looked to be threatening the lead, the ball would be turned over.
The Swifts shooters, meanwhile were well and truly on-song for much of the game. Sam Wallace was winning the battle with Emily Mannix by pushing her towards the edge of the circle and then swinging into the backspace to receive feeds. Helen Housby was more than happy to draw Jo Weston outside the circle to open up the space for Wallace.
Weston lacked discipline at times, penalised 17 times on court, more than any other player. Often this was outside the circle, forcing Mannix to defend both shooters. The Vixens’ defensive line are famously good at adapting to games and increasing their gains as a match progresses. But on this occasion, the wins were few and far between for much of the game, with Sarah Klau having more gains to her name than Mannix, Weston and Renae Ingles combined.
In the third quarter, Weston and Mannix had some good wins, able to confuse space into both shooters, with Weston doubling back to protect the goal line more. But no matter, what they threw at the Swifts, they were unable to take the lead. Wallace and Housby deserve special mention here, not only for their shooting accuracy, but also for their movement around the circle. Again and again, the back space opened up for Wallace and the Vixens had no answer for it.
Ingles had some early moments of brilliance on Maddy Proud, driving her into the pockets, but was guilty of not reoffering after letting the ball go. The work that Eddy and Paige Hadley were doing to block up the midcourt meant that Ingles needed to step up and be an option. She often took the ball, passed it off and lagged behind the play, rather than reoffering. This was something Simone McKinnis mentioned after the game as being a particular area of weakness in attack more generally.
Klau had an exceptional game on Thwaites and then Philip. Since the Swifts midcourt were forcing the Vixens into cross-court passes, it was easier for Klau and her defensive partner Maddy Turner to get tips to the ball. Klau did well on Thwaites, Philip and then Venter. The various shifts in the shooting end were well covered by all three defensive players and Hadley also had an immense impact in cutting off the route to goal. Despite the increased efforts from the defenders, the Swifts increased their lead to eight goals to end the third quarter.
The Vixens did well early in the fourth term to score four of the first five goals drawing them back to within five, but inconsistency again let them down. This was particularly the case in their attacking third with 16 out of their 20 turnovers for the game coming from the front three players in Thwaites, Philip and Watson. Thwaites was feeling the effects of the defensive work from the Swifts and began to baulk on the shot, being called for held ball near the beginning of the quarter. Venter took the court again with seven minutes to go in the last quarter and shot well.
Yet the last quarter had the same issues for the Vixens who struggled to convert turnover ball and to make the best use of their own centre passes. The Swifts only had three fewer turnovers for the game, but appeared to have better control of the ball at key moments. The Swifts again won the last quarter, taking all four bonus points and the win.
The Vixens will rue missed opportunities in this game. While there were flashes of their usual cohesion in attack, they lacked consistency. The Vixens will now travel to the Sunshine Coast to take on defending premiers, the Lightning. The Swifts have gone to the top of the table and will face the Magpies in Sydney.
NSW Swifts 60 beat Melbourne Vixens 50
(16-13, 14-11, 14-12, 16-14)
Player of the match: Paige Hadley (Swifts)
Ine-Mari Venter 3/3 100%
Tegan Philip 18/22 82%
(Caitlin Thwaites 28/32 88%)
Melbourne Vixens 50/58 86%
Sam Wallace 45/47 96%
Helen Housby 15/18 83%
NSW Swifts 60/65 92%
Klau (Swifts) – 5
Turner (Swifts) – 3
Eddy (Swifts) – 2
Proud (Swifts) – 26
Watson (Vixens) – 26
Philip (Vixens) – 6
Watson (Vixens) – 6
Thwaites (Vixens) – 4
Wallace (Swifts) – 4
Starting line ups
GS Caitlin Thwaites
GA Tegan Philip
WA Liz Watson
C Kate Moloney
WD Renae Ingles
GD Jo Weston
GK Emily Mannix
Q2: GS Philip, GA Thwaites then GS Venter
Q3: GA Philip, GS Thwaites then GS Venter
GS Sam Wallace
GA Helen Housby
WA Maddy Proud
C Paige Hadley
WD Kate Eddy
GD Maddy Turner
GK Sarah Klau
What they said
Paige Hadley, NSW Swifts
On the game
“So proud. That was a massive team effort, I think, all over the court we put the pressure on and for the defenders to have three shooters keep rotating on, it was just testament to how hard they were going in the defence end.”
On getting all eight points
“Every point is so critical and I think to only do it by three or two each quarter, it was tough but got over the line – super proud. It was a tough game – we stuck to the process the whole four quarters.”
On it being the first win against the Vixens in SSN
“Yeah – our first win against the Vixens in the Suncorp Super Netball, so I think we always want to play really great netball against them but they always just pip us at the end, so to come out in Melbourne against their crowd and to win is testament to how hard we’re training and how we’re putting what we learn onto the court.”
Were there particular areas you concentrated on coming up against the Vixens
“We obviously know they’re very traditional. They play straight to the middle – or wide then straight to the middle, so we knew we had to try and shut down that middle play and we had to have a four second defence, because you know if we went for two and a-half they’d get away with it, so we knew we had to defend for that four seconds.”
Was the loss to the Lightning last week on your minds?
“Not stunned at all obviously. We knew they were defending premiers for a reason and we were disappointed that we were up by nine in that third quarter and let them run away with the game. So disappointed would be the word. We came off, we were obviously very disappointed and trained our heart out this week and came back and won against the top of the table.”
On Diamonds’ selection
“I don’t really think about that sort of stuff. Obviously my team mates are really proud and everyone is pushing for selection. Everyone that’s an Australian player wants to be there. If I got there, it’d be a big dream, but if I don’t I’m really really proud. I’m absolutely loving playing my netty.”
Simone McKinnis, Melbourne Vixens Coach
Thoughts on the shooting end’s performance
“I think in attack we couldn’t find that right click and right flow. It was quite disappointing, because I think even though we always want to be getting more ball, we’d get a couple in a row and then there’d be something silly that’d let them off the hook. So I think when the opportunities came to put a bit of pressure on with scoring, we sort of let it go a bit. Just found it hard to get that combination and flow down in that attack end.”
Did you see this coming after the draw last week?
“Actually, they had a really good week this week – a really good week. It was probably one of our better training weeks and certainly after our captain’s run yesterday, I though they were well prepared and looking good and feeling good. But you know what? I acknowledge that we’re playing against a team that is a very good team that’s playing very good netball and we didn’t match that today.”
Was the upcoming Diamonds selection a distraction?
“No – our focus and our talk from the start of the year is that the first step is playing for Vixens. And doing well for Vixens and that’s the reward that comes through that. And that was something we’d spoken about at the start of the year. There’s obviously lots of talk on the outside and we’re always very mindful of not letting that external talk affect what we’re doing. But, you know, it’s obviously a big weekend…and an exciting week ahead for some and tough for others.”
On it being the Swifts’ first win against them
“They were great – they were really good and even when there was those couple of times in a quarter where we had the opportunity to really put them under pressure, they stood strong and they were composed and they played a really good game.”
What was the message at halftime?
“Mainly I thought that we were just quite stationary and stagnant in attack and sitting wide and it’s just something we’d been working on. So it was about giving the ball and driving. Don’t give the ball and just spectate. Give and drive and be strong onto it and just that, at halftime what was it? Six goals – you know across the game that’s nothing and it’s about being disciplined to do what they needed to do every time they need to do it.”