Round four of Suncorp Super Netball saw the Adelaide Thunderbirds once again struggle to stand up to the power of their opponents, going down to the clinical Melbourne Vixens 72-50.
After a rough start to the season, the Thunderbirds were desperate to prove their worth in Super Netball, but the well-oiled machine of the Vixens was far too strong.
The match was a showcase of the significance of having a connected unit of players and no one does team work quite like the Vixens.
While the Thunderbirds showed glimpses of impressive play, the Melbourne side was in a league of its own.
It was a battle of the goal shooters as international stars Mwai Kumwenda and Shimona Nelson both put out impressive performances for their sides.
Once again, it was turnovers that killed the Thunderbirds, with the side coughing up ball 20 times to the Vixens’ 11.
Two early mistakes put the Thunderbirds in chasing position from the get go as the Vixens found easy passages to the high-flying Kumwenda.
Charlee Hodges opened the Thunderbirds account at the three-minute mark and a brief surge from the side brought the margin back to one. Nelson was impressive early, netting 6/6 in the first half of the quarter.
Critical errors by the Thunderbirds allowed the Vixens to take a seven-goal lead at quarter time.
Kumwenda’s athleticism was a highlight of the match as the Malawi star showcased her ability to dominate the space on the ground and in the air.
Vixens teammate Emily Mannix had a tough day at the office against Nelson, who continued to be the shining light for the Thunderbirds, finishing with 37 goals from 41 attempts.
After going toe-to-toe for most of the second quarter, the Thunderbirds struggled to finish it off and the Vixens surged to also take the term by another seven goals.
The 36-22 half-time deficit asked a lot of the Thunderbirds if they were to claw their way back into the game.
It was no surprise that the Vixens held their line up going into the third term, while the Thunderbirds mixed up their midcourt, moving Chelsea Pitman to the bench. In her place, Msomi moved to wing attack and Hannah Petty entered the game at centre.
Post match, Pitman said she was removed from the game to reassess her feeding into Nelson.
“I was getting clogged up and high in my position instead of gaining depth and opening up the circle to see the shooters so it was just a positional change,” she said.
“Sometimes she (Nelson) is really open and really wants the ball and it’s easy to see and sometimes as a feeder I struggle on her angles and that’s just about our connection.”
As attackers, Pitman was it was important they maintain the confidence to continue sending the ball in to Nelson.
“But it’s also about switching it up because defenders are doing their homework on her.”
The Thunderbirds vice-captain said building connections across the court was something the side had been working particularly hard on at training.
“It’s something we’re trying to fix so hard but sometimes when you try so hard it just doesn’t work but we’ve just got to stick to it.”
The third quarter saw the Thunderbirds throw many balls away, along with their chance of pulling back the growing margin.
Adelaide finally gave the crowd something to cheer about in the last fifteen minutes as they fought to only lose the quarter by three goals. The margin was out to 26 goals six minutes in, before scoring six of the last eight goals of the match.
The Vixens were dominant all game, winning most one-on-one battles across the court and claimed all four bonus points in the process.
Liz Watson’s 38 goal assists and 50 feeds were just as impressive as Kumwenda’s ability to convert on them, shooting 47 goals at 100 per cent for the match. Tegan Philip backed her up in goal attack, contributing 25/27 at 93%.
In defence, the Vixens were successful in causing doubt in the feeders minds and Weston in goal defence showed her experience over 20-year-old Charlee Hodges.
For the Thunderbirds, Nelson was the only player to clearly win her battle.
Coming off yet another significant loss, Adelaide head coach Dan Ryan said his side produced too many unforced errors off their own back to stay in the game.
“If we can tidy that area of our game up, it will make a massive difference,” he said.
He felt his feeders struggled to utilise Nelson as much as they could have.
“At times Shimona was on but we didn’t give it to her and just a bit of hesitation at the front of the circle from all of them at certain times which made Shimona a bit anxious so she moved more than previous weeks.”
“For her to still go 37 goals at 90% is still a great return from her, but I still think we could have utilised her as a weapon more than we did.”
The big question remains, what can Dan Ryan do to help his side gain their first win of the 2018 Suncorp Super Netball season? Or at least their first bonus point.
Melbourne Vixens 72 def Adelaide Thunderbirds 50
(17-10, 36-22, 53-34, 72-50)
Player of the match: Liz Watson (Vixens)
Kumwenda 47/47 100%
Philip 25/27 93%
Nelson 37/41 90%
Hodges 13/15 87%
Starting line ups
GS Shimona Nelson
GA Charlee Hodges
WA Chelsea Pitman
C Bongi Msomi
WD Kaitlyn Bryce
GD Leana De Bruin
GK Kate Shimmin
GS Mwai Kumwenda
GA Tegan Philip
WA Liz Watson
C Kate Moloney
WD Chloe Watson
GD Jo Weston
GK Emily Mannix
Cover image: Sue McKay