Another week of Super Netball is done, and one eye has started to turn to finals, as the end of the season is a fortnight now.
In a week of thrillers, there were plenty of talking points out of every match, as the top four was locked in.
With two rounds to go, there is still plenty of intrigue, even if finals are just a matter of arrangement.
Collingwood Magpies def Adelaide Thunderbirds 53-50
The Magpies overcame weeks of tumult and emotional heartbreak to pull out a magical win in their final home game in Victoria. As the emotional dam broke, and tears flowed, the Magpies could celebrate a strong victory over the more fancied Thunderbirds.
For the Thunderbirds, their loss is their second in three weeks, and their second at John Cain Arena in that time - the home of the Grand Final that the Thunderbirds will be looking to return to for the first time in a decade.
The loss means that the Thunderbirds have managed 60 goals just once since Round Six, as the teams around them in the top four start to hit their straps.
And the trend supports that. The Thunderbirds have been the lowest-scoring of the finals teams throughout the season, unable to match the scoring power of the other contenders.
They have conceded 151 goals less than the next-best defensive team (the Vixens), but have scored 119 goals less than the Vixens (the next-weakest attacking team of the top four). By comparison, the West Coast Fever have scored 1.3x more goals across the season than the Adelaide Thunderbirds, and has conceded goals at about the same rate.
Each of the top four teams are close in percentage, but the Thunderbirds have the least scoring power to go with it.
While the saying is "defensce wins championships", the Thunderbirds will have to prove that this season, as their attacking end cannot keep up with the other contenders - leaving a challenge for the leaping Shamera Sterling, Latanya Wilson and Matilda Garrett to face at the pointy end of the season.
West Coast Fever def Sunshine Coast Lightning 69-65
The Sunshine Coast Lightning fought hard, but in the end they came up just short against a West Coast Fever team that seems to be struggling for rhythm recently too.
The Lightning have been on the wrong end of close matches repeatedly this year. It has been a hallmark of Belinda Reynolds' coaching that her team will battle every second for the full 60 minutes, but they have struggled to stay on top late in games.
The Lightning have won one and lost five matches this year by less than five goals, but have actually only led in the last quarter in two of those matches.
It's been an issue for the side, that they have had lapses of concentration for 10-15 minutes during matches, that has cost them at different times.
Going into 2024, Reynolds will be looking to tighten up these lapses, as the Lightning will look to return to finals next year, after missing finals for just the second time in their history.
At the other end of the court, Dan Ryan will have concerns after back-to-back lacklustre performances for his side. Coming off a record-breaking performance where they scored 97 goals in a match, the Fever have only just surpassed that for the two weeks combined since.
It's the Fever's worst two-week stretch of any point this season and an issue that Dan Ryan will surely be aware of. After humming for much of the season, the Fever attack line has now had 13 and 20 turnovers in the last fortnight.
Ryan will no doubt be focussing on reducing the ball wastage as his team heads to finals - where the small errors may come back to haunt his team, as they have done on other occasions this year.
NSW Swifts def Giants Netball 68-63
The NSW derby is always a hard-fought match, regardless of ladder placings, and it was no different as the Swifts and Giants went head-to-head in front of a packed house.
While the Giants didn’t get the win, their midcourt had a strong afternoon, with Jamie-Lee Price, Maddie Hay and Amy Parmenter having good performances against their Swifts counterparts in a battle for the Australian Diamonds midcourt.
While Parmenter, Price and Swifts counterparts Maddy Proud and Paige Hadley vie for spots on the plane to the Netball World Cup, it was the two midcourters who aren’t in the Diamonds squad who stole the show.
Maddie Hay, who finished with 35 feeds, 21 centre pass receives, and two gains had an all-around performance, drawing praise from Giants coach Julie Fitzgerald.
“Particularly when you look at those last couple of intercepts at the end, if we could have converted those it would have been a very different story, but much, much stronger today,” Fitzgerald explained.
“It’s very important – I think you need seven defenders and when you can get a wing attack who can win you the ball back in crucial moments like that, it’s pretty valuable.”
Hay’s performance also drew Swifts’ coach Briony Akle’s attention, as she mixed and matched Maddy Turner and Tayla Fraser throughout the game to try and slow Hay’s influence.
“I thought Maddie Hay was winning that battle in that first half, so I certainly thought we needed to try something a little different, and for us, the good thing is that we can make changes and then come back and play our style of netball,” Akle said.
“Tayla brought it back and she was in wing attack, and she went back in defence, and Turner had great hands over – it just shows the versatility and I’m super proud of them.”
Fraser, who played three-quarters of the match against Hay battled hard, matching her for pace, while playing across the transverse line, before being thrown into wing attack in the third quarter to try and battle Parmenter. The Swifts’ versatility was on show again, as five different players wore multiple bibs across the match – a weapon that Akle will no doubt take advantage of as the Swifts focus in on another finals run.
Queensland Firebirds def Melbourne Vixens 76-71
The Firebirds aren’t in a position to make finals, but that doesn’t mean they haven’t relished the challenge of playing spoiler late in the season. After ending the Giants’ season last week, the Vixens were next this week.
Donnell Wallam, playing as a Noongar woman with paint on her face during First Nations was on fire again. After 24 goals in a quarter last week, Wallam had 71 goals to her name, tying the Vixens alone, in a superb performance.
Vying for a berth on the plane to South Africa for the Netball World Cup, Wallam’s form is starting to look irrepressible, and her continued ability to work through the challenges of Super Netball defenders will only work in her favour.
Further up the court, Leesa Mi Mi backed up her debut with another strong performance, days after she was named as Macy Gardener’s replacement for the rest of the season. Mi Mi had 31 feeds and 24 assists to go with just three turnovers, in a strong performance, as she ran out the game stronger than her debut.
On the flip side, things are less rosy for the Vixens. Two losses in a row have the Vixens facing an uphill battle to compete for a major semi-final spot, meaning they’ll almost certainly have to go the hard way to a home Grand Final.
One struggle for the Vixens, and it’s been a frequent issue, was their Super Shot accuracy. While they were more willing to go with the Super Shot than their opponents, they did so with far less effectiveness, making the same number of shots (seven) as the Firebirds, with multiple extra attempts.
Given the concern about the Thunderbirds’ scoring, the Vixens face the same issue, but more so on the Super Shot. They have the lowest rate of attempts for the season, and make them at an average rate, translating to the weakest shooting performance in the Super Shot time of the finals contenders.
No doubt, it will be all over Simone McKinnis’ radar as she starts turning her mind to the last fortnight of the season and the finals.
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