Over the 2023 season, the Edge of the Crowd netball team will look at the big questions and issues ahead of each matchup of the year. A mix of cold-hard statistics and gut-feel from observations, there are always questions to be considered across the weekend.
NSW Swifts v Queensland Firebirds
Two winless teams face off on Sunday, as they look to make get their season going. In the history of Super Netball, only three teams have ever made finals after going winless in their first three games:
Sunshine Coast Lightning in 2018
Queensland Firebirds in 2020, and
Collingwood Magpies in 2022.
That's a strong indication that for one of these teams, their season will be on the ropes after the weekend.
The Swifts have won three of their six quarters this season, while the Firebirds have won three of eight.
Both teams have struggled defensively, as the Swifts are conceding 16 goals per quarter on average, and the Firebirds are just behind at 15.5. More concerningly for the Firebirds, they are scoring just over 12 goals a game, while the Swifts are averaging almost 15.
The Firebirds scoring woes are linked to missing Gretel Bueta, who led the league in centre pass receives last year, and was tenth in the league for goals scored.
Mia Stower, for her best efforts, has tallied just 27 centre pass receives, not even the most on the team, as she struggles to fill the hole of arguably the best netballer in the world.
Can she, together with Emily Moore, step up and start to fill that void?
NSW Swifts host the Queensland Firebirds in their first game at Ken Rosewall Arena on Saturday at 5pm.
Sunshine Coast Lightning v Adelaide Thunderbirds
This match pits two of the hottest sides of the season against each other, in a mouthwatering clash. It is the battle of settled ends at one side of the court, where international combinations will do battle, while at the other end, two learning combinations will go head to head.
For many fans, the attention will be on the matchup in the Thunderbirds’ goal circle, where Eleanor Cardwell is finding her feet, in partnership with Lucy Austin and Tippah Dwan. That trio will go up against the Lightning defensive end, with Karla Pretorius very much warmed back into the flow of Super Netball, and Kadie-Ann Dehaney playing ascendant netball.
Laura Scherian of the Lightning talked on Thursday about how the ball and player movement at that end made it hard to combat the Thunderbirds.
“They’re very versatile, and they’ve been building their combinations over the past few years, which has been really cool to see for Adelaide,” Scherian said.
“Definitely it’s hard to combat all the different combinations they can put out there.
“They move the ball really fast in attack. They have the talls they can put out but they also have some shorter movers that they can use so we will be looking at that.”
But the match may well hinge on how the other end unfolds. Diamonds’ shooters Cara Koenen and Steph Wood will take on the Sunshine Girls defensive combination of Latanya Wilson and Shamera Sterling, although Lightning coach Belinda Reynolds hinted that she may throw a curveball at the Thunderbirds’ defensive end.
“[Charlie Bell’s] a strong target, and I think with someone like Shamera [Sterling], she has to pay attention to her,” Reynolds said.
“So it gives us an opportunity to move our ball speed out in front of that because they have to be accountable to Charlie, she’s a strong target.”
Bell made her Super Netball debut last week against the Firebirds, but played only a brief moment before half time. While Reynolds admitted that she wanted to play Bell in the second half, the Lightning’s poor second half meant she was forced to stick with her starting seven to ensure the Lightning got the win.
Thunderbirds defender Matilda Garrett, who is Tania Obst’s joker card in response to Bell explained that the focus would be on winning the ball back at the defensive end.
“The focus this week, looking forward, Lightning are quite good at holding onto the ball, so looking at how we can win ball back,” Garrett said.
“The Lightning are good at playing with the ball, and playing around, and holding possession to goal, so for us, it’s about how we can disrupt that ball, and win back as much as we can, and converting it to goal.”
If the Thunderbirds can force turnovers, and convert it at the other end, it will be the recipe for beating a resurgent Lightning, and announcing themselves as one of the forces of the competition in 2023.
Sunshine Coast Lightning host the Adelaide Thunderbirds at 7pm AEDT on Saturday at UniSC Arena.
West Coast Fever v Collingwood Magpies
Magpies v Fever
Both the Fever and the Magpies have had periods in both matches this season where they have grown commanding leads. For the Magpies, it was as many as nine goals in the last quarter of the match against the Vixens, and for the Fever, it was a double digit lead against the Giants last week.
In both cases though, the lead, and maybe the complacency, froze the Magpies and the Fever, as they watched their leads evaporate, seemingly unable to prevent it.
Last week, after the one goal loss, Magpies coach Nicole Richardson acknowledged that her team had let one slip.
“I think our key learning out of the game is that when we scored the goal to go one goal up, could we have played around with the ball a little bit more and given less time on the clock for them to score,” Richardson explained.
“That’s probably the key learning from us. It was just around making sure we could control the tempo.
“Just to make sure we could starve [the opposition] of possession and stay in play in defence, instead of the easy 1-2-3, make them throw the ball around a little bit.”
For Fever coach Dan Ryan, his team escaped with the win, after pouncing on a loose pass from Giants defender April Brandley in the dying seconds. Despite that, he was just as concerned about almost letting a win slip through the Fever’s fingers.
“Even though we put ourselves in some powerful positions, being 10 goals up… we had to hold our nerve in the final stages again, which was great to see from the team, and plenty of learnings that we can take away from this performance,” Ryan explained.
“We need to read the situation, about whether we need to be more aggressive. There were times where we didn’t need to be, because we’d done the work in the ‘one point netball’ period and be up and in control of the opposition.
“I think the reality with the Super Shot is that you don’t want to force them, you want to take them when the timing is right, and I feel like we did have that balance.
“We will have a look at what our behaviours are when we do get up and in control, and where our gaps are in how we can get a little bit more ruthless in closing the door when we get up and in control of a match. We will certainly rectify that.”
So for this week, these sides will be on the look out to ensure that if they get a lead, they make sure it doesn’t slip. The Fever could do with the confidence boost of a blowout win, while the Magpies will be out for blood after the fiasco that was last weekend’s finish.
Collingwood Magpies travel to RAC Arena to play the West Coast Fever at 2pm AEST on Sunday.
Melbourne Vixens v Giants Netball
Last season, these teams were two of the best teams in the league for defensive rebounding. While Courtney Bruce and Shamera Sterling led the way as individuals, the combination of Emily Mannix and Jo Weston was the second only to Sterling and Latanya Wilson, with 45 defensive rebounds as a duo. The Giants, in Tilly McDonell and April Brandley, were a shade behind, with 42 defensive rebounds as a duo.
This season, these two teams have been starved of opportunity, with just two (Vixens) and one (Giants) defensive rebounds across the first fortnight. The challenge for these teams defensively has been that there have been few opportunities, as opponents shot above 90 per cent accuracy against the two sides.
In the first two weeks, the Giants have shot poorly, with 80 and 83 per cent accuracy respectively. The Vixens have hardly been better, shooting at 83 and 86 per cent.
The shooting from the first two weeks suggests that the defensive ends this weekend will have opportunities to rebound. If either of these sides can develop a high efficiency, taking rebounds and converting them into goals at the other end, it will go a long way to taking victory.
And given how close the last two match ups between these teams have been (1 goal margin, and extra time in the last two matches), even a slight uptick in rebounding will make a big difference to the result.
Melbourne Vixens host Giants Netball on Sunday 4pm AEST at John Cain Arena.
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