Every week, Edge of the Crowd will chat to coaches and players across the league, and break down the big questions and the big issues emerging from the weekend.
This week was less controversial than Round Two, and the focus on the court turned up the lights on plenty of stars.
NSW Swifts def Queensland Firebirds 74-71
The NSW Swifts snatched their first win of the season against the Queensland Firebirds, with a strong fourth quarter that helped break away from a see-sawing match.
Celebrating Romelda Aiken-George's 200th National League match, against her old side, the Swifts ran their attacking play through Housby, and looked to isolate Aiken-George under the post alone in her match up against Remi Kamo.
It wasn't a flawless strategy, as Aiken-George's accuracy was unreliable at times, and Kamo won ball back at times, but the usage had a much more effective purpose.
By playing the ball through Helen Housby outside the circle, and at getting Housby on the move, her opponent, Ruby Bakewell-Doran was starved of opportunities to win the ball for the Firebirds.
In the first fortnight of the season, Bakewell-Doran had six and seven gains respectively, but against the Swifts, she barely registered a statistic.
After the match, Firebirds coach Bec Bulley was wary of how big a statistics differential Kamo and Bakewell-Doran had registered.
"We do talk a lot about that like too many penalties because I think that there's stoppages in play doesn't help us we just got to be constantly contesting," Bulley explained.
"Credit to Remi, she's just trying her guts out. Romelda, she is a great opponent. She's very hard to stop.
"Ruby got one penalty. I don't know if that's a positive or a negative at the moment. I'll probably have to go back and have a look. Obviously we want to be contesting going for ball."
For Bulley, Kamo's efforts was the culmination of a big tactical focus for the week.
"Obviously we did focus a lot on the Swifts' attack. I think for us, you know, with someone like Romelda, it's very hard to stop once it gets on circle ledge so it was really about the pressure or putting on outside the circle.
"I think we turned over some great ball. I think in the second half, it probably went goal for goal a lot. We probably didn't get as much turnover as I would have liked."
For the Swifts, it was the sign of a job well done, as Maddy Proud explained after the match.
"We knew that Romelda was going to have to be a target in there," Proud said.
"So we knew that we just had to make the most of that and I think that you know, Helen played a really smart game as well. She played outside of the circle and really opened it up so that we could expose her an Romelda under the post.
"I think being able to swing the ball and then open up the angles for Romelda is what really helped and at the end of the day when you're up in the air against her you've got one way to go - it's either into the player or it's going into your hands."
The Swifts capitalised with their first win of the year, while the Firebirds continue to search for their first victory of the year.
Sunshine Coast Lightning def by Adelaide Thunderbirds 66-42
The Sunshine Coast Lightning were given a reality check on the weekend, after sitting on top of the ladder after two rounds. Despite that, the Adelaide Thunderbirds dominated their match, winning comfortably, and keeping the Lightning well below their season average for goals.
After the game, Lightning coach Belinda Reynolds expressed her frustration with her side's performance.
"We were disappointed with the performance we put out there tonight. We did stick to the game plan tonight, and we were disappointed with our skill execution.
"We know that they are an aerial defence that flies at ball, and we probably continued to play our "game style one", which was letting the ball go and having that aerial ability in there, but I think we need to adjust that very quickly and use our triangles.
"They jumped us at the start, and then we let them control the tempo of the game, so I think we needed to control the tempo of the game, and our skill can be much better."
In terms of control of tempo, the Thunderbirds were most effective at shutting down the Lightning's ball movement - which in the first few weeks was fast and deep into the pockets.
Over the first fortnight, Cara Koenen was the most important player on second phase, receiving the ball deep into the pockets, and bringing the play to circle edge quickly. The Thunderbirds, with Latanya Wilson, Shamera Sterling and Matilda Garrett, were able to stop that flow almost entirely.
Instead, the second phase was to Miller, Scherian or a defensive player on the second phase, as the Lightning struggled to get the ball across the transverse line quickly.
Sterling and Garrett were particularly effective, with seven gains for Sterling, and five for Garrett, while the Thunderbirds stifled the Lightning's play.
It's a shot across the bow for the Lightning, who will have to adjust, now that the rest of the competition has seen how to slow down their play.
For the Thunderbirds, it was a nice way to bounce back from the disappointment of last week's draw, as they continue their unbeaten start to the year.
West Coast Fever def Collingwood Magpies 80-53
The West Coast Fever finally stamped their authority for 2023, and did so in a big way, with a runaway win over the Collingwood Magpies to dominate a match for the first time this year.
The Fever won every quarter, pulling away all game, and still found time to empty the bench and ensure that all 10 players in the squad had court time.
The trouble for the Magpies was in the shooting circle, as Sophie Garbin had a poor afternoon with ball in hand (seven turnovers) and shooting (21/34), while Shimona Nelson was forced to the bench after being comprehensively outplayed by Courtney Bruce.
Nelson was substituted out partway through the second term, as the Fever led 26-15 already at that point. After the game, Bruce's performance against Nelson was a talking point for both coaches.
Nicole Richardson expressed her frustration that Bruce was allowed by the umpires to contest physically and build momentum in the contest.
"As soon as you allow Courtney Bruce into the game, and I thought she was allowed to get into the game very early, and then [the Fever] were up and about," Richardson said.
"We got away from feeding [Nelson] under the post, because of that. That's disappointing, so it's one we have got to learn from and got to move on pretty quickly.
"I think that was a key thing early. [Bruce] was able to contest from behind and knock ball out of hands, and if you can get away with it great, but then we got away from feedng that ball, which is why we needed to make some changes, and go to a moving circle - to see if we could create something a little bit different."
Richardson was able to sum up the afternoon's performance succinctly, cutting across the performance with a clear summary.
"We came up against a team that outplayed us, outclassed us across the whole court, so that's disappointing."
For Dan Ryan, as the architect of the Fever's afternoon, he started by paying tribute to the players in front of Bruce, who helped support her performance.
"Jess [Anstiss] started on the front foot today, which was really pleasing, just to win a couple of balls early," Ryan said.
"I thought she put a lot of doubt into the minds of the Magpies feeders, and just how they played across the transverse line, and when Jess wins ball early, she is up and about for a big game."
Ryan explained that the Fever had made the matchup with Nelson a priority, and they had looked to ensure that Nelson didn't get comfortable early.
"I think Shimona has been one of the most in-form shooters so far in the first couple of rounds, and we really approached it with that metnality, that we had to be on task doing our own jobs aginst them because of how much we respected them.
"For Courtney to get Shimona taken off early in the game is a huge credit to [her] presence, and her positioning and her footwork, and also to the front. That's a huge win for [Bruce] that I'm sure she will take a lot of confidence from."
The win gives the Fever three wins from three matches, while the Magpies have now lost two matches in a row.
Melbourne Vixens def Giants Netball 62-57
Capping off the round was the 2022 preliminary final rematch between the Giants and the Vixens - a game that had gone down to the wire with the Vixens winning by one goal.
To add to the excitement both teams had lost to West Coast Fever this year by one goal and the Giants were coming to John Cain Arena hungry for their first win. And the game did not disappoint.
Spectators were subject to an absolute war of attrition, and possibly the need for a blood pressure check, with few knowing who the victor would be until the last moments of the game. The first quarter set the tone for the match. Halfway through the first quarter, the Vixens had managed to create a small lead 10-6, and creating a lead that was maintained until into the third quarter.
With the first Power Five of the game activating, Vixens had their four-goal lead but were not looking to rest on their laurels against the Super shot queens. Unlike last week, which saw the Vixens only attempt three super shots over the first three quarters despite chasing, Mwai Kumwenda and Kiera Austin attempted three supershots in the first quarter against the Giants.
The Vixens' pair only managed to sink one of those attempts but kept the scoreboard ticking over with one-point goals as well as the Vixens defence smothered the Giants attack end who only managed three attempts at goal, supershot or otherwise, during the last five minutes of the game.
Vixens remained steady out of the first break and slowly began to push their lead out further, forcing Julie Fitzgerald, Giants coach, to make a change. With the Vixens having a handy seven goal lead, Lauren Moore entered the game in goal keeper with the instruction to "give Kumwenda some grief".
For the second week in a row, Moore certainly had an impact after her injection onto court, with two and half minutes before the Vixens scored again. The Giants began to stem the flow to post for Vixens and went into halftime only one goal down.
The third quarter was a see-saw with each team pushing to a lead before then having the other team come back at them and then overtake them. The Giants defence structure had ticked up another notch coming out of halftime.
Throughout the quarter the Vixens struggled to have one lead to the ball, let alone multiple options to the ball, forcing them to play it around. Acknowledging the Vixens' prowess once they get to circle edge, Moore said after the game this was part of the plan. The Giants' goal keeper noted that they wanted to "add some hustle out front" that was aimed at forcing the Vixens into extra passes.
Twice throughout the ‘premiership quarter’, the Giants seemed to take the game by the reins but each time the Vixens managed to halt their momentum and bring the scoreline back to their favour.
Going into the last quarter, scores were tied and Austin sunk the first goal after the break to put Vixens back into the lead. However, the first 7 minutes saw the Vixens struggle to penetrate with the attack end looked stagnant, tired and ultimately smothered by Giants defence.
Unfortunately, Giants goal defence April Brandley cramped with about 8 minutes left and was forced to the bench. Matilda McDonell came on but the Giant’s defence lost some crucial strength and the same time the Vixens were about to find one last gear.
It was ultimately the Vixens defence secured the home team the win. The combination of Emily Mannix, Jo Weston and Kate Eddy created opportunity after opportunity in turnovers, intercepts and rebounds for the Vixens.
Weston and Eddy drove the ball down court and were more present on the transverse line in the last minutes of the game, allowing crucial reset options when the attack end struggled to find space.
For the crucial last eight minutes of the game, the Giants only had five scoring opportunities, only two of which sunk and zero goals were scored by the team at all in the last five minutes of the game.
Fitzgerald post-match said it was a "bitterly disappointing" loss commenting on weak leads letting them down towards the end. While the Vixens celebrated winning their first official home game, the Giants will continue to chase their first win next week.
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