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.
Queensland Firebirds v Sunshine Coast Lightning
Last week, the Firebirds and the Lightning both started off the season in strong fashion. For the Firebirds, that strong start lasted about five minutes into the second quarter, as they led 24-16. For the Lightning, they will claim the whole 60 minutes as a strong start, with a dominant performance over the Giants.
About three minutes before the Firebirds' hot start started to cool, their opposition made a raft of changes, shifting four players around or off the court, and totally changing the dynamic of their lineup.
The Firebirds never really got back on level terms, as they struggled to adjust to those changes.
The scoring differential was stark, as the Firebirds failed to get the match back under control. This week, the challenge for the Firebirds will be whether they can get a handle on the Lightning.
The Lightning, with their dual-international defensive circle and all-Diamond shooting circle, have the potential to start the match very quickly, and challenge the Firebirds early. Does Bec Bulley have a Plan B in her arsenal that can do better than last week?
One of the key struggles for the Firebirds in the second half of last week was feeding the shooting circle and scoring. In the first half, 28 of the Firebirds' 36 attempts resulted in a shooting attempt (77 per cent). In the second half, 24 of the 34 feeds resulted in an attempt (70 per cent).
Against a defensive circle of Kadie-Ann Dehaney and Karla Pretorius, can the Firebirds be effective feeding their shooters? Can the shooters find the space to make themselves free and take a deep feed close to the post?
Queensland Firebirds will host the Sunshine Coast Lightning at Nissan Arena at 5pm AEDT on Saturday.
Adelaide Thunderbirds v NSW Swifts
The Thunderbirds have given the Swifts trouble over the last few seasons, always playing them close, even if results didn't go their way.
The Swifts were "un-Swift-like" according to Briony Akle after last week's loss to the Magpies, but they will be looking to bounce back this week, against a tough opponent in the Thunderbirds.
Both sides talked in the leadup to the match about the importance of the Swifts' defensive end against the Thunderbirds' attack end, where a battle will be waged between Sarah Klau in her 100th game, and in front of her old home crowd and Eleanor Cardwell, in her first game in front of her new home crowd.
Akle paid tribute to Klau ahead of the match.
"When I first walked in, she was a rookie, and she didn't have the self-belief she has now, but I've certainly seen her grow year in and year out, and her performances on the court," Akle said.
"She gets those clutch moments for us and we rely on her in those tight moments."
Akle said that the focus for the Swifts will be on supporting the defensive end by slowing down the Thunderbirds' midcourt, and challenging the ball on the way in.
"The Thunderbirds' attack end is their strength.
"We've got the midcourt to be able to combat that fast-paced moving game. They're very clever, so we will definitely have to be on our game."
Tayla Williams, who was one of the stars for the Thunderbirds in their come-from-behind win agreed that Cardwell was a key part of the resurgence, and lauded her debut for the team last weekend.
"She [Cardwell] brings a lot of experience and control to our attack line," Williams explained.
"She feels like she's been here forever, so sometimes I forgot that it was her debut, but she really stepped up for us and is a really good leader in our attack end, and it was good to have her out on court for the first time."
Last week, Klau and fellow former South Australian Maddy Turner struggled at times against the height and power of Shimona Nelson, turning to Teigan O'Shannassy to apply physical pressure to Nelson.
Cardwell, who Klau has matched up on at the international level, presents a different challenge, with the ability to drive hard through the circle, as well as hold towards the post.
Whether she partners with Tippah Dwan (and plays goal shooter) or Lucy Austin (and plays goal attack), she will be the linchpin of the Thunderbirds' attack challenging the Swifts' defence.
For more on the comparison of Dwan and Austin in their partnerships with Cardwell, check out Round One: Unwrapped.
Adelaide Thunderbirds host NSW Swifts at Netball SA Stadium at 7pm AEDT on Saturday.
Giants Netball v West Coast Fever
The Giants struggled in their opening match last week, looking scratchy and disjointed without Maddie Hay and Jo Harten. Conversely, the Fever hit the ground running, with a tight matchup against the Vixens that looked every bit the Grand Final rematch that it was.
Harten, who is expected to return this week, spoke before the game about how the Fever had started the season smoothly.
"They're still looking sharp," Harten said.
"They've got firepower throughout the court, and it's going to be a full 60-minute performance if we want to match them on Sunday."
The numbers back that up. The Fever were ruthless, while the Giants had a sloppy start in their first hitout for the year.
The Fever outshone the Giants in every scoring ratio. The Giants will be hoping that the return of Harten and Hay is enough to reduce the gaps in those numbers because otherwise a stark picture is painted.
One comfort for the Giants will be that they have historically played the Fever very closely.
In Round Six last year, the two sides were separated by one goal, and in 2021, the matches were decided by two goals and one goal respectively. If the Giants are at full strength, they should be able to challenge the Fever and keep the game close.
With a loud crowd expected at Ken Rosewall Arena, will the support be enough to lift the Giants into a shock upset?
Giants Netball hosts West Coast Fever at 2pm AEDT on Sunday at Ken Rosewall Arena.
Collingwood Magpies v Melbourne Vixens
Last year, the two teams split the Melbourne derbies, and there were storylines around each that made it hard to draw too many conclusions from those matches.
In the Round Seven derby, the Magpies beat the Vixens 70-60. The Vixens, without Kate Eddy and Hannah Mundy, showed a significant weakness centred around the wing defence position, as Jo Weston, Sharni Lamden and Emily Mannix combined for 14 centre pass receives, and just 10 second phase involvements.
With a stagnant defensive side of the midcourt, the Vixens struggled to get anything moving forward, highlighting how important Eddy (as a wing defence) and Mundy (as a midcourt option) are to the Vixens set-up. That was emphasised last weekend against the Fever, as Eddy started in goal defence in the absence of Jo Weston, and Mundy in wing attack, so Kate Moloney could play wing defence.
The Vixens were beaten 17-12 in that quarter, before Simone McKinnis returned Eddy to wing defence, where the Vixens outscored the Fever the rest of the way, with Eddy back in her natural position, and the midcourt in full flow.
In the Round 14 derby last year, the Vixens had already secured the minor premiership, and the Magpies needed to do better than a three-goal loss to make finals. Without Ash Brazill and coach Nicole Richardson, the Magpies found a way to stick to a two-goal loss, although heartbreak was a Mwai Kumwenda Super Shot miss away.
Without one of their key players, the Magpies struggled to control Liz Watson, who had 43 feeds and 29 goal assists in a match-winning performance.
For both teams this week, there are still injury gaps. Kelly Singleton has replaced Nyah Allen, while Emily Samuels is replacing Rahni Samason. Both of these injuries are to players who are expected to come off the bench, so both sides will start a full-strength lineup.
The big battle will be in the midcourt, as Diamonds Kate Moloney and Liz Watson go head-to-head with Diamond Ash Brazill and former (and again aspiring) Diamond Kelsey Browne.
How the battle shakes out will go a long way to determining who takes home the honours, and claims bragging rights until the next derby.
The Melbourne Derby is at John Cain Arena at 4pm AEDT on Sunday.
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