COLLINGWOOD made an almighty swoop last round with a romping win over NSW Swifts, something many did not think was possible given the form the Sydney based-side had been in. The Magpies then backed it up, delivering the Queensland Firebirds the same fate just a day later – a loss. In fact, the win marked their sixth for the season and now they sit just outside the top four with just one game left in their season.
With plenty of twists and turns throughout this season mainly revolving around location of games, quarantine hubs and state lockdowns, Collingwood have been on the road for a long time, but one main takeaway from this season is anything is possible. The Magpies will be up against it in their final game of the season and will need everything to fall their way if they are any chance to slot into the top four which currently consists of the GIANTS, West Coast Fever, Swifts and Sunshine Coast Lightning. First, they need to beat the Fever; and second, they need the Sunshine Coast Lightning to lose both their games to the GIANTS and Swifts to pull off an almighty upset and sneak into the finals.
Coming up against West Coast Fever on Tuesday night, the entire side will need to be on their A-game if they are to shut down the power house that is Jhaniele Fowler. It is a make or break game for Collingwood, as their future this season relies on whether they are able to collect the win. But lucky for the Pies, both Jodi-Ann Ward and Geva Mentor are in ripping form down in defence with the pair proving to be a force to be reckoned with both inside and outside the circle credit their ball-winning capabilities.
Although it has taken a while for all of the pieces to fall into place for the Pies, Nicole Richardson’s defensive coaching method is well and truly coming to the fore. With each and every player out on court able to drop into an off-line defence and apply strong hands over pressure, Collingwood have proved hard to transition against in recent weeks with their smothering style of pressure. The defensive mindset does not only come from down back but so too in the frontend with the likes of Shimona Nelson employing her impressive wingspan to block her opposition’s vision. Their best work is through the midcourt, with Collingwood able to slow down and limit both the Firebirds and Swifts in their past couple of outings to force them into uncharacteristic errors.
Collingwood are currently on a three-game winning streak and have the momentum well and truly behind them. One player that has taken a step up this season is Nelson with the Jamaican goal shooter really hitting her straps in the past couple of games. She broke her own individual scoring record in Round 12 against the Swifts with a whopping 69 goals from 71 attempts with her ability to absorb the physicality and rip the ball out of the air coming to the fore. But as a whole, Collingwood have started to create some great fluidity in the attack end with Kelsey Browne returning to her scintillating form and simply carving up the court, especially when she is able to hit circle edge. Her increased output has allowed the likes of Molly Jovic to work on her transitional defence while Gabby Sinclair is able to go about her business under the post to keep the scoreboard ticking over for the Pies.
With the attack end humming and the defence firing on all cylinders thanks to Mentor and Ward, one other player that has proven to be a key cog and a real barometer for the side is Ash Brazill. Not taking the court last year given she was sidelined with an anterior cruciate ligament injury (ACL), Brazill has returned to the fold with great ease. Her drive through the midcourt adds another string to Collingwood’s bow in attack with her athleticism often paying dividends when stuck in transition. While the Pies will rely on plenty of “ifs” and “buts” to make it to the finals, there is no denying that this season has been a step in the right direction with their cross-court connections and improved game plan allowing them to generate some real momentum and confidence out on court. If they are able to limit the amount of ball Fowler receives under the post and if the midcourt of Jovic and Brazill are able to nullify Verity Charles and Jess Anstiss then that could go a long way in getting the Magpies over the line and keeping their slim finals chances alive.
Photo credit: Suncorp Super Netball