Tag: natalie haythornthwaite

SSN: Five things we’re looking forward to – #1

WITH the 2020 Suncorp Super Netball (SSN) season beginning in just a couple of days, the Draft Central team has decided to count down five things we are looking forward to this season. Coming in at number one on the countdown is the highly anticipated grand final rematch between Sunshine Coast Lightning and NSW Swifts.

The NSW Swifts came out with a real fire in the belly in the grand final making light work of what was a dominant Lightning side, romping home a 17 goal win. Since then there have only been a couple of changes for both sides with Lightning coach Noeline Taurua departing and replacement player Katrina Rore no longer with the Swifts for the 2020 season making for an exciting battle when the two teams take the court this season.

After being riddled with injury throughout 2019 the NSW Swifts are set to welcome back captain Maddy Proud with the wing attack returning from an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury. Proud is reliable through the midcourt able to slice through opposition defences with her impeccable timing and quick footwork to dart around her opponents and deliver the ball on a silver platter into the circle. Her return to the side will further bolster an already stacked midcourt with Natalie Haythornthwaite, Paige Hadley and Sophie Craig all dominant forces in their own right.

The Swifts controlled the grand final from start to finish and will be hoping to inflict more pain in their potential rematch and prove that it was not a one off given the strong record the Lightning have over them. Prior to the grand final Sunshine Coast had an impressive track record against the Swifts with the likes of Laura Langman leading the charge through the centre third stopping the Swifts in their tracks with her drive, quick hands and immense defensive pressure.

Swifts goalers Helen Housby, Sam Wallace and Sophie Garbin all got on top of their Lightning counterparts in the 2019 grand final with the trio displaying their accuracy to post and adaptability to rotate through the circle and have a profound influence. But the Lightning will be keen to make amends and definitely have star power to ensure a tight contest with Karla Pretorius leading the charge down back with her tenacity and read of the play to constantly inject herself into the action. Pretorius alongside Phumza Maweni are a commanding force in defence with the two working in tandem to force turnovers and create opportunities to push forward in attack. Down on their usual output in the grand final the duo will be keen to rectify their performance and come out raring to go, whenever it may be.

With a strong rivalry brewing between the two teams and no shortage of fire power for either side, the clash between the 2019 grand finalists will surely live up to the hype. There is no doubt that the Lightning will be eager to exact revenge on the Swifts and reclaim their status as the team to beat for 2020 given their two-time premiership status.

SSN: Five things we’re looking forward to – #5

SSN: Five things we’re looking forward to – #4

SSN: Five things we’re looking forward to – #3

SSN: Five things we’re looking forward to – #2

Centre Pass Podcast: Season preview

2020 Suncorp Super Netball preview: Round 1

DESPITE a last minute fixture change the highly anticipated return of Suncorp Super Netball (SSN) is set to kick off this weekend with cross town derbies the main flavour of the round. With COVID-19 restrictions in place for many of the states, teams have made the last minute dash to the Sunshine State meaning all four games will be played at Nissan Arena.

Queensland Firebirds v. Sunshine Coast Lightning
Saturday, 1 August

Grand finalists Sunshine Coast Lightning will be eager to get the wood over their state side rivals and prove that they will once again be the team to beat in 2020. Despite losing the grand final last year the Lightning have had little to no turnover in the off-season with the major change coming in the coaches box with Kylee Byrne taking charge. For the Firebirds they have been dealt a huge blow with Gretel Bueta announcing her pregnancy and subsequently out for the season.

With options aplenty in the goal circle for the Lightning expect the two time premiers to rotate their options to find their best combination. Entering her second SSN season Ugandan shooter Peace Proscovia will be hoping to bring her intensity and accuracy to post to become a real force to be reckoned with in the circle. Bursting onto the scene last year, Cara Koenen is another option in at goal shooter for the Lightning able to go to post from range and showcase her clever movement. But it is her versatility that could cause headaches for the Firebirds defensive unit able to switch out to goal attack when needed. The ever-reliable Steph Wood is crafty with ball in hand and not afraid to put up the long bomb and while she did not finish the way she would have liked last year will be keen to make amends in 2020. Although still young, the combination of Kim Jenner and Tara Hinchliffe will have to be on song from the opening minute of the match if they are to shut down the Lightning attack. Jenner and Hinchliffe are both renowned for their ball winning ways but can often rack up the penalties, which is something they will have to monitor in this clash to limit the amount of free opportunities to go to post. The injection of Rudi Ellis could provide a point of difference and some extra height to nullify either Proscovia or Koenen at the post.

Boasting a stacked midcourt with the likes of Silver Ferns veteran Laura Langman and Diamonds representative Laura Scherian the Lightning will be hoping to exploit the young Firebirds midcourt of Jemma Mi Mi, Macy Gardner and Lara Dunkley. Bueta’s absence will leave a w=hole both through the midcourt and in the goal circle meaning it will be up to Romelda Aiken to lead the charge under the post and do the heavy lifting. Defensively the Lightning have one of the strongest combinations with Phumza Maweni and Karla Pretorius constantly on the hunt for any loose ball and able to apply a wealth of pressure both on the shot and through transition. With Ine Mari Venter or Tippah Dwan likely to take the goal attack position expect the Lightning to double down on Aiken at the post and freeze up any easy avenue to post.

Given Sunshine Coast’s strong connections down the court and their never say die attitude they should have the upper hand against the Firebirds.

Adelaide Thunderbirds v. West Coast Fever
Saturday, 1 August

Both sides had an up and down season last year and will be hoping to put their foot down in Round 1. When they met in the concurrent round last year it was the Adelaide Thunderbirds that got the job done ended their 23 game losing streak. It was a feat they will be hoping to repeat this season against a relatively unchanged West Coast Fever line-up.

There is no denying that Jhaniele Fowler is the go-to girl for the Fever. Standing at 196cm the goal shooter is the Fever’s get out of jail free card, able to bomb it long into her and she will deliver on the scoreboard. She is prolific to post and oozes nothing but class, composure and balance to reel in errant passes. The battle in the air will be exciting to watch with Shamera Sterling a real menace for the Thunderbirds given her long limbs and impressive leap. Still solidifying their starting goal attack, both Alice Teague-Neeld and Kaylia Stanton will have to up the ante if they are to draw attention off Fowler at the post. Both goalers have the ability to go for the long bomb and are clever with ball in hand to create space but at times lack confidence, something the Thunderbirds will be hoping to exploit. The return of Layla Guscoth will bolster the Thunderbirds line-up with the experienced defender able to tag players out of a game with her shadowing style of play while Kate Shimmin is another viable option inside of the defensive circle to provide that spark and athleticism.

With Fowler up one end the other bookend for the Fever is captain and Australian Diamonds goal keeper Courtney Bruce. She is a hardnosed defender, constantly on the lookout for an intercept and uses her quick feet to will herself to the ball. Her lean over the shot is impressive while her physicality alongside Stacey Francisconstant niggle can offset opposition goalers. In her first official outing as a Thunderbird, South African Lenize Potgieter will have her work cut out for her but is no stranger to the big stage often letting her quickfire shot and accuracy to post do the talking. While it may take a couple of minutes for her to settle into the match expect Potgieter to control the flow in attack and be the main avenue to goal with Samantha Gooden and Charlee Hodges to play more of a supporting role. Neither Gooden or Hodges played at SSN level last year meaning the T’birds frontend will have a very fresh look this season with experienced heads in Potgieter and Chelsea Pitman to lead the way.

It will be an intense battle with both teams vying to kickstart their season in style and showcase their development. A settled line-up could give the Fever a slight edge however the T’birds have a couple of game changers across the court.

GIANTS Netball v. NSW Swifts
Sunday, 2 August

Fresh off a premiership the NSW Swifts will be hoping to make it back-to-back grand final wins and it all starts here with a clash against their state rivals. The Swifts stunned many last season with their remarkable season and will be hoping to build on that momentum this season. After narrowly missing the finals last season the GIANTS will have a real fire in the belly and another preseason together could give them that edge they have been looking for.

Both sides boast a relatively young and developing midcourt making for an intriguing battle through the centre third. The loss of Kim Green could be huge for the GIANTS but Kiera Austin is shaping up to be the favourite to replace the veteran with her impressive ball placement, speed across the court and vision into the circle while centre Jamie-Lee Price will be looking to elevate her game even further. Although more accustomed to the wing defence position, Price showed last year that she has the endurance and skillset to flick the switch and deliver in attack, something the GIANTS will be hoping to see more of this season. No longer the new kid on the block, Amy Parmenter will be keen to back up her stellar 2019 season and prove it was not a one off with her speed off the mark, tenacity and silky footwork set to match up on Swifts wing attack Natalie Haythornthwaite or returning captain Maddy Proud. Coming back from an anterior cruciate ligament injury (ACL) Proud offers experience and excitement in attack with her fancy footwork and hustle for prime spot on circle edge while Paige Hadley is dynamic in centre able to light up the court with her speed and read of the play.

Defensively the combination of Sarah Klau and Maddy Turner will have their hands full with Caitlin Bassett and Jo Harten at the post. Klau and Turner found their rhythm last season with their defensive prowess, ability to set up a wall down back and cleanliness to attack each and every play. But Bassett and Harten are no easy beats, oozing nothing but netball smarts and experience to work the ball around the court and get into damaging positions. Harten is not afraid to go for the long bomb which could prove a problem with the introduction of the super shot while Bassett’s accuracy wavered at times last season, something she will be hoping to address.

If Sam Wallace and Helen Housby can get on top of Sam Poolman and Kristiana Manu’a it will go a long way in setting the tone for the Swifts and ultimately claiming the win.

Melbourne Vixens v. Collingwood Magpies
Sunday, 2 August

The last time these two sides met the Melbourne Vixens got the last laugh, dominating the Pies in the semi-final from start to finish. But since then the Magpies have had a complete overhaul with four of their starting seven all not taking the court this season while the Vixens have maintained a stable list with Kate Eddy the only person to join the fray, replacing Renae Ingles. Having played no practice matches due to the COVID-19 restrictions both sides could come out a bit rusty but that will not stop either team from fighting tooth and nail to secure the first derby win.

The weight of putting up a competitive total ultimately falls onto the young shoulders of Shimona Nelson with the Collingwood goaler a dominant force under the post with her strong holds, aerial skill and height. With no Nat Medhurst out the front to deliver into her or put up shots it will be up Gabby Sinclair to fill the hole left and showcase her netball nous to dish off pin point passes and go to post. The added bonus and potential return of Madi or Kelsey Browne for Round 1 will also have a huge influence on the Magpies shooting unit with the duo able to release the ball with confidence and ease credit to their impressive vision, variety of passes and ball placement. But the Vixens have a tight defence with Emily Mannix and Jo Weston a threatening combination with their suffocating pressure, three foot marking and physicality to force turnovers aplenty.

Up the other end the Melbourne Vixens also have a three pronged attack with Mwai Kumwenda officially returning from her ACL injury in 2018 and joining tried and tested duo of Caitlin Thwaites and Tegan Philip. The three can all rotate seamlessly through the circle and, most importantly, quickly adapt to whatever scenario they are placed into. Thwaites and Philip are a concerning prospect for the Magpies when it comes to the super shot with the two reliable from range while Kumwenda is an excitement machine thanks to her leap and aerial presence. It will be up to Collingwood co-captain Geva Mentor to stand up in defence and win ball back for her side while both Matilda Garrett and Jodi-Ann Ward offer that element of unpredictability.

With Collingwood boasting a new look team expect the Vixens to exploit their developing connections with their quick ball movement and accuracy to post to catch them off guard and secure a win.

2020 Nations Cup: Team-by-team review

THE New Zealand Silver Ferns continued their strong international form taking out the Nations Cup while South Africa floundered their chances. Jamaica upped the ante with some convincing performances to make it to the finals but fall agonisingly short.

England

The Roses had an up and down Nations Cup but showed moments of magic with crucial wins over South Africa. England donned a very different line-up missing a host of key stars such as Serena Guthrie, Jo Harten, Geva Mentor and Helen Housby instead allowing for the next generation of players to come up through the ranks.  The Roses showed faith in their youngsters with goal shooter George Fisher making her mark on the competition with her accuracy to post. The partnership between Fisher and Eleanor Cardwell developed as the tournament went on but the two struggled with movement in the circle at times given their similar styles. Captain, Natalie Haythornthwaite was an inspiration across the court showcasing her versatility to swing between wing attack and goal attack when needed. They relied on Jade Clarke to stand up through the midcourt but it was not enough at times with Amy Carter and Laura Malcolm still looking to find their feet in the Roses outfit. Goal keeper Razia Quashie was strong throughout the Nations Cup, bodying up on her opposition shooter and hunting the ball while the likes of Stacey Francis and Kate Shimmin both made life difficult in the defensive circle with their aerial ability.

Jamaica

It was a strong showing for the Sunshine Girls who are looking to make amends for a poor international season in 2019. Jamaica announced themselves early in the Nations Cup getting a win over favourites South Africa while also downing hosts England. Defensively they have plenty of talent but will have to rein in the penalties with Shamera Sterling a key offender, often gifting the ball back to the opposition thanks to her ill-discipline. However, she also proved she can turn a game on its head with her impressive leap and defensive prowess. The combination between Sterling and Kadie-Ann Dehaney improved at a rate of knots while Jodi Ann Ward also put her hand up down back winning the ball with her timely tips and quick footwork. Up the other end, Jhaniele Fowler was as solid as ever using her commanding height, strong holds and athleticism to reel in balls and score freely. The combination with Shanice Beckford paid dividends with the two rotating through the goal circle but unfortunately they were a step behind the Silver Ferns throughout the tournament.

New Zealand

The absence of veterans Katrina Rore and Laura Langman seemed to do no damage to the all-conquering Silver Ferns team. With Maria Folau also retiring the Ferns needed a new go to girl in the goal circle which Maia Wilson delivered. New Zealand were hot from the get-go with their strong connections and silky ball movement on full display not skipping a beat winning the inaugural Nations Cup title. New captain Ameliaranne Ekenasio led from the front with the talented goal attack adapting to the players around her while also doing damage with her long-bomb shooting. Defensively the likes of Jane Watson, Phoenix Karaka and Karin Burger shone with the trio posing a dominant threat and picking off any passes that came their way. It was a complete performance by the Ferns who went from strength to strength trying out new connections and dominating. Through the midcourt the inclusion of Kimiora Poi and Whitney Souness provided plenty of excitement with the two offering speed, dynamic movement and good vision into the circle.

South Africa

It was a relatively disappointing Nations Cup for the Spar Proteas who failed to register a win despite having a stacked line-up. South Africa simply could not get going, struggled to capitalise on their opportunities. The attacking end seemed to be a main area of concern with no one able to fulfil the goal attack role despite having a wealth of depth in the goal shooter position. Lenize Potgieter was a standout with the quick fire shooter making the most of her chances and punishing the opposition with her accuracy to post. Ine-Mari Venter was solid when on court but the combination of her and Potgieter lacked movement and while the inclusion of Lefébre Rademan injected some speed into the circle they could not generate enough scoring chances to post a threatening total. Karla Pretorius was down on her lofty standards unable to have the same influence in the defensive third as usual with Phumza Maweni also following suit. Zanele Vimbela showed glimpses of magic in goal keeper while through the midcourt Rome Dreyer and veteran Bongi Msomi plied their trade. Unfortunately, it was inconsistency that really cost the Spar Proteas stringing together a couple of good quarters and then dropping the bundle.

Sunshine Girls survive Roses fourth quarter comeback to book Nations Cup final spot

JAMAICA Sunshine Girls have turned around the disappointment of missing out on the 2019 Netball World Cup by reaching the 2020 Netball Nations Cup final yesterday. Defeating England Roses on their home court 70-66, the Sunshine Girls now advance through to the final to try and find a way to take down the undefeated New Zealand Silver Ferns.

The match started out on fairly even terms with England going all-out to try and gain the win and book a spot in the final on January 26. The winner of the game would advance through and both sides knew it with the Sunshine Girls making a move late in the first quarter to lead by three goals at the first change. The Roses got a huge roar when Kadeen Corbin drew the side within a goal and a minute on the clock, but it was Jhaniele Fowler who scored immediately and then a Roses rushed pass saw an intercept and Fowler double up, then capitalise on three attempts in the dying seconds to push it out to an 19-15 advantage.

The Roses were looking the less sharp of the sides with some errors in attack and the extra experience of Chelsea Pitman came onto the court in the second, while Natalie Haythornthwaite moved from the wing into goal attack. Fowler was prepared for the double-team against Stacey Francis and Kate Shimmin, and adjusted accordingly, having to allow Shanice Beckford to carry some of the load in the goal circle. The huge amount of pressure being applied by the Sunshine Girls’ defence of Shamera Sterling and Kadie-Ann Dehaney was telling as they extended the lead out to seven goals at the main break, 39-31.

The Roses made some more changes in the third as the crowd tried to get them up and about as Amy Carter came on for a chance in center having played a small portion at wing attack in the first half. The experienced Jade Clarke was sent to wing defence, while Pitman – who had made way for Carter late in the term – returned to wing attack. With Haythornthwaite at goal attack she was solid alongside Eleanor Cardwell, but they were not able to match it with super scoring machine, Fowler up the other end and the visiting side posted 18 goals to 13 to lead by what looked to be an unbeatable 13-goal lead.

Despite the clear deficit, the undermanned Roses side was not going to throw in the towel, ready for one last effort in the last term with the huge sold out crowd behind them. The last 15 minutes of the match gave fans a glimpse of what an England side missing the likes of Geva Mentor, Jo Harten and Serena Guthrie was capable of, roaring to life to score a massive 22 goals – half of what they had scored in the first three quarters – to Jamaica’s 13 – only just falling short of a huge comeback, going down 66-70. In the term, George Fisher got a shot at goal shooter, while Cardwell moved to goal attack and it was Fisher who managed to dig into the lead with some neat shooting under pressure.

The game was not without some aggression as Sterling and Cardwell clashed in the third term, but the high pressure stakes made it for entertaining netball with the full-strength Jamaican side doing what it had to do against an England side giving valuable court minutes to a lot of its future stars. Now the Sunshine Girls head to the Nations Cup final to face the Silver Ferns, while the Roses look to repeat their effort against the Spar Proteas from earlier in the week with a victory in the Bronze Medal final.

England downs South Africa in inaugural Nations Cup win

ENGLAND won its first game of the Nations Cup edging ahead of South Africa 58-53. Both sides had a point to prove given they headed into the match winless, but it was the Roses who stood up when it counted, seizing the moment and capitalising late in the fourth.

South Africa got the jump early skipping out to a three-goal lead at quarter time. The combination in the goal circle between Lenize Potgieter and Lefebre Rademan paid dividends for the Spar Proteas. In their last outing, the Proteas lacked movement but they seemed to have rectified those issues this match with both players rotating through and using a variety of tricks to open up the circle. Up the other end, the Roses opted for a different look with Eleanor Cardwell out in goal attack and George Fisher taking the goal shooter bib. Cardwell looked uncomfortable at times, struggling to find her rhythm and play that secondary shooting role allowing the likes of Karla Pretorius to have a real impact. The talented goal defence upped the ante down back hunting the ball and pressuring every move Cardwell made, giving her side the advantage heading into the break.

After a slow start to the game, England lifted its efforts across the court to win the quarter 12-10 with only one goal separating the sides at the main break. The Roses made a couple of changes in the second quarter with Jade Clarke switching into wing defence and providing greater defensive pressure to stop Bongi Msomi who was having a field day in the attacking third. Youngster Amy Carter showed her class in centre plying her trade up and down the court and hitting the circle edge to deliver silver service to the shooters. The changes did not stop there with Fran Williams moving to the bench and Kate Shimmin entering the game as goal keeper alongside Stacey Francis. The two posed a dominant threat in the air picking off any loopy passes and applying strong hands over pressure on the shot. England won their fair share of ball back collecting six rebounds up to half time compared to their opponents three but inaccuracy seemed to be their main issue sitting at 83 per cent compared to South Africa’s 92 per cent showing just how proficient they can be.

It is not called the premiership quarter for no reason, with England breaking away in the third to create a five-goal buffer. Natalie Haythornthwaite made a seamless transition, from wing attack to goal attack with the captain finding plenty of space in the circle and feeding to Cardwell. The introduction of Chelsea Pitman provided another element for the South African line-up to think about with Pitman using her strength to hold space around the top of the circle and quick hands to dish off passes into the goalers. Defensively the Roses, continued to tinker with their line-up with Laura Malcolm replacing Clarke in wing defence and applying strong pressure. Francis upped the ante hunting the ball and stopping South Africa from having it all their own way.  With the Roses humming across the court, the Spar Proteas were looking for a spark but struggled to generate any real momentum. Phumza Maweni was down on her usual output unable to have the same influence under the post thanks to Cardwell controlling the space.

The final quarter was filled with plenty of intensity and half chances. Just went England looked like they were about to run away with it South Africa pulled out the party tricks reducing the margin back to two goals off the back of strong defensive work of Pretorius and Shadine van der Merwe. But the Roses were quick to reply with captain, Haythornthwaite taking a crucial intercept midway through the quarter to regain control of the match. It was the turning point of the game with England pulling away and bringing on goal keeper Razia Quashie to close out the match. The goal keeper did not skip a beat in the dying minutes getting hands to ball and shutting down options in attack.

2020 Nations Cup: England preview

WITH the Nations Cup set to commence on Sunday we take a look at how each team is faring up heading into the first international tournament of 2020. It is the inaugural time this competition will take place with England, South Africa, Jamaica and New Zealand all set to do battle in hope to claim the Nations Cup. Hosts, England will boast a very different line-up with over half of the players named in the World Cup squad not taking the court.

Overview:

The Roses will be without a bucket load of stars and lacking some serious experience in each third but do not count them out of the contest given their ability to do the unthinkable. With a new coach at the helm, England has plenty to prove and will be hoping to kick the year off in style while also blooding some young up and coming talent to help forge the path for future Roses success. With depleted stocks, it will be up to captain Natalie Haythornthwaite and 172 cap veteran, Jade Clarke to lead the way especially in attack using their quick hands and silky footwork to penetrate the opposition defence.

Who’s missing?

Superstar goal keeper Geva Mentor will be absent from the Nations Cup side, leaving a big hole in the defensive unit. Mentor is in a league of her own, able to read the play with ease credit to her impressive timing and make an impact in the circle with her lean over the shot. She is strong in the air while her body positioning under the post blocks any easy access to the post for goalers. Usual shooting duo, Jo Harten and Helen Housby are both not taking part in the Nations Cup and will be sorely missed given their ability to turn and shoot, strong connection in the goal circle and accuracy to post. Fellow goal shooter, Rachel Dunn will also not be pulling on the dress for the Roses, leaving England in the lurch and missing her strength, accuracy and consistency under the post making it hard work in the front half. Another key player and the engine room for the Roses, Serena Guthrie has taken time away from netball making her ineligible for the tournament. Her loss will be hard to replace with the centre renowned for her speed, dynamic movement and excitability across the court.

Players to watch:

With Haythornthwaite the main cog in attack expect the wing attack to use her versatility and leadership to have an impact across the court. She can switch between wing and goal attack with ease making her an imposing threat especially if things are not going to plan in the circle. Razia Quashie is another one to watch with the Saracens Mavericks defender able to body up on her opponents and swat away any errant passes that come her way. Paired with Fran Williams, the two could become a deadly force in defence given their high netball nous, skill and smarts to rotate through the circle and cause congestion.

New additions:

Adelaide Thunderbirds goal keeper/ goal defence Kate Shimmin has been named in the squad and will bring plenty of experience albeit at a domestic level. Shimmin has only one cap next to her name but is no stranger to the netball court having plied her trade for many years in Australia. Her aerial skills and hunt for the ball is a prominent area of her game play and will have a big role to fill considering Mentor will not be around. Up the other end, George Fisher and Eleanor Cardwell will rotate through the shooter role and become the main scoring option for the Roses given Harten and Housby’s absence. Fisher has not had a wealth of experience at an international level but has the skillset to develop into a prominent goaler for the Roses. Young goal attack Sophie Drakeford-Lewis also made her way into the team for the Nations Cup with the shooter looking to make an impact credit to her smooth movement across the court. After some time away from the international side, West Coast Fever defender Stacey Francis is set to suit up and will have to use all her experiences to lead the youthful defence line-up. Renowned for her physical nature and athleticism, Francis will provide that element of unpredictability and enthusiasm down back. In her debut international series, Manchester Thunder midcourter Amy Carter will have plenty to prove and could provide that speed and dynamism across the court.

Team list:

Eleanor Cardwell, George Fisher, Sophie Drakeford-Lewis, Kadeen Corbin, Natalie Haythornthwaite, Laura Malcolm, Amy Carter, Natalie Panagarry, Jade Clarke, Chelsea Pitman, Fran Williams, Razia Quashie, Kate Shimmin, Stacey Francis.

Briony Akle adds to silverware with Coach of the Year award

IN Netball Australia’s night of nights it was NSW Swifts coach Briony Akle that walked away with the Joyce Brown Coach of the Year award thanks to her excellent leadership throughout 2019 guiding her side to premiership glory.

Akle was humbled by the award, paying tribute to the staff behind the scenes at the Swifts and in particular, her assistant coach in Anita Keelan.

“I think this one is a bit different obviously standing up here and getting this award, for me we have created a really wonderful team at the Swifts,” Akle said. “It probably goes back to my performance team as well and Anita Keelan has been by my side and has been amazing. “Yes I love this award but I think it also goes to my team.”

After taking the helm in 2018 Akle built her side up with a combination of international stars and young up-and-coming Australian talent. Season 2019 was no easy feat for the developing coach, faced with a host of key players forced to the sideline. Captain, Maddy Proud tore her anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) midway through the season while Kate Eddy suffered a season-ending ankle injury. Star goal attack Helen Housby also missed a large chunk of time after the World Cup with a soft tissue injury while Roses teammate Natalie Haythornthwaite did not take the court for the first half of the season meaning Akle had to rely on her next tier of players to stand up and steer the Swifts. The likes of young guns Sophie Garbin took control in Housby’s absence with Tayla Fraser and Sophie Halpin running rampant in wing attack to fill the void left by Proud. Credit where credit is due, Akle also brought in the big guns to bolster her undermanned line-up with Katrina Rore joining the squad fresh off a gold medal win at the World Cup along with a premiership in the ANZ Premiership with the Central Pulse.

Renowned for their vintage and clinical style of netball, the Swifts were hard to stop credit to their slick ball movement and lack of turnovers making them hard to score against. Akle’s game style allowed each player on court to have an influence and incorporate their own flair into the game while maintaining the Swifts’ signature style.

“For me the main thing is keeping things basic and keeping it real at the end of the day,” Akle said. “As a few people said tonight we have played this game since we were little and for me it’s probably about remembering it and enjoying it.”

Under her reign Sarah Klau also developed making her Diamonds debut along with partner in crime Maddy Turner who pulled on the green and gold in the recent Constellation Cup series, adding further accolades to her growing coaching portfolio.

With a premiership under their belt and a relatively unchanged line-up heading into 2020 the Swifts will be looking to build and go on to bigger and better things with Akle acknowledging the world class talent Suncorp Super Netball has to offer but also backing her side’s dedication and commitment.

“Yeah it’s a tough competition, week in week out you play against the world’s best and it’s keeping that challenge going for the girls and turn up every day,” she said.

Lightning three-peat on the cards

THE Lightning put the minor premiership curse to bed, running out 10-goal victors against the NSW Swifts (58-48) in the first semi-final. It was neck and neck early, with both sides contesting hard before the Sunshine Coast pulled away, exploiting the Swifts’ vulnerabilities at every turn.

Lightning centre, Laura Langman set the tone within the first 30 seconds of the game with an impressive intercept off the centre pass and propelling the ball down the court. The Swifts quickly answered steadying the ship across the court and working well to reduce easy access into the circle for their opposition. Both teams were up and about going goal for goal for most the quarter and proving accuracy was no issue only missing two goals collectively. Upon returning from injury, Helen Housby showcased her dominance under the post slotting seven goals straight while also displaying her play making ability delivering the ball into goal shooter Sam Wallace with ease. Wing attack Natalie Haythornthwaite showed her experience and class carving up the attacking third with her strength, vision and second phase work notching up six goal assists for the term. With the Swifts gaining control Phumza Maweni stood up in defence with the goal keeper posing a dominant force getting hands to ball and using her aerial ability to pick up three gains and to intercepts. But with the clock counting down Housby once again delivered nailing her seventh goal to hand her side a one goal lead heading into the quarter time break.

Only down by one goal Sunshine Coast started with the centre pass but failed to capitalise giving the Swifts an opportunity to score consecutive goals. Wallace lifted her intensity in attack using her leap to reign in ball while piling on four goals straight before the Lightning wrestled back some momentum thanks to Cara Koenen. The young goal shooter put on a show in the goal circle standing strong and demanding the ball under the post nailing 10 goals from 11 attempts while partner-in-crime, Steph Wood pulled out all the tricks of the trade to create space and feed the ball in with ease. Wood used her dynamic movement, silky footwork and quick hands to work the angles and re-offer both in the circle and on the circle edge. With Housby still returning from injury and the Lightning starting to get on top defensively, Sophie Garbin made her way onto the court late in the quarter. Garbin had an immediate impact going to post and offering a good link through the midcourt to transition the ball into the goal circle. Despite the changes the Lightning suppressed the Swifts to 11 goals in the term while adding on 14 goals themselves establishing a two goal lead at the main break.

The third quarter or premiership quarter well and truly came to fruition with the Lightning running rampant across each third. Goal defence Karla Pretorius came to life denying the Swifts any movement in the attacking third and applying a mountain load of pressure. Pretorius contested every single pass and showcased her ability to read the play picking up two intercepts, two gains and one deflection for the term. Her work with Maweni caused headaches for the Swifts forcing Wallace to the bench after a relatively shaky performance under the post. With a five goal Lightning spree midway through the quarter the Swifts tinkered with the line-up bringing on Tayla Fraser and Sophie Halpin pushing Paige Hadley and Maddy Turner to the bench. Hadley struggled throughout the quarter to keep up with Langman who was putting on a show both offensively and defensively credit to her high endurance and netball know how. The changes did not stop there for the Swifts with Katrina Rore moving into goal defence in hope to reduce the Lightning’s attacking forays. But it was not enough with the Sunshine Coast adding 18 goals to their tally while keeping the Swifts to a mere 10 goals.

With one quarter left to play the Lightning left nothing to chance maintaining their intensity and running hard to shut down the Swifts options in attack. Peace Proscovia (six from seven) entered the game replacing Koenen at the post and offered a solid option under the ring with her strength and aerial skill on full display. Up the other end, Garbin made her presence felt in the goal finding her rhythm straight away only missing one goal for the quarter. Defensively Sarah Klau stepped up albeit a little too late picking up three gains, two intercepts and two deflections. Each Swift shooter nailed 16 goals apiece with Garbin and Housby notching up 16 from 18 at 89 per cent, while Wallace was slightly less accurate with 16 from 19 at 84 per cent. For the Lightning, Koenen was the go to girl slotting 30 goals from 32 attempts at 84 per cent followed by Wood with 22 from 29 at 76 per cent. The win secured the Lightning a home grand final and a shot at their third premiership.

STARTING LINE-UPS:

Sunshine Coast Lightning:

GS | Cara Koenen
GA | Steph Wood
WA | Laura Scherian
C | Laura Langman
WD | Maddy McAuliffe
GD | Karla Pretorius
GK | Phumza Maweni

NSW Swifts:

GS | Sam Wallace
GA | Helen Housby
WA | Natalie Haythornthwaite
C | Paige Hadley
WD | Katrina Rore
GD | Maddy Turner
GK | Sarah Klau

SSN: Finals game changers

WITH finals around the corner each side in the top four have shown they have what it takes to mix it with the best on their day. Each team has won against each other throughout the course of the season showcasing just how close the competition is heading into the pointy end of the season.

Sunshine Coast Lightning:

Position:1st
Win-loss: 12-0-1
Percentage: 112.85%

It has never been done before but if any team could do it, it would be the Sunshine Coast Lightning. Since Suncorp Super Netball was established no team has won the premiership after claiming the minor premiership but the Lightning could quite possibly break that hoodoo given their plethora of stars both on and off the court. In what will be her last matches with the side, Noeline Taurua has proven to be a coaching mastermind and will be looking to push her side once again to go back-to-back-to-back.

Game changer:
The Lightning have plenty of game changers across the court but none bigger than South African Karla Pretorius who continues dominate for the Sunshine Coast with her explosive speed, tenacity and netball nous. Pretorius is renowned for her ability to will herself to contests, win ball back from unthinkable positions and turn the game on its head in an instance. She has racked up a whopping 63 intercepts for the season and has single handedly dragged her team back into the contest when the chips were down. Her combination with Phumza Maweni has developed at a rate of knots meaning the duo pose a damaging threat come finals.

NSW Swifts:

Position:2nd
Win-loss: 10-1-3
Percentage: 111.92%

After an impressive start to the season the Swifts faltered at the wrong time of year, losing top spot and their right to host a home semi-final. NSW have been hit with plenty of injuries throughout the year with Maddy Proud going down with an ACL, Kate Eddy out for the remainder of the season and both Natalie Haythornthwaite and Helen Housby relegated to the bench with injury but have shown plenty of spirit. They have taken the competition by storm with their ability to treasure possession and capitalise under the post.

Game changer:
With Eddy out for the season, Trans-Tasman rival Katrina Rore made her way across the ditch and could prove to quite possibly be the game changer for the Swifts. Rore oozes class and defensive pressure credit to her experience and general netball understanding. Though she has not been with the team long, her injection into the side has been seamless while her versatility is equally as important for NSW proving that she can float between circle defence and midcourt defence in the blink of an eye and with ease. She can win ball back time and time again with her timely tips and well executed intercepts.

Melbourne Vixens:

Position: 3rd
Win-loss: 8-1-5
Percentage: 107.87%

The Melbourne Vixens are no strangers to the finals, having been there on occasion in their history but failing to make an impact in recent years, making this year all the more important. The Vixens have struggled with consistency throughout the season unable to string four quarter performances together but have shown that they have the fire power to do plenty of damage when on song. Emily Mannix, Jo Weston and Renae Ingles have proven to be hard to combat given their defensive prowess while since making the switch from the Magpies Caitlin Thwaites has not skipped a beat, owning the circle with her holds and accuracy.

Game changer:
Tegan Philip has been a real barometer for the Vixens throughout the year and has the skill to cause havoc in the goal circle if given enough time and space. The goal attack is renowned for both her work out the front and in the goal circle. Her ability to read the play and inject herself into the game is second to none, using her vision and well-timed sweeps to receive the ball in prime position in the circle.

Collingwood Magpies:

Position: 4th
Win-loss: 7-2-5
Percentage: 102.2%

Collingwood have well and truly had one hell of a month, snatching fourth spot in the final game of the home and away season by a mere 0.6 per cent. The Magpies have had an inconsistent season to date, struggling to build momentum and live up to the hype but have shown they have the class and know how to win when it counts. The black and white have been dealt their fair share of injuries with both Madi Browne and Kelsey Browne rupturing their ACLs, leaving a big hole in the Collingwood midcourt and forcing the Pies to stand up in their absence.

Game changer:
English international Geva Mentor can turn a game on its head with her intense defensive pressure and composure. Mentor is no stranger to the big stage having won two premierships with the Lightning credit to her ball winning attributes, netball smarts and dynamic footwork to get to the ball cleanly and contest. She is a key player for the Magpies with her ability to cause confusion in the defensive circle and pick off passes as she pleases, making her a huge threat for opposition teams going into the finals.

NSW swiftly move onto finals after close encounter with Firebirds

NSW Swifts fans will be collectively sighing with relief after a heart-stopping one-goal win over Queensland Firebirds, 64-63. The teams might be pitted at opposite ends of the table, but with the Firebirds coming off their first win of the season last round, and the Swifts suffering a shock loss to Collingwood Magpies, the clash was a lot closer than ladder positions might suggest. Spectators at Qudos Bank Arena got everything they bargained for and more with arguably one of the most intense games of the season.

At first the Swifts raced away to a four-goal quarter time lead, having moved to as much as three goals ahead in the opening few minutes with English international star Helen Housby back in the fold after missing three weeks through injury. The goaling combination of Housby and Sam Wallace was back in full swing as the Swifts took control, but not before Gretel Tippett had a say midway through the term to level the scorers at eight goals apiece. A couple of crucial misses to Romelda Aiken was the only blemishes for the shooters, as Housby and Wallace shot six of the next seven goals after Aiken levelled the scores at 11-11. Trailing 17-12, the Firebirds managed to bridge the gap by one with an Aiken goal on the final whistle making the scores 18-14 at quarter time.

Wallace was firing on all cylinders with 11 goals from 11 attempts at 100 per cent, as Housby produced seven from seven and Tippett likewise six from six in a shooting masterclass. Natalie Haythornthwaite enjoyed having her countrywoman back in the goal circle, providing a remarkable 11 goal assists from 13 feeds, while all three of Paige Hadley‘s feeds resulted in goals, picking up an intercept at the same time. For the Firebirds, Caitlyn Nevins continued her terrific form from last game with four goal assists from nine feeds in the first term, as Jemma Mi Mi had six from eight, while Tara Hinchliffe picked up a crucial intercept.

The Firebirds owned the second quarter, with the visitors cutting the deficit to two in the opening couple of minutes, and by the four and a half minute mark of the term, scores were level. The Swifts goal combination was restricted to just seven goals in the first 10 minutes as the Firebirds raced out to a three-goal lead. Back-to-back goals and then four of the next six goals cut the deficit back to just one, before three consecutive Firebirds goals handed them a four goal lead. Wallace took two attempts to reduce the margin by the main break, but got it done with two seconds left on the clock.

Nevins was the star of the quarter with 12 goal assists from 15 feeds, while Tippett (10 goals from 12 assists) and Aiken (nine from 10) got the job done in the circle. Gabi Simpson locked down Haythornthwaite in the second term to restrict her to just three goal assists from six feeds after that massive first quarter, picking up an intercept and having a bigger role through the midcourt. Sarah Klau and Katrina Rore picked up a massive combined 17 penalties in the quarter, more than the entire Firebirds side as the likely wooden spooners held a remarkable 33-30 lead over the second placed Swifts at half-time.

The home crowd expected a big response from the Swifts to open the third term, but instead it was the Firebirds who came out with the intensity, firing off the first three goals of the quarter to stretch their lead out to a match-high six goals. It lit a fire under the Swifts belly as they sank 10 of the next 13 goals to not only eat into the deficit, but hit the front, 40-39. With the crowd up and about, the Firebirds needed a response of their own, and it came, with Aiken and Tippett adding three consecutive goals to push the margin back in their favour. The remainder of the quarter was largely goal-for-goal, with Wallace having a massive purple patch near the end of the term, scoring four of the last five goals as her side lead by one at the final break.

Wallace was the standout shooter in the term with 16 from 17, while Sophie Garbin took to the court and shot three from three, along with nine goal assists from 11 feeds to provide that spark in the attacking end and allowing Housby to take a break. Haythornthwaite managed six goal assists from 10 feeds, while Klau and Rore were both more efficient staying away from the whistle, only giving away a combined eight penalties in the quarter. Tippett continued her great accuracy with eight from eight, while Aiken had seven from eight, but the Firebirds struggled to penetrate the circle. Aiken had an equal team-high four goal assists to share the load with Tippett.

The final term was as even as they came with no more than two goals separating the sides at any one stage. Aiken put the visitors up by two, four minutes into the game, and while Wallace was able to level the scores, it was goal-for-goal for the most part right up until the end. Tippett took a huge intercept in the centre third and quickly transitioned down the court to put the Firebirds up by one with two minutes remaining, before Wallace levelled the scores, and then Housby sank the winner with 33 seconds on the clock, the Swifts defensive pressure enough to see them home. Wallace’s eight goals from eight attempts was superb as Housby re-entered the game in hot form contributing strongly with five goals, while Hadley had five goal assists from 13 feeds. Tippett again ran at 100 per cent with nine goals from nine attempts, while Nevins had a really productive seven assists from nine feeds, and Mi Mi produced four assists from her four feeds.

Tippett was announced Player of the Match despite the loss, for her 33 goals from 35 assists, as well as seven goal assists from 22 feeds, one intercept and one rebound. Nevins was also superb in her farewell game with 27 goal assists from 40 feeds, as Aiken shot 30 goals from 35 attempts, assisting Tippett on eight occasions from 10 feeds. For the Swifts, Wallace managed 43 goals from 45 attempts, both of her feeds were goal assists, and she picked up a feed and an intercept. Haythornthwaite and Hadley were still productive in the midcourt with a combined 37 goal assists, while the defensive end was penalised more than they would have liked with Diamond, Klau picking up a couple of cautions to go with her 21 penalties. Overall the Swifts move through to face Sunshine Coast Lightning for a spot in the 2019 Suncorp Super Netball Grand Final, while the Firebirds season comes to an end.

STARTING LINE-UPS:

NSW Swifts:

GS | Sam Wallace
GA | Helen Housby
WA | Natalie Haythornthwaite
C | Paige Hadley
WD | Maddy Turner
GD | Sarah Klau
GK | Katrina Rore

Queensland Firebirds:

GS | Romelda Aiken
GA | Gretel Tippett
WA | Caitlyn Nevins
C | Jemma Mi Mi
WD | Gabi Simpson
GD | Kim Jenner
GK | Tara Hinchliffe