A MASSIVE finals weekend in the Australian Netball League (ANL) saw the Victorian Fury come out victors for the eighth time in an ANL decider, with a one-goal win over NSW Waratahs on Sunday on home territory at the State Netball and Hockey Centre in Melbourne. It was a fitting Grand Final between the two top sides of the competition, with Fury the minor premiers having only lost one game for the season and against the Waratahs. Meanwhile, the Tasmanian Magpies beat out Canberra GIANTS in the bronze medal match.
It was an even match across the board, with both sides unwilling to back down from the fight before a tug-of-war with the lead came to fruition in the final quarter. The Fury may have had the lead for much of the game, but the Waratahs refused to go down without a fight. Ex-NSW Swifts captain, Abbey McCulloch took the court for the final time before announcing her retirement, putting on a masterclass in wing defence against the likes of Lara Dunkley and forcing a change in wing attack for Eleanor Leydin, whose connection with Emma Ryde at the post became apparent right away. Fury coaches made constant changes through the midcourt courtesy of the ANL’s rolling substitutions, keeping the Waratahs on their toes with a number of Fury midcourt substitutions switching up the momentum as they forced changes of their own. Ball sneak and Swifts training partner, Sophie Halpin replaced McCulloch and did not skip a beat, challenging every ball and creating turnovers through the midcourt.
Defensively both sides impressed with their composure and hands-over pressure, producing some fantastic defensive efforts to force a battle through the midcourt to create turnover ball. Waratahs defender and Swifts training partner, Lauren Moore was injected early in the first in an effort to combat Ryde’s influence in the goal circle, before a seemingly innocent attempt at intercept saw Moore’s game end early with a suspected shoulder dislocation after a collision with Fury’s Elle McDonald. Starting goal keeper, Clare Iongi retook the court to play out the match, coming into her own against Ryde and causing turnovers to prove the Waratahs were not out of the race.
While one of the more dominant players for the Waratahs in Saturday’s minor semi-final against Tasmanian Magpies, Matisse Letherbarrow (15 goals from 17 attempts) was unable to have the same effect a second time around, seeing Sophie Dwyer shoulder the load and shooting from range to produce a dominant performance, finishing with 31 goals at 92 per cent and named Grand Final MVP for her efforts. While Alison Miller took the court and finished at 100 per cent with seven from seven, it wasn’t enough with Fury defenders challenging every loose ball. The Fury did not lack in connection across court, only switching up players through the midcourt with the ever-reliable Ryde holding strong in the circle (46 from 53) and combining well with Sacha McDonald (seven from 10) who played her feeding role well.
With the Fury leading at the final break it looked like they were ready to put the foot down, before a strong effort from the Waratahs saw the visitors take the lead early in the quarter thanks to some solid defensive work from Iongi and co-captain Nicole Styles, while Tayla Fraser in centre used her speed to find the circle edge and Dwyer from any range in the circle. But the Waratahs forced the lead too early, giving the Fury plenty of opportunity to time their fight back perfectly and finish one goal up by the final siren. Impeccable defensive work from Fury defenders, captain Jacqui Newton and keeper, Rudi Ellis all but cemented the match, producing a match-saving intercept to send the ball down the court and finish off the season on the best possible note.
In Saturday’s semi-finals, Fury defeated Canberra GIANTS by nine goals while the Waratahs came from behind to pip Tasmanian Magpies at the post by four goals to proceed into the Grand Final. In the bronze medal playoff, the Magpies beat the GIANTS by nine goals for a bronze medal to finish off season 2019. Having lost defender, Matilda Garrett after a dominant performance in the semi-final on Saturday, the Magpies came into this match unsure about their chances against a determined GIANTS side. Despite a solid start, the Magpies got the yips with Jane Cook (20 goals from 31 attempts) pushed early by GIANTS training partner, Teigan O’Shannassy. However a stellar performance from Sam Gooden (25 from 30) in goal attack and a miraculous change in goal shooter with long bomber, Zoe Claridge (14 from 15) rotated in for a moving circle, the Magpies were able to take back control and finish well with an 18 goal to 10 final quarter after only leading by one goal at the final break. Magpies keeper, Brooke Allen was impressive on Georgia Marshall (28 from 30), while GIANTS midcourter, Taylah Davies put on a solid performance in wing attack to find the circle edge and find Marshall and Angelina Frketic (22 from 25) in the circle.