When the late fixture change occurred late last week and I saw that netball fans were now going to be treated to a NSW derby in round one, this quickly became my match of the round. There was so much to get excited about when thinking about this game; from on court match-ups, to rookies, to coaches’ tactics and of course, how the two-point shot would play its part with a smorgasbord of shooters who are naturally mid to long-range specialists.
Netball fans were happy to see premiership winning captain Maddy Proud back on court and looking fit; the extra pre-season giving her the opportunity to fully recover from the ACL injury she suffered in round seven last season. Another injured Swift from last season, Lauren Moore, was called upon to replace Maddy Turner who will sit out the first few rounds with an ankle injury. After raising $17,000 for the the The Kids’ Cancer Project by shaving her hair off and spending so much time waiting to play netball again, Moore hit the court with some vengeance and was dominant in the goal defense position. Never taking a backwards step against English international and GIANTS captain, Jo Harten, Moore was in absolutely everything and caused a huge headache for her opposition across two-thirds of the court. Amazingly, despite how impressive Moore was, Harten still found room on court to play some fantastic netball and the battle between the two was hard to take your eyes off. Standing up for her team, Harten shot nine two-point super shots and looked to have found a sweet spot int the circle.
No longer a rookie, but certainly a youngster on the rise, Amy Parmenter once again showed why she is ear-marked for a Diamonds dress in the future. Her closing speed and agility in the wing defense position, seven gains and seven intercepts made her an absolute standout on court. If the MVP of the season is not awarded to a goaler, Parmenter could be a favourite.
Sam Wallace, goal shooter for the Swifts, reminded us all why she was the best player on court in the 2019 grand final; naturally a mid to long range shooter, her confidence to hold under the post and her smarts to play the ball around to take advantage of the two points when they were on offer, was superb. Her two-point shot attempts sat at 50% but from under the post she nailed 27/27 at 100%.
The GIANTS have an absolute gem in Keira Austin and her skill to be able to play both wing attack and goal attack with such skill, could be the reason they are able to play finals netball this year. Austin is worthy of a mention and was in my opinion was just pipped at the post by Lauren Moore for the game’s MVP. Finally getting the minutes on court we have all be waiting for, Austin glided between the wing attack and goal attack positions for the GIANTS with the ease of a seasoned professional. With the announcement of the two-point super shot prior the seasons commencement, netball brains were wondering how coach Julie Fitzgerald would approach the last 5 minutes of each quarter. Playing her hand, we now know that while Austin will line up as their starting wing attack in lieu of the retired Kimberlee Green, and she will also often be moved into the goal attack position for the final five minutes of a quarter when the super shot is in play. This tactic does mean that Diamonds captain Caitlin Bassett could warm the bench at the end of every quarter as her specialty of being a tall, holding shooter is almost redundant in the last five minutes of a quarter when the allure of two points is on offer. Never the less, having a player like Austin in the team, Fitzgerald will have some lovely options to consider as the season continues.
The Swifts started slowly and while much has been made of the fact that they now have the pressure on them this season as they no longer play with the ‘under-dog’ title, you can see that they will take a few games to get back to their best. The addition of Proud in the team is an incredible boost, however she had some uncharacteristic turnovers in this round one clash, which is most likely due to having so much time off the court, and when Nat Haythornthwaite stepped into that wing attack position, it was noticeable that that combination was like muscle memory for the team. Combined with a GIANTS defense that was absolutely smothering we did not see the fast, crisp and confident Swifts who dismantled the Sunshine Coast Lightning in the grand final last year. They will no doubt look to ease Proud back into the team over the next few weeks, she looks supremely fit, so it is more a matter of when the attack combination will click as opposed it if. The Swifts won the game off the back of a great third quarter, Moore was formidable with two gains, two intercepts and a deflection. Wallace converting the effort up the other end and sinking 3 two-point super shots gave the Swifts a lead of eight goals heading into the final 15 minutes.
The GIANTS looked in control of the game for the first 30 minutes and the Swifts were in catch up mode for most of the first half, despite managing to level the scores at the first quarter. But as the GIANTS had done in games last year, they took their foot off the accelerator and lost focus. The hot hand of Harten went cold in a few clutch moments, and while they actually won the last quarter, the deficient they allowed in the third quarter meant that while they came close to snatching a win, in the dying moments of the game when two points were on offer, the Swifts cleverly starved the GIANTS of the ball and they hung on by 2 goals.
A special shout out for this round 1 game must go brand-new mum and brand-new GIANT April Brandley, who returned to court just five months after giving birth to her first son, Clay. Brandley was the best kept secret of round one, joining the team as part of their 12-player squad. Brandley is an Australian Diamond and ex- Collingwood Magpies player, and while it makes the GIANTS seem heavy in defensive player options, it was an opportunity too good to pass up for coach Fitzgerald.
Attacker Maddie Hay, defender Matilda McDonell and goal attack Sophie Dwyer made their (official) debut for the GIANTS and are three players who, with the introduction of rolling subs this season and a compressed season fixture, might be lucky to clock up a few minutes of Suncorp Super Netball experience this year. McDonell caused a smart looking turnover with fast feet around Sam Wallace and they hype around Dwyer being a long bomb specialist lived up to expectation as the youngster took to court for only five minutes but scored 4 points for her team by sinking two impressive super shots.
Nicole Styles from the Swifts debuted with 7 minutes against her name, another who could benefit from some more court time, accounting for player welfare in a condensed season format.Styles takes her opportunity in the Swifts line up as a 30-year-old, showing that hard work and persistence can pay off.
It was an incredibly exciting game and both teams have the potential to win this competition. If the Giants can play a full 60 minutes without losing sight of the prize, with Harten and Austin as two-goal naturals and Bassett ready to sink the one pointers, they have enough talent from post-to-post to be real contenders; and if the Swifts can move up a gear like we saw them do last year, after watching them come away with the win on Sunday despite a huge effort from the GIANTS, and not being at their best, if you only had a dollar to your name you’d be silly not to put it on the Swifts again this year.