Giant heartbreak in epic first overtime clash; Fever fend off late Lightning strike: Super Netball wrap

Austin and post collide! | 00:24
Kate Allman and Jenny Sinclair from Nca Newswire

The Melbourne Vixens have all but cemented their place in the finals after clinching a nail-biting win in the first overtime match of the 2022 Super Netball Season against the GWS Giants in Sydney on Saturday night.

The Giants clawed back from an 11-point deficit to draw scores at 60-all and send the game into five minutes of extra play but were crushed when they lost their two-point lead in overtime to go down 63-66.

Super Shot or super fail?

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Amid plenty of chatter this week about Super Shots being liabilities as much as they are weapons, it was apt that this week’s round nine match turned on two-point attempts. The Giants’ scorecard told both sides of the story.

The Giants had plenty of misses in the first half; and each time their goalers missed the net, the team had to recover from the double impact of not scoring then giving the ball to the opposition who banked points on extra possession opportunities.

Meanwhile the Vixens chipped away with single points, making no Super Shot attempts in the first half while running away with a double-digit lead by maintaining 100 per cent accuracy.

Mwai Kumwenda of the Vixens. Picture: Jenny EvansSource: Getty Images

Magic Matisse

The narrative shifted in the third quarter when Giants substitute Matisse Letherbarrow seemed determined to shoot only two-pointers – with accuracy. The 20-year-old rookie came off the bench to replace Harten, who has battled a cold at training all week, and scored nine from 11 Super Shot attempts.

“I’ve always been a long-range shooter since I was a kid,” Letherbarrow said.

“It’s what I’ve practised at training and focused on. Tonight, I really wanted to go on and be confident to use the twos to get closer in the game.”

Her long-range onslaught drew the Giants level in the dying seconds of the match. But turnovers in the mid-court, forced by the quick hands of Diamond Captain and Vixen Co-Captain Liz Watson, fed the Vixen shooting circle enough to seal the deal in overtime.

The rookie versus the veteran

The highly anticipated match-up between Malawai international Mwai Kumwenda and rookie Giant defender Tilly McDonell was physical and relentless.

The pair were battling so ferociously that umpires had to stop play to wipe sweat off the ball in the first quarter, and later to towel off top of the circle where neither refused to give up territory and were spilling a puddle of perspiration to prove it.

McDonell did plenty of her own mopping up, at one stage bending backwards like a limbo player to retrieve a ball in the air that went through three Vixens’ hands on a circle feed from Watson.

But Kumwenda’s experience and accuracy proved too good for McDonell, as she shot 50 points from 50 attempts.

“I’m really happy with how we came up against the Vixens; we’re disappointed but we’re proud of the fight back. It shows the spirit of this club and our team,” McDonell said.

Finals in sight

The Vixens, who are drawn with Fever for first place on the ladder, look likely to have secured a place in the finals with seven wins so far this season. In all but one season since the inception of the Super Netball competition, eight wins has been enough to send a team to the final.

FEVER FEND OFF LATE LIGHTNING STRIKE BUT ‘FIERCE RIVALS’ PUT DIFFERENCES ASIDE FOR BIGGER CAUSE

The opening match of Suncorp Super Netball’s Round 9 had two winners but just one victor as West Coast Fever and Sunshine Coast Lightning faced off in the clubs’ inaugural ‘As One’ Pride match.

Amid a sea of rainbows celebrating diversity and inclusion, Fever ran out comfortable nine point winners against Lightning, despite a third quarter glitch. The match was far closer than first versus eight would suggest, but Fever remain comfortably perched on top of the ladder, while Lightning languish at the bottom.

With both clubs missing key midcourters, Fever coach Dan Ryan sprung a surprise at the start, selecting Emma Cosh and training partner Chelsea Pitman at goal attack and wing attack, respectively.

Jhaniele Fowler (C) starred for the Fever in their tight win against the Sunshine Coast Lightning at University of Sunshine Coast. Photo: Getty ImagesSource: Getty Images

Although double teamed in the circle, Jhaniele Fowler was the recipient of Fever’s sizzling ball speed and free-flowing attack. In contrast Lightning’s route to goal was laborious as Fever clogged up the middle channel of the court with strong physical presence and hands over pressure.

After shooting at an abysmal 55% last week, Lightning captain Steph Wood found her range early, with three supershots gifting her team a narrow quarter time lead. It was one way traffic in the second quarter, as Fever flexed their defensive muscle.

Searching to narrow the margin, Lightning shuffled their deck in the third quarter, shifting every player into a different position. With Maddie Hinchliffe and Wood directing traffic in the middle, they swung momentum and reduced their deficit to two.

However, Fever kicked up another gear, led by the hustling Stacey Francis-Bayman, to close out the match.

Fever and Diamond goal keeper, Courtney Bruce, was ferocious in defence, hauling in five intercepts and three rebounds, despite a loose elbow and resulting shiner received during the match. Fowler finished with an unparalleled 66 goals at 100% and the MVP award.

Neither side would be thrilled with their performance, gifting a combined total of 42 turnovers across the match. While the Fever juggernaut rolls on, they’ll be frustrated at their inability to punish teams across four quarters, and will need to address that if they want to go deep into the finals.

Lightning, who haven’t beaten Fever at home since 2019, need to keep developing their exciting youngsters, while Diamonds’ selectors will be breathing a sigh of relief as the shooting duo of Cara Koenen and Wood appeared far more comfortable after a below par outing last week. Koenen finished with 27/29 (93%) and a crucial two intercepts and three rebounds.

‘AS ONE’

Sunshine Coast Lightning and West Coast Fever, who describe themselves as fierce rivals but strong allies, joined forces to compete in Suncorp Super Netball’s second ever Pride game. However, widespread calls for Netball Australia and the league to include a full Pride Round have fallen on deaf ears so far. For a sport that celebrates inclusion and diversity, and is pushing for inclusion in the 2032 Olympics on this basis, the time for administrators to act is now.

CRUNCHING THE CHANCES

Champion Data – sports’ statistical oracle – has crunched the numbers, and found that at mid season, West Coast Fever has a 99% probability of playing finals, and 59% chance of staying on top of the ladder with the crucial home final.

Reilley Batcheldor (L) of the Lightning tries to shoot past Courtney Bruce (R) of the Fever during the round nine on May 14, 2022, in Sunshine Coast. Photo: Getty ImagesSource: Getty Images

Sadly it’s time for the Lightning to focus on rebuilding, as they’re estimated to have just a 7% chance of making finals, and effectively would have to win every remaining game to do so.

VERTICALLY UNCHALLENGED

Most elite netball clubs boast a towering goal shooter, but Fever have put an entire attack line of plus six-footers together. Goal shooter Jhaniele Fowler tops the list at 198cm, followed by goal attack Sasha Glasgow at 187cm and wing attack Alice Teague-Neeld at 183cm. It’s a considerable height advantage over most opponents, giving a clearer line of sight into the shooting circle.

— NCA Newswire