Vixens inexplicable collapse, Fever spurred by scandal, Mid-season report

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The Super Netball season has hit the halfway mark, and the competition will crown a new champion with the reigning premiers, the Vixens, battling in last place.

But who could go all the way this season. Emma Greenwood and former Diamonds coach LKisa Alexander size up the season so far; who is excelling and who is disappointing?

SUNSHINE COAST LIGHTNING

Position after Round 7: 1st

Record: 5-2

What‘s gone right: The Lightning have used their strengths at each end of the court to stay in almost every game this season and have ground out wins in close matches when things were seemingly going wrong. Circle defenders Karla Pretorius and Phumza Maweni have been on song, while Cara Koenen continues to build on last year’s breakout season.

What‘s gone wrong: The biggest challenge for the Lightning coming into 2021 was covering the retirement of midcourt great Laura Langman. The recruitment of Mahalia Cassidy from the Firebirds but coach Kylee Byrne has been forced to constantly shuffle her line-up to find the best combinations.

Star player: Phumza Maweni

Where they‘ll finish: 2nd

The lessons the Lightning have learnt in the midcourt in the first half of the season will pay dividends on the run home, and they‘ll remain comfortably in the finals frame at the end of the regular season.

LISA’S TAKE
Strong all over the court and plenty of flexibility with go-to options on the bench to change things up to react to what any opponent throws at them. Their only question mark is whether they could cover the loss of Karla Pretorious or Phumza Maweni if something was to happen to them, but other than that they have answers for every question you’d ask of a title contender.

WEST COAST FEVER

Position after Round 7: 2nd

Record: 7-0

What‘s gone right: Just about everything. The Fever started the year with a 12-point penalty for salary cap beaches in 2018 and 2019 and have already overcome the deficit to sit in the top four. The West Australian side has set the benchmark for the rest of the competition with a fast, physical style of play that can be maintained by every member of their 10-player squad.

What‘s gone wrong: The controversy over the severity of the penalty and a lack of transparency over exactly who was responsible for the breaches continues to be a talking point. The players and coach have been left as the public face of the scandal and their success is only likely to add to scrutiny in the back half of the season.

Star player: Sasha Glasgow

Where they‘ll finish: 1st

Opponents have thrown everything at the Fever in the opening round of fixtures but they have absorbed every bit of pressure and hit back harder with the prospect of an unbeaten season ahead.

LISA’S TAKE

Started the season 12 points back because of the salary cap breach, but have charged to an unbeaten start with the highest percentage in the competition. The penalty looks like it’s actually been a galvaniser for the team. Score so fast from centre passes, and with a lot of home games to come in the back half of the season, they’re definitely looking like premiership favourites.

Giants Netball

Position after Round 7: 3rd

Record: 4-3

What‘s gone right: After missing the finals in a disappointing 2020 season, the Giants have enormous belief they can be contenders this year and have played accordingly, setting the pace for the first month of the competition. Captain Jo Harten leads by example from the circle, while young guns and veterans alike are standing tall. Young gun Maddie Hay continues to improve.

What’s gone wrong: Disaster struck in the opening game of the season when Diamonds shooter Kiera Austin suffered a season-ending knee injury, although 19-year-old Sophie Dwyer has stepped into her shoes seamlessly. The Giants‘ headed into the halfway point of the year with three successive losses. They need to bounce back to stay in touch.

Star player: Jamie-Lee Price

Where they‘ll finish: 3rd

The Giants were the pacesetters early in the season before a huge week in quarantine in Perth halted their momentum. If they can get over the improving Thunderbirds this weekend, a week off for the split round will recharge their batteries for the run home.

LISA’S TAKE

Despite the loss of Kiera Austin, and a recent rough patch, the Giants will be there to contend at the end of the season. They’ve got experience all over the court, a very strong midcourt and an ability to change up their defence. They could have a very good second half of the season and should consolidate their top four-spot.

NSW Swifts

Position after Round 7: 4th

Record: 4-3

What‘s gone right: The Swifts have shown glimpses of the team they can be this season and when they get things right they‘re on par with any team in the league. There‘s rarely a miss in the circle when the ball gets there cleanly, while Sarah Klau has worked into the season to become a dominant force in the defensive circle..

What’s gone wrong: The devil is in the detail with the Swifts, who have not treasured possession enough to convert passages of sparkling play into consistent wins. Their centre pass to goal rate has fluctuated wildly, sitting as low as 59 per cent in their loss to the Thunderbirds last start, while they have also struggled to convert their gains into goals in some matches.

Star player: Sam Wallace

Where they‘ll finish: 4th

Expect the Swifts to make the finals – just. They‘ll have a couple more wobbles and the Firebirds are likely to storm home. But the Swifts should make the top four and if they’re at their best will be a premiership threat.

LISA’S TAKE

A little bit all over the shop. They’ve had some really good wins – particularly against the Firebirds – but they need more of that fight and intense consistency in their games. They’re not hitting that mark just now, but I think they’ll have renewed vigour in the second half and they’ve got the ability to compete for the title. The use of their wing defence needs to be more strategic and less reactionary.

Collingwood Magpies

Position after Round 7: 5th

Record: 3-4

What‘s gone right: The return of Ash Brazill and Kelsey Browne from long-term injuries has bolstered not just the Magpies‘ list but their confidence after a horror 2020 season. The experienced pair have provided just the fillip Collingwood needed, helping get the ball across the transverse line – a piece of the puzzle that was missing last year when both Browne sisters suffered knee injuries.

What‘s gone wrong: A pre-season injury to captain Geva Mentor meant the international was not at her best at the start of the year and missed a match in their loss to the Giants early in the season. Mentor continues to build after prolapsing a disc just ahead of the season but she‘s not quite at her peak yet.

Star player: Kelsey Browne

Where they‘ll finish: 6th

They‘ll continue to trouble plenty of teams and expect the tussle for the final playoff spot to be fierce. But the Magpies aren‘t quite there yet.

LISA’S TAKE

Bouncing back from a wooden spoon, the Magpies are well coached, have been solid and could upset some top four teams. They have the wins they should, and last week’s effort against Vixens was outstanding – they’re only going to get better. Gabby Sinclair is a very underrated player for them and has solidified their attack. They have an exciting defence line.

QUEENSLAND FIREBIRDS

Position after Round 7: 6th

Record: 2-5

What‘s gone right: The return of Gretel Bueta and Kim Ravallion has provided a boost to the Firebirds, who have shown in patches they can mix it with any team in the league. Their derby win over top-placed Sunshine Coast was a highlight, while the extra-time clash with the Swifts in Round 1 set the tone for the season. There remain plenty of positives despite their overall record.

What‘s gone wrong: Lapses in periods of each of their games have proved incredibly costly for the Firebirds, who were among the competition favourites heading into the season but will struggle to make finals unless they can turn results completely. Defenders Tara Hinchliffe, Kim Jenner and Gabi Simpson are doing a power of work and winning plenty of ball but in failing to convert that to goals.

Star player: Tara Hinchliffe

Where they‘ll finish: 5th

Expect the Firebirds to charge back into the mix in the second round. But they could be left to rue close back-to-back losses to the Melbourne teams come the end of the year.

LISA’S TAKE

They’ve underperformed to expectations considering the class they have in the team – they’ve been inconsistent, there’s no other way to say it. They throw away too much ball in attack, and the defensive end has not been operating quite to the level they did last year. They did well against Fever early, and they’ll want to repeat that defensive effort for longer. That’s their biggest challenge for the second half of the season.

Adelaide THUNDERBIRDS

Position after Round 7: 7th

Record: 2-5

What‘s gone right: The tight-knit group have improved throughout the first round and finished the first half of the year by grinding out back-to-back wins. The addition of Matilda Garrett to their defensive end has been a revelation, with the former Magpie building an outstanding combination with Jamaican ‘keeper Shamera Sterling. Goaler Georgie Horjus is also back to the form she sported in her breakout season last year.

What‘s gone wrong: The Thunderbirds lost hundreds of games of experience when they axed captain Chelsea Pitman and lost Kate Shimmin to the Lightning. They played like an inexperienced team early in the season, with fears they would fall behind the pack in a rebuilding year. They remain a work in progress and a lack of midcourt experience shows despite the obvious talent of rising stars Maisie Nankivell and Hannah Petty.

Star player: Shamera Sterling

Where they‘ll finish: 8th

In one of the closest competitions in recent years, the Thunderbirds will push plenty of teams. But they‘re not yet consistent enough across four quarters to rack up the wins and climb the ladder.

LISA”S TAKE

They didn’t have a lot of time leading into the season with their internationals, who arrived very late. You could see that on the court, and a lot of their attacking play depends on good rhythm and timing. They’re getting better and better each week, and will be another team that creates headaches for the top four. They cannot be taken lightly.

MELBOURNE VIXENS

Position after Round 7: 8th

Record: 1-6

What‘s gone right: Not a lot. The Vixens only win came in an upset of the Firebirds in Round 5 when shooter Rahni Samason made a dream debut in Brisbane. They continue to have issues in attack but their defence remains rock solid, with their depth the envy of rivals. Being able to cover the absence of Diamonds squad member and goalkeeper Emily Mannix with a player the calibre of Jamaican Kadie-Ann Dehaney is a luxury few other teams can muster.

What‘s gone wrong: It‘s been a tough fall from grace for the 2020 premiers, who were hit with a double-whammy in the off-season with the retirement of key shooters before the loss of co-captain and star midcourter Liz Watson to a season-ending foot injury. Her absence has only amplified their issues and put pressure on goalers Kaylia Stanton and Ruby Barkmeyer, while the tightening of squads to 10 this season will limit the availability of emerging shooter Samason.

Star player: Mwai Kumwenda

Where they‘ll finish: 7th

The Vixens struggles have extended off court with another extended period away from Victoria due to recent Covid outbreaks but they’ll bounce back in the run home.

LISA”S TAKE

It’s been hard work for the Vixens – and will continue to be. With just one win to their name, things could’ve been very different if Liz Watson hadn’t suffered a foot injury before the season – without her they’ve had major issues scoring off centre passes. Last week the coach said she was disappointed with the team’s mindset, so they’ve got to reset now and set some goals of how many wins they can get in the back-half of the year and go from there.

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