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Super Netball 2020 Season Review

Melbourne Vixens raised the trophy, and the 2020 Super Netball season concludes. Erin Delahunty and Megan Maurice take us through the season, team by team.

Melbourne Vixens celebrate their premiership after a tough season in the Queensland hub. Image: Barry Alsop/Melbourne Vixens
2020 Season Review
Melbourne Vixens celebrate their premiership after a tough season in the Queensland hub. Image: Barry Alsop/Melbourne Vixens

MELBOURNE VIXENS

Erin Delahunty

If the Melbourne Vixens’ 2020 Super Netball season wasn’t perfect, it was pretty damn close. After losing just two games all year, the Melburnians took the minor premiership with weeks still left to play and went on to claim the title with a stunning, heart-in-the-mouth win over the West Coast Fever in Brisbane on Sunday. Built on a quintessentially Victorian brand of netball of doing the little things right repeatedly, Simone McKinnis’ side dedicated the win to loved ones still locked down in their home state. Put simply, the Vixen’s social media hashtag #doingitforVic is now #diditforVic. 

Best player: Liz Watson

While she had to manage an ankle injury at the business end of the season, 26-year-old Watson proved this year why she’s the best wing attack in the world. Quick, smart and tough as nails, Watson finished top of the tables for most key feeding metrics and was pivotal in her side’s premiership triumph, delivering a game-high 38 goal assists and taking 32 centre passes.

Breakout rookie: Allie Smith

In a side already blessed with defensive depth, Smith was a revelation. Replacing an injured Kate Eddy in the major semi-final at wing defence, she played with poise well beyond her 20 years. She’s one with Diamond written all over her.

Season high point

Lifting the Super Netball trophy.

Melbourne Vixens celebrate their premiership after a tough season in the Queensland hub. Image: Barry Alsop/Melbourne Vixens
2020 Season Review
Melbourne Vixens celebrate their premiership after a tough season in the Queensland hub. Image: Barry Alsop/Melbourne Vixens

Season low point

A six-goal loss to the lowly Queensland Firebirds in the second-last regular round was a regrettable lapse in concentration. The fact an injured Watson didn’t take the court exposed how reliant the side is on the wing attack.

Memorable (or not!) moment

When Fever shooter Alice Teague-Neeld lined up for a super shot, to put her side a goal up with 1.20 left in Sunday’s grand final, Vixen defenders Jo Weston and Emily Mannix knew the premiership was on the line. They both stayed in play and when Teague-Neeld missed, the pair somehow conjured the rebound between them and sent the ball downcourt, where MVP Mwai Kumwenda shot a “one” to ice the game. ’Twas a rebound for the ages.

What they need to do in 2021

The retirements of Caitlin Thwaites and Tegan Philip leave a gaping hole in attack. How the Vixens address that will almost entirely determine their chances of going back-to-back.

Related—Like medicine: How designing the Vixens’ Indigenous dress is helping Alice Pepper heal

SUNSHINE COAST LIGHTNING

Megan Maurice

For the first time in the four-year history of the Super Netball, the Lightning didn’t make it through to  the grand final, bowing out after consecutive losses in the semi and preliminary finals. While many predicted this would be their season, with the team able to have their fans attending most games and stay in their own homes, they struggled late in the season and weren’t able to step up to the next level when required. 

Best player: Laura Langman

Although the Kiwi superstar wasn’t quite at the peak she was in the past couple of years, her skills, fitness and work rate make her hard to match up on. 

Breakout rookie: Binnian Hunt

The 22-year-old made the most of her court time this season, particularly in WA. Her defence provided a key point of difference in this position. 

Season high point

Unfortunately for the Lightning, it was their first game of the season that provided the most to get excited about. A dominant win over crosstown rivals Queensland Firebirds and a standout performance from Steph Wood provided a lot of hope for the season ahead. 

Season low point

The loss to West Coast Fever in the preliminary final was an uncharacteristically frustrated performance from the Lightning. A little too much focus on the elements out of their control saw the match run away from them before they were really in it. 

Memorable (or not!) moment

Peace Proscovia’s strong, calming influence on the team during the preliminary final loss when she finally took the court showed that despite not finding herself on court as often during 2020, the Ugandan star has plenty to offer in Super Netball. 

What they need to do in 2021

The Lightning will be looking for extra firepower in their mid-court next year, if not to replace Langman, then to provide her with more support. 

WEST COAST FEVER

Erin Delahunty 

At the end of round six in late August, the West Coast Fever sat 4/2 and were staring down the barrel of a bottom-four finish. But after trouncing a lacklustre Collingwood 71-57 in round 7 and learning that coach Stacey Marinkovich was the new Diamonds coach, everything seemingly changed. Coming home like the proverbial freight train, the Fever finished third and knocked out both of last year’s grand finalists to make the big dance. But as was the case in the 2018 decider, Fever just couldn’t make it across the line, struggling to cover the loss of midcourter Ingrid Colyer, who did her ACL in early September.

Best player: Jhaniele Fowler

Sports writers are running out of superlatives to describe Fowler, who once again topped the league’s shooting stats, finishing with more than 900 goals at 94% accuracy. Her regular match-winning efforts were made all the more impressive this year given she has been separated from her young daughter, caught in Jamaica because of covid restrictions, since February. Now that’s a sacrifice.

Breakout rookie: Sunday Aryang

In Fever’s come-from-behind win over the NSW Swifts in the minor semi-final, this 19-year-old defender simply sparkled, reading the play beautifully and using her extraordinary reach to tip the ball. Her second-half cameo, which included four intercepts and four deflections, turned the game and saw her named MVP.

Season high point

Despite the heartbreaking 66-64 loss, making a grand final in the best netball league in the world is no small feat, especially when you’re 5000kms from home and without one of your starting seven.

Season low point

When pocket rocket Colyer—often referred to as a “heart and soul” of Fever—did her ACL against the Firebirds, her scream echoed through Brisbane’s Nissan Arena. Her absence  reverberated in Fever’s season too. While Emma Cosh was serviceable as her replacement in the midcourt, Colyer’s speed and drive to the circle was sorely missed.

Memorable (or not!) moment

Fowler’s reaction to sinking a super shot on the half-time siren in the grand final, to give her side a one-goal lead, was something to behold. Usually a cool and collected customer, the 198cm Jamaican jumped in the air and sprinted a few steps before high-fiving Marinkovich on her way to the change room.

What they need to do in 2021

After having two shots at a premiership with a game plan built around Fowler shooting the bulk of the score, the time has come for Fever to reassess if it’s an approach that will win flags.

NSW SWIFTS

Megan Maurice

The defending premiers were patchier in 2020 and while they had some impressive performances, weren’t quite able to find the consistent form they had in 2019. The biggest proponent of the new rolling subs allowance, coach Briony Akle successfully injected fresh legs into the contest at key times to keep her team moving forward, but the lack of consistency troubled them when it came to the finals. 

Best player: Sam Wallace

She built into the season, making way for youngster Sophie Garbin a number of times early in the season, but became increasingly important to her team’s chances as the season progressed. She’s a smart operator who opens up the goal circle and adjusts her game to take on any defender. 

Breakout rookie: Lauren Moore

OK, so Moore isn’t a rookie, but after a series of injuries last year  the Swifts blooded so many young players that it’s hard to find one for them! Moore did have a breakout season though, due to an early injury to Maddy Turner, showing she could match it with the  top players in the league 

Season high point

One of the best quarters of netball from an individual player this season happened in round two against the West Coast Fever when Garbin played an incredibly dominant holding game in goal shooter–simultaneously stamping her authority on the competition and reminding SSN and Channel Nine that a holding shooter can be dynamic and exciting to watch. 

Season low point

The Swifts were desperate to defend their 2019 premiership, so bowing out after a narrow loss to the West Coast Fever in the semi-final hit them hard. A lacklustre second half let them down after a blistering first half performance. 

Memorable (or not!) moment

Maddy Turner and Sarah Klau attempting a very … special version of the lift to defend the shot in their semi-final against the Fever. 

What they need to do in 2021

The Swifts require more consistency–an injury to Helen Housby forced changes to their attack end late in the season. If they are able to play a consistent line up in 2021, they will be hard to stop.

QUEENSLAND FIREBIRDS

Erin Delahunty

Given they beat both the grand finalists during the season, the Queensland Firebirds should have finished higher than fifth. But as is often the case with relatively inexperienced line-ups, they won games they had no right to–such as against the Fever, Swifts and Vixens–but then dropped games they should have won. Finishing with six wins, seven losses and a draw, the Birdies—who will have a new coach next year given Roselee Jencke’s departure—have something to build on. 

Best player: Romelda Aiken

After an injury interrupted 2019 season, 31-year-old Aiken this year rediscovered the form that saw her dominate matches in the past and she also delivered important oncourt leadership. In nine consecutive games in 2020 she shot 40 or more goals, and finished with a season tally of 583, second only to fellow countrywoman Jhaneile Fowler.

Breakout rookie: Tippah Dwan

With Gretel Bueta sitting out the season because of pregnancy, many worried about the Firebirds’ ability to score. Enter 20-year-old Toowoomba-born Dwan, who emerged as a genuine superstar, especially with her ability to calmly sink long shots. In her side’s 77-64 win over the Swifts in round 10, the first-year player had 37 centre pass receives, 21 feeds, three deflections and an intercept to go along with her 26 goals, including eight supers.

Season high point

After losing or drawing their first five matches of the season, a win looked a long way off for the struggling Firebirds in late August. But they got the W against the West Coast Fever, 68-57, thanks predominately to MVP Aiken who had a blinder on Diamond keeper Courtney Bruce.

Season low point

A late-season win over the Vixens in Indigenous Round was well and truly overshadowed by coach Jencke’s decision to leave midcourter Jemma Mi Mi—the only indigenous player in the league—off the court all match, even when it appeared one of her teammates needed to come off. A subsequent controversy embroiled the club and league. In response, a coalition of netball’s peak organisations has vowed to take “significant action” to break down the barriers for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander players, coaches, umpires and administrators.

Memorable (or not!) moment

News that former Firebird Kim Ravaillion has signed on for 2021, after the birth of her first baby, will have given Firebirds’ fans a pep in their post-season step. She’ll join Mi Mi, Lara Dunkley and Gabi Simpson, who all re-signed this week, in the midcourt.

What they need to do in 2021

Consistency and connection will need to be the two watchwords for the Firebirds in 2021, especially as they welcome back Bueta, who many see as key to their finals aspirations.

GIANTS NETBALL

Megan Maurice

After entering the competition with two strong seasons, the Giants missed the finals by the narrowest of margins in 2020 and barely made a ripple in the competition in 2020. After a season they’d rather forget—marred with controversy and drama from start to finish—the Giants will be focusing on rebuilding and recapturing their early competition form.  

Best player: Amy Parmenter

Battling both a struggling line-up and the “second season blues”, Parmenter was a shining light for the Giants. She showed her flexibility, covering all three midcourt positions as needed and built on her breakout 2019 season. 

Breakout rookie: Sophie Dwyer

While she didn’t see a lot of court time in 2020, there was a lot to like about this young player and no doubt she will find a more permanent spot in 2021. While there is no shortage of incredible young goal attacks coming through the ranks, Dwyer showed she will be up there mixing it with the best of them. 

Season high point

A round three win over eventual runners up the West Coast Fever showed the Giants were capable of matching it with the top teams, but they weren’t able to recapture that form as the season went on. 

Season low point

The fallout and reaction to Diamonds captain Caitlin Bassett spending much of the second half of the season on the bench did the Giants no favours, especially when Bassett decided to forego the final year of her contract and leave for New Zealand’s ANZ Premiership in 2021. 

Memorable (or not!) moment

Kristiana Manu’a’s send off against the Sunshine Coast Lightning in round five raised plenty of questions about the escalation of cautions and warnings and the impact of unconscious bias in umpiring. In a season of talking points, it was one of the biggest ones.

What they need to do in 2021

The Giants have been defence-heavy for a number of seasons and that impact has been felt in attack. A strong focus on recruitment and building a consistent attack end with a quality wing attack will go a long way to improving their fortunes.

ADELAIDE THUNDERBIRDS

Erin Delahunty

Tania Obst’s team may have only won five matches in season 2020, but the Adelaide Thunderbirds took some impressive scalps, most notably the West Coast Fever in the last regular round and the eventual premiers, the Vixens back in mid-August. They also knocked off the Giants and Collingwood, twice. But inconsistency plagued the team, which only once won back-to-back games.

Best player: Shamera Sterling

In just her second Super Netball season, the lanky 24-year-old Jamaican is continuing to astound, tipping balls from behind, clean rejecting shots and generally making her direct opponent’s life difficult week in, week out. She’s building a formidable partnership with fellow international, 28-year-old Englishwoman Layla Guscoth, who is returning from injury, and topped the league for defensive rebounds.

Breakout rookie: Georgie Horjus

At just 18 and standing only 172cm, Horjus might not appear a match-winner, but with the ball in her hand in the super shot zone, she sure is. Cool as ice under pressure, the Kangaroo Island native—dubbed “gorgeous Horjus” by broadcaster Cath Cox—has shown netballers come in all sizes. The former training partner has already been announced as a permanent part of the team for 2021.

Season high point

In their last game of the season, the Thunderbirds faced finals-bound Fever and all was going to script until the final five minutes of the last. The West Australians were well in control, up 62-54 when the hooter went to indicate the super shot period. From there, Horjus sunk four supers to help deliver a most-unlikely one-goal win to her side.

Season low point

The sense of not knowing “which Thunderbirds” would turn up frustrated the pink army in 2020. The side could go from the sublime to the ridiculous from one match to the next.

Memorable (or not!) moment

Positioned on the edge of the circle in the first quarter of her side’s round 10 match against Collingwood in Adelaide, co-captain Chelsea Pitman—playing wing attack—got a little bump from Pies defender Mel Bragg that saw her risk going off-side. As she toppled over, Pitman lent on Horjus, who was inside the ring, to steady herself and stood up, back onside. For netball rule nerds it was a thing of beauty, because it’s a perfectly legal, although unorthodox, move rarely seen on the court.

What they need to do in 2021

Giving their see-sawing form this year, building consistency will be key at Priceline Stadium over the off-season.

COLLINGWOOD MAGPIES

Megan Maurice

What can be said about the 2020 season for the Magpies? It will be one that they would be happy to put an asterisk on and move on from, but there are plenty of lessons to be taken out of this unprecedented year. An over-reliance on the super shot let them down and some smart recruitment is now required, along with finding a coach who can really unite the team on the court. 

Best player: Geva Mentor

At 36, Mentor shows no signs of slowing down and was outstanding for the Magpies this year. Her defensive combination with Jodi-Ann Ward was one of the highlights of the season. 

Breakout rookie: Nyah Allen

Despite limited court time, Allen proved at every opportunity that she is one of the stars of the future. With a brilliant balance of playmaking and shooting accuracy, expect to see much more from this young player in 2021. 

Season high point

The Magpies only had one win in 2020, so it wasn’t too difficult to choose a high point. With great contributions across the court and a blistering finish, winning the final quarter by six, the round three win over the Queensland Firebirds showed that when things were working for this team, they had scoring power. 

Season low point

A chaotic game against the Giants in round eight with Madi Browne out of the team and constant line-up changes brought about a heavy loss that summed up the Magpies’ season. 

Memorable (not!) moment

The retirements of two of the games brightest stars in Madi Browne and Nat Medhurst brought about plenty of tears and reminiscences. Though Medhurst wasn’t able to play in 2020 after the birth of her first child and Browne’s court time was limited, they have both left huge legacies. 

What they need to do in 2021

With a new coach to come into the set up next year, the Magpies require a more considered game plan and to invest in youth in key positions. Developing Allen and giving her regular court time in GA, as well as continued focus on their other breakout rookie in Molly Jovic will put them in good stead for the future.

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