And just like that the Super Netball finals are upon us. Netball expert Erin Delahunty previews the finals series for us all, team by team.
After powering through 56 matches in just 58 days, the world’s premier netball league–relocated to Queensland for a condensed 2020 season because of COVID19–reaches finals this weekend.
Super Netball’s major semi, between minor premiers the Melbourne Vixens and two-time champions the Sunshine Coast Lightning, on Lightning’s home court on Saturday, will decide the first grand finalist and which side will have to make it via a preliminary next week.
In the sudden-death minor semi on Sunday, also to be played on the Sunshine Coast, third-placed West Coast Fever take on reigning premiers the NSW Swifts.
Perennial under-achievers, the Vixens have chosen the toughest of years to realise their full potential. After dropping just two games, looking razor-sharp and finishing top, the title is theirs to lose.
Simone McKinnis’ side has Super Netball’s best defensive unit in Jo Weston, Emily Mannix, Kadie-Anne Dehaney and Kate Eddy, an embarrassment of riches in attack, including retiring stars Caitlin Thwaites and Tegan Philip, and the #1 feeder in the game, Liz Watson, who has a niggling ankle injury.
The only top four side to have not lost to any other finalist, only the Fever should bother the Victorians. The Vixens beat the Fever, who have the seemingly unstoppable Jhaniele Fowler, in mid-August and a month ago drew with them after coming from 14 down.
If Watson can stay oncourt and everyone else sticks to the ball-treasuring game plan, the Vixens should triumph.
Sunshine Coast Lightning
What the Vixens lack in finals success, their opponent the Lightning has in spades, having gone back-to-back in 2017 and 2018 and making the grand final last year.
While some think Kylee Byrne’s side, which has struggled to find consistency, is somewhat lucky to have finished second and could bow out go out in straight sets, that finals record, combined with class at both ends means they shouldn’t be written off.
Young Australian shooter Cara Koenan sits fourth for goals scored in 2020, with 453 at 89%, and in defence South African Karla Pretorius has more intercepts than anyone else. And a note; Kiwi freak show Laura Langman has recorded just one best-on performance this season. Beware if she turns in a few of those in a row.
West Coast Fever
Putting aside a last-gasp lost to a spirited Adelaide Thunderbirds on Saturday, fans have to go back to late August to find a Fever loss, so strong has the back end of their season been.
After losing to the Firebirds in round six, the Fever, coached by new Diamonds boss Stacey Marinkovich, went on to win three straight games, before drawing with Melbourne and then winning another three straight.
With the league’s best shooter, Jamaican Jhaniele Fowler – who has sunk a staggering 795 goals at 94% accuracy – in the circle, all Fever has to do is get it to her cleanly.
Losing beloved “pocket rocket” Ingrid Colyer to an ACL will also serve as extra motivation for the West Australians, who look a genuine threat.
With eight wins, five losses and one draw, the reigning premiers finished with the same record as the Fever, but faltered towards the business end of the season.
Briony Akle’s team won six of its first seven matches, beating Fever by one in early August, but losing to Lightning just a week later. In the last seven rounds, the Swifts managed just two more wins.
Through injury and illness at different times, the side has missed the play-making and long shots of English goaler Helen Housby, who just knows how to win. While keeper Sarah Klau has been quiet by her own lofty standards, she’s grown in recent weeks. If the Swifts can choke the feed to Fowler, the Swifts might get a shot at back-to-back.
Major semi-final; Melbourne Vixens v Sunshine Coast Lightning
USC Stadium, Sippy Downs
Saturday, October 3, 1pm AEST — Live on Nine
Minor semi-final; West Coast Fever v NSW Swifts
USC Stadium, Sippy Downs
Sunday, October 4, Noon AEDT — Live on Nine