A youthful NSW Swifts line up defeated the Adelaide Thunderbirds by three goals on Saturday night at Titanium Security Arena. With the Swifts missing their captain Abbey McCulloch and Diamonds midcourter Paige Hadley, this game had been marked as an even contest, as well as a chance for either team to get their second win on the board.

Maddy Turner pulled out the first intercept within the first fifteen seconds, however, the Thunderbirds snatched the early lead by taking advantage of some wayward passes by the Swifts and some spot-on shooting from captain Erin Bell. Swifts GS Sam Wallace was held in the circle by Ama Abgeze, however Helen Housby proved she was willing to go for the long goal. The general play was disjointed and ugly; both teams seemed to be playing not to win, but for the record of which team could throw the most cross-court passes in a single game.

The Swifts centre court of Claire O’Brien and debutant Emily Keenan couldn’t connect with Housby and Wallace, allowing Abgeze and Fiona Themann to come out hunting. Nothing about the first quarter would have given the Swifts much hope, save for a lay-up from Wallace. In contrast, the Thunderbirds looked buoyant, taking an early six-goal lead.

Swifts coach Rob Wright switched acting captain Maddy Proud into her familiar position at C, while bringing debutant Sophie Halpin into the fray at WD. While this new combination found its feet, the Thunderbirds played with confidence. Karen Bailey and Bell went to the post, with Bell flaunting her trademark swish. However Bell’s confidence also meant she didn’t follow her shots, which gave Sarah Klau first opportunity at the rebounds. At the other end, Abgeze went hunting for intercepts against the Swifts’ hesitant attack line. This gave Wallace more space than she had been allowed in the first quarter, and once the overhead passes started coming in, Abgeze and Themann’s height disadvantage was exposed. Themann dropped back to double team Wallace, but Housby wasn’t to be outdone, taking advantage of the top of the circle with perfect accuracy.

A seven-goal run saw the Swifts draw even halfway through the quarter. Bell kept going to the post, but Thunderbirds’ entry to goal was now slow, contested, and whenever they did let the ball go, no one was there to collect. Bailey’s shots continued to hit the front of the ring. A miss from Bell finally allowed the Swifts their chance – or did it? The Swifts wasted the ball, which Renae Ingles picked up, but with no one there for her to pass to, another turnover delivered Wallace a shot for goal that she missed, giving Themann the rebound.

It took the Thunderbirds two minutes to score, while the Swifts goaled less than a minute later. As the Swifts took the lead, Thunderbirds called their time-out, which Proud curiously extended with a Swifts time-out. When play resumed, a wobbly shot from Housby gave the Swifts a two-goal buffer. It could have been three, but a misjudged bullet pass into Wallace left the Swifts with a quarter victory of eight goals. The Thunderbirds’ accuracy had dropped to 82% while the Swifts steadied at 95% with Housby still yet to miss.

In the third quarter, the Swifts picked up where they left off, sending the high ball into Wallace as their trump card. Countless wasteful passages ensued from both teams, as Themann won the ball in the circle, only to throw it straight to O’Brien, whose pass was then won back by Abgeze, then collected by Klau, finally finishing with a Swifts goal. It was scrappy, back and forth play that was telling of the entire match.

The margin wobbled around a two to three goal buffer until Dan Ryan sprung his first change of the evening, bringing Gia Abernathy into centre. With five minutes to go, Bell’s attempt bounced off the ring. The ball was scrambled back for the Thunderbirds by Ingles, only to be thrown away again and give the Swifts another goal. Housby’s first miss gave the Thunderbirds a rebound, but it again was lost in attack, giving the Swifts their biggest lead so far.

Some fortunate pick-ups by Ingles in the dying minutes salvaged a goal for the Thunderbirds and saved one from the Swifts, leaving the margin at four. But the Swifts were now the ones playing with confidence, and the Thunderbirds were floundering in catch up mode.

Ryan swung his next change to the appeal of the crowd, bringing Sasha Glasgow into GS. Glasgow immediately provided much needed movement and strong leads in the Thunderbirds circle. Like Bell and Housby, she wasn’t afraid to shoot the long-bombs, and the cheer of the crowd whenever one dropped proves this girl is already becoming a fan-favourite in Adelaide. However the Swifts didn’t just stop in the tracks, even after some Glas-goals set the home crowd on fire, and snuck out to an eight-goal lead.

The Thunderbirds called a time out, and changer-danger Ryan struck again, swinging Ingles into C and bringing Clarke back into WD. For a few crucial minutes, these changes didn’t spark. A throwaway pass, a held ball call, a wrestle for the ball that was nearly won by Proud. Incoherent play ticked down enough time to make the Thunderbirds final charge too little too late. Ingles picked up another intercept, and Glasgow pulled the lead back to five goals with four minutes left, but the shocker play of the evening – a bounce pass down the line of the goal third – gave the Swifts an easy way out, and Wallace delivered the six-goal buffer again.

The Swifts were tighter on space all night– whenever there was a loose ball, a Swift was there to pick it up, whereas the Thunderbirds were running and scrambling for loose ball gets. A great drive from O’Brien through the court was symbolic of how her team’s confidence had grown over the game. As play ticked down goal for goal, a beautiful long shot from Wallace sealed it for the visitors, while a monster pass into Glasgow with twelve seconds on the clock cut the final margin to three goals, 51-48.

Credit to the Swifts – they held their nerve and used the feed into the circle to clinch the game, all while missing their two best midcourters. The Thunderbirds had the more experienced line up, and after leading by six at quarter time, their second quarter fall away was inexcusable.

Adelaide faces a hard task against the Giants next week, while the Swifts have a winnable game against the West Coast Fever. They will be sweating on the fitness of McCulloch and Hadley – the attack off defence was lacking McCulloch’s set up, and Hadley’s feeding finesse was sorely needed in the first half. If they are to beat the Fever, the Swifts need to use the high pass into Wallace to their advantage, and continue to box the opposition goalers out wide from the ring. With a turnover count as high as 33-30, both teams need to cut down their turnover rate.

The Thunderbirds need a settled, youthful line; Glasgow almost single-handedly won the final quarter for the T-birds, with help from experienced head Ingles. Abernathy was solid, and offered as much, if not more, than Clarke did. Ryan needs to give his younger players an audition for contracts, because the Thunderbirds are due for a huge shake up at season’s end.

 

NSW Swifts 51 def Adelaide Thunderbirds 48
Player of the Match/Vivian Bullwinkle Medalist:
Maddy Proud

 

Adelaide Thunderbirds
Bailey 19/23 83%
Bell 19/26 73%
Glasgow 10/13 77%
48/62 78%

NSW Swifts
Samantha Wallace 33/35 94%
Helen Housby 18/19 95%
51/54 95%

 

Key stats

Intercepts
Ama Abgeze (Thunderbirds) 5
Sarah Klau (Swifts) 5
Maddy Turner (Swifts) 3

Turnovers
Erin Bell (Thunderbirds) 10
Chelsea Pitman (Thunderbirds) 5
Helen Housby (Swifts) 5
Sam Wallace (Swifts) 4
Karen Bailey (Thunderbirds) 3

 

What they said:

Rob Wright, NSW Swifts coach

On his team’s performance
“I thought the first quarter we weren’t great and I thought (the Thunderbirds) were particularly solid. I think the last couple of weeks they’ve really showed that they’ve been on the improve and I think they’ve started every quarter of the last couple weeks pretty strong and I thought they did it really well for that first fifteen minutes so we needed to try and come back and I think we did it pretty well”

On Maddy Proud
“I thought Maddy going into the middle really gave us some composure, we probably didn’t have much movement in that front end … she’s clearly our most experienced player out there in that line and I thought she did a terrific job. After quarter time I thought she just needed to tidy up her game a little bit in the first quarter I just thought probably at times she over-tried a little bit – especially defensively – and that’s probably coming back and playing against a team she loves.”

On his team’s inexperienced playing roster
“We knew this year was going to be incredibly tough, regardless. We deliberately went with an incredibly young line that we knew is for the future. When this line got put together I said “this line was put together from 2019 onwards”, certainly not for this year or even next year, and so we went young and we knew at times that we could get really hurt, but … we thought that we’ve got a group that if we can keep it together are going to be seriously good in time.”

 

Dan Ryan, Adelaide Thunderbirds coach

On the second quarter turnaround
“That’s exactly what happens when you don’t let the ball go, or are not presenting for the ball to come to you so that really let us down because the first fifteen minutes everything was working well and next fifteen minutes, the ball wasn’t being released, players weren’t presenting, the leads weren’t there, we were depending on one person to go all the time, didn’t have those multiple options and it hurt us and that’s why we lost the match.”

On the rest of the 2017 season
“Out of every tough situation is a little bit of learning that can take place, a little bit of strength that’s gained, and that’s how we’re all approaching it because the moment you become despondent, the moment this becomes a negative experience, the moment that it all becomes too much is the moment that you stop and we’re not prepared to stop, and we’re going to keep going and keep looking for that next win.”

On looking to 2018
“I think you’re always thinking ahead, as a coach you’re always planning and forward preparing … Every time our players step on the court it really is important that they get out there and perform because the club is a successful club that is used to winning netball matches, and the success and the results have not gone our way over the past couple years and it’s not okay for the Thunderbirds, it’s not what the Thunderbirds is about. So we’ll do whatever we need to do to make sure that we’re a force, and all we can control right now is what happens in the next four weeks and we will do everything that we can to get another win on the board.”

 

Twitter: @ninja_bslaughts