The Giants have wrestled premiership momentum away from the Vixens to take over top spot on the Suncorp Super Netball ladder.

The four-goal victory against the previous ladder-leaders was a huge turnaround one week after scraping in against the bottom-placed Thunderbirds.

Giants coach Julie Fitzgerald lauded her team’s “best defensive effort to date” in the second of their home games played in Canberra. They restricted the Vixens to their lowest score for the season, led by Bec Bulley’s shutdown job on Tegan Philip.

Diamonds coach Lisa Alexander last week described Philip as the in-form goal attack of the competition, but Bulley kept Philip to 15 goals for the match, the first time this year she has shot less than 20.

Bulley’s player-of-the-match repertoire included three intercepts and five deflections, but more importantly, gains for her team that aren’t rewarded on stats sheets. Disruptive fingertips on the shot; relentless one-on-one defence causing held balls; and forcing Philip wide, which resulted in sideline gains for the Giants.

Fitzgerald pulled a surprise move in her shooting circle, Susan Pettitt and Jo Harten taking the court in their less common shooting positions. Harten’s slight height advantage at GA over Jo Weston, and Pettit’s movement at GS against Emily Mannix proved to be a coaching masterstroke.

The move caught the Vixens off-guard, although it was handling errors and tentativeness in the Vixens attack that contributed to a six-goal lead to the Giants half-way through the first quarter.

The Vixens showed more composure after a timeout to draw the margin back to four at quarter time. They began to press the Giants in the second quarter. Mannix and Weston hunted three intercepts outside the circle, but chances to draw level were squandered by uncharacteristic fumbles, collisions and miscommunication in the Vixens attack line.

Each time the Vixens drew close, the Giants re-asserted themselves in defence, saving numerous turnovers. Harten stepped up her long-range shooting to keep the Vixens at bay.

Mwai Kumwenda began to win the aerial battle against Sam Poolman during the second quarter, the Vixens reducing the deficit to three at half time. Poolman responded in the third quarter with three intercepts, slowing the feed into Kumwenda and pressuring her into handling errors.

With cracks exposed in the Vixens attack, coach Simone McKinnis brought Emma Ryde on for the first time this year, in an attempt to counter the Giants defence. The Giants adapted immediately and Poolman out-positioned Ryde, stretching the Giants lead to seven at the final break.

The Vixens attack was shuffled for the final quarter. Khao Watts moved across to WA, shifting Kate Moloney and Liz Watson, while Kumwenda re-entered the game. With Philip well-held by Bulley, the Vixens feeders avoided setting her up for the mid-range shots she has nailed all season, and put riskier high balls into Kumwenda.

The changes gave the Vixens spark, but the Giants defence had an answer each time there was a turnover. Vixens won the final quarter, the reshuffled line-up giving them options they haven’t had to consider during the previous eight-game winning streak.

Harten posted 36 goals at GA in a performance that would have won player-of-the-match on another day. Elated coach Fitzgerald praised the Canberra crowd, saying that the minute they started warming up they knew the crowd was ‘amazing’.

The positive news for the Vixens is that they only lost by four goals in what was probably their worst performance for the season. The loss now places them second, but has given them an opportunity to test alternate combinations should the need arise, as well as prepare for Fitzgerald’s shooter-switch should they meet the Giants again in finals.

 

Giants 56 def Melbourne Vixens 52
Player of the Match:
Bec Bulley (Giants)

 

Giants
Harten 36/42 86%
Pettitt 20/24 83%
56/66 85%

Melbourne Vixens
Kumwenda 34/36 94%
Philip 15/19 79%
Ryde 3/3 100%
52/58 90%

 

What they said

“It was a huge win. It feels fantastic, I thought they played superbly today and they hung on no matter what pressure we were under. I was really pleased that they could hold on and the discipline with which we played today I thought was really good … Most definitely our best performance for the season.” Julie Fitzgerald, Giants

 

The Pettitt-Harten shooting switch

“I don’t really care what position I’m playing as long as I have a good connection with Prats (Pettitt) in that attack end. I suppose 36 goals is quite a high number for a GA, but the way we work, Prats was doing a lot of work outside the circle so she sets me up under the post … We just dropped a hint to Jules this week maybe we should mix things up! We started off the season as an unknown quantity, but people got to know how we played in our attack end especially, so we needed to mix it up. We needed a change and we got that.” Jo Harten, Giants

“There were a few reasons (for the switch). We thought having Jo’s height out the front might help us. Prats’ (Pettitt’s) movement in the circle was beautiful, she really gave us a moving target down there and I thought that worked very well.” Julie Fitzgerald

 

Giants defensive effort

“I’ve never been in such a team that will defend with each other, for each other. The likes of Bec Bulley, Sam Poolman and the two runners out there, Guthers (Guthrie) and Jamie-Lee Price. They were just working overtime. We knew they had a great connection with Mwai at the back and they’ve just got runners in their midcourt, so it’s about breaking those connections and working as a team to shut them down, I think we did that today.” Jo Harten

“The defensive effort was amazing all the way down the court and I think that’s without doubt the best game that our defensive end has had … I would hate to have picked a player-of-the-match today, I think everybody really stepped up a level on what we’ve had the last couple of weeks and I was very proud of all of them.” Julie Fitzgerald

 

Confidence leading into Finals

“You don’t want to look too far ahead but you’d be silly not to want to be on top of the table. We put a real stamp to our intentions today … I think after that performance you’d be silly not to be confident. There’s still a lot to work on, by no means perfect. We need to beat the Firebirds convincingly on Friday which is going to be no mean feat, but it sets us up nicely.” Jo Harten

“It shows that we can beat those top teams … I think the confidence is the main thing. Everyone knows that the last few weeks we haven’t played our best netball and we’ve been striving to find the answers. To come out and play that well today against what I consider to be the form team of the competition does give us a lot of confidence moving forward.” Julie Fitzgerald

 

Playing in Canberra

“Can I just say, the Canberra crowd was amazing! The minute we started warming up we knew it was going to be a good crowd, and it was an amazing crowd and that does make a difference for us.” Julie Fitzgerald

“It’s nice to play here in Canberra and we’ve got two more home games now. I think it probably was our best performance, out on court and the three girls on the sideline, we felt connected coming into the game.” Jo Harten