The final chapter of Suncorp Super Netball’s inaugural season closed with a stunning display from the Sunshine Coast Lightning, dismissing the Giants 65-48 in front of 8899 spectators at the Brisbane Entertainment Centre.

2017 Suncorp Super Netball champions, Sunshine Coast Lightning. Photo: Marcela Massey

In less than twelve months the two teams have evolved from little more than a logo and an idea, to battle it out for the Super Netball title, and re-write the history books. From clever recruitment, to the signing of strategic coaches and players commitment, these two teams took the right to stand toe-to-toe and come together for the honour of being the first ever champions of the newly formed league.

Giants captain Jo Harten lead her side into the stadium. Photo: Marcela Massey

The two teams had very different journeys to the big dance – the Giants suffered two losses pre-finals, while the Lightning entered the final game of the year having won 11 of their past 12 games. The Giants ultimately fell short of the goal, with the Lightning striking back at every run at them.

Sunshine Coast Lightning in their team huddle before the start of the match. Photo: Marcela Massey

The Giants exuded quiet confidence while the Lightning were sparking with a nervous scattered energy. The quiet confidence translated into the gameplay, as the Giants looked the more-polished unit early in the first quarter. Both teams commenced by running a shootout early – it took a while for either defence to find their rhythm against the frenetic pace of the attack ends.

Harten looks to deliver the ball to Kristina Brice. Photo: Marcela Massey

Sam Poolman looked for the first opportunity to stop the flow of goals, and together with Bec Bulley and Jamie-Lee Price proved more effective at hampering the delivery of ball to Lightning shooters Caitlin Bassett and Steph Wood. Susan Pettitt again played slightly out-of-position from, but was dominant early, darting through the opposition and delivering the ball with precision to Kristina Brice and Jo Harten.

The Giants were able to stretch ahead to a five-goal lead, and maintained the lead throughout the entire quarter. Lightning’s usually tenacious defence was slow to awaken, allowing far too many balls through unchallenged.

Lightning captain Geva Mentor kicked her sides’ defence into action and it changed the outcome of the game. Mentor, in back-to-back plays, impressed with stunning stops, sparking her colleagues into action. Supported by Karla Mostert and Laura Langman, the Giants suddenly found the flow through the mid-court more difficult and the delivery of ball to their shooters far more difficult. The Lightning showed aggression to any loose ball and carried that throughout the game.

Brice would complete the quarter shooting nine goals from 10 attempt at 90% accuracy, as the young shooter presented a great target for the on-fire Pettitt and fellow shooter Harten.

The battle between the Roses – Geva Mentor and Jo Harten. Photo: Marcela Massey

The early battle between the two captains to sway the momentum in favour of their team was a tantalising vision; Harten against Mentor, teammates as English Roses and rivals throughout this game, dug deep into their repertoire to break away from the other.

A Kelsey Browne intercepts delighted teammates and fans alike. In the final scoring play of the opening quarter, Langman delivered a ball to Bassett with a remarkable pass over the Giants defence. As they left the court, it was the Lightning now carrying the quiet confidence despite their two-goal deficit.

Lightning made the first statement of the second quarter, finding the net on the back of strong hustle from Steph Wood, and backed up by another Kelsey Browne defensive play. Sunshine Coast showed more patience with the ball, willing to work it around the circle to find the best avenue to post. Patience in attack and aggressive hustle in defence were to be the hallmarks of the Lightning game and it only grew from there.

Susan Pettitt looks for an option in attack. Photo: Marcela Massey

With each new challenge presented by the Giants, Lightning were quick to respond with devastating delivery. Their demeanour was one of grit, determination and complete focus. A Giants tactical timeout was to no avail – the Lightning lifted, with Mostert and Langman increasing the pressure and extending the lead through the accuracy of Bassett and Wood.

Serena Guthrie and Price were unable to contain the lightning-fast midcourt of Laura Scherian and Browne, who were frequently burning ahead of their opponent, reaching the circle edge for the vital real estate. In addition to their speed, they found their shooters with precision, effectively robbing Poolman and Bulley of their opportunity to influence the game.

The Giants found the resolve to pull themselves back into the game on the back of sensible and careful play, only to find the Lightning shift into another gear. Mostert, quiet and unassuming, seized the opportunity pick up a pair of handy gains and intercepts.

Bassett notched up goal after goal against physical and tough defence. In a stellar shooting performance, Bassett accumulated 13 goals from 14 attempts, in a strong response to the first quarter performance of Brice. However, the mastermind to the Lightning’s success in attack was Steph Wood. Her drives were deceptive and purposeful – her feeds in to Bassett were precise and well-timed. No doubt her performance commanded notice from Australian selectors.

Player of the match, Karla Mostert, looks long into the Lightning attack end. Photo: Marcela Massey

The Lightning showed their mettle throughout the first half with highly aggressive pursuit of any loose ball. Langman, quiet throughout the second quarter, closed the half with another brilliant feed from the mid-court this time to Wood, which took the Lightning lead to five goals at the half time break. The spirit of the Giants was already visibly broken.

The Giants tried to open the court with confidence, by challenging the movement of the ball from the Lightning. The captains collided and Harten called for time in desperation. Brice was benched for a more experienced line-up, bringing Sarah Wall into the game, with Pettitt sliding into the GA role and Harten shifting back.

The move failed to have the desired impact. Harten was doing everything to bring her team back into the game, but the Giants’ defensive end were unable to stop the stream of Lightning goals.

Lightning coach Noeline Taurua reflected on that point of the game, stating, “Once they made the changes, it was very positive for us”.

The persistent hustle of the Lightning found them winning them possession far more frequently. Most often than not, it was on the back of South African Karla Mostert. In the post-match conference, the quietly spoken defender stated that it was, “definitely (the) top game I’ve ever played”.

Laura Langman was outstanding at wing defence for the Lightning. Photo: Marcela Massey

Brice returned to the court at the start of the last quarter, and presented a much stronger target for the Giants attack end. The move recognised the excellent delivery of ball Pettitt and Harten can offer. A critical defensive move by Langman cut off the Giants opening play to again set the tone for the remainder of the game.

Poolman picked up a defensive intercept, seeking to spark a new surge for the Giants after disappearing in the third quarter. The Giant attack were unable to convert on those gains to the frustration of the Giant bench, with Mentor shutting down the goal circle. Poolman, desperate to keep her team in the game, again found an opportunity to steal the ball back, but again it was unable to be converted.

Mentor was everywhere on defence. In a move of desperation, Harten moved to the bench, bringing Pettit back into the goal circle and Sarah Wall coming back to the game. The Giants captain left to ponder what could have been from the bench. Steph Wood shot confidently from long range and the Lightning onslaught continued. They were too fast, too aggressive, too determined, too precise.

The reality of their impending fate crushed the Giants. As their hopes diminished, so did their care with the ball.  The Giants were gallant in defeat, but equally devastated. They had fought their way past Collingwood and the Vixens in the past fortnight, but ran out of steam in their final game.

Sunshine Coast Lightning saved their best performance for the biggest stage. It was their connection as a team which demonstrated how destructive they can be. The crowd’s response for the team was tremendous, with a Lightning chant rising up with a minute left on the clock. The bench, including coach Noeline Taurua, stood to applaud her side in the last moments of the match.

Geva Mentor talked about the determined finish from the Lightning, “I think it was important for us to respect our opposition and to not take our foot off the pedal.”

Lightning captain Geva Mentor with the Suncorp Super Netball trophy. Photo: Marcela Massey

 

Sunshine Coast Lightning 65 def Giants 48
Player of the Match:
Karla Mostert (Sunshine Coast Lightning)

Sunshine Coast Lightning
Bassett 49/51 96%
Wood 16/20 80%
65/71 92%

Giants
Brice 24/29 83%
Harten 20/25 80%
Pettitt 4/7 57%
48/69 79%

 

Steph Wood and Laura Langman embrace after the final whistle. Photo: Marcela Massey
Winning coach Noeline Taurua is all smiles after the win. Photo: Marcela Massey
Erena Mikaere and Kelsey Browne bathing in glitter post match. Photo: Marcela Massey