What to say about this game? Entering Round 3, neither team had won a game, although the keep-‘em-keen bonus point system had awarded Collingwood four points for being thereabouts when they lost.

The highlights:

  • In the battle between seventh and eighth, everyone might have expected Adelaide to be one of these teams, but Collingwood? Surely the team with so many national squad stars shouldn’t have been in the bottom two.
  • Sharni’s back in town. We need a new stat to reflect her impact on the match: defensive forays outside the goal circle which terrify the feeders into turnovers.
  • What’s happened to the game? With the final scoreline of 70-50, that’s a goal every 30 seconds. Five years ago, a team scoring 50 goals in a game would have a reasonable expectation of being within four goals of winning. Cut to 2018, and a score of 50 goals is nowhere near it.

 

Photo: Aliesha Vicars

Collingwood might have hoped for a better home crowd for their first victory for the season, but the Mothers’ Day weekend may have deterred the Magpie Army from venturing out on a freezing Saturday night.

Nevertheless, the Magpies’ stars put on an exhibition of netball skills to demonstrate comprehensively why they should not be considered in the same class as the hapless Thunderbirds, who remain premiership pointless and with few prospects for winning a quarter in sight.

Shae Brown, stepping into C for an injured Kim Ravaillion, provided plenty of defensive pressure against the fast-moving Bongi Msomi, winning two defensive gains around Adelaide’s shooting circle in the opening quarter.

Consistent and disciplined three-feet pressure by both Brown and Ash Brazill slowed Adelaide’s feeds into Shimona Nelson, who was valiantly holding space in front of the goal post against the vocal and vigorous Sharni Layton.

Charlee Hodges did an excellent job to move quickly into the front space, scoring five from six shots for the quarter and making April Brandley look a little aimless at GD.

Photo: Aliesha Vicars

In Collingwood’s goal circle, Caitlin Thwaites continued her remarkable dominance, scoring 12 from 12 attempts. The experienced Leana De Bruin was able to put some early pressure on Erin Bell’s shot, causing a miss on her first attempt of the match, but against Thwaites she made little impact.

Fiona Fowler, who had played doggedly in Adelaide’s first two losses to pick up seven deflections and five intercepts, could manage only one defensive rebound in the first quarter; a situation that did not improve markedly over the next two quarters.

Collingwood won the first quarter 17-13, and it is to Adelaide’s great credit that the teams remained evenly balanced for the first half of the second quarter. Layton won the credit for two intercepts in the last five minutes of the quarter, but in all truth the Adelaide feeders threw passes of such insipidity to Nelson that they would have been intercepted in C Division of the Monday night Yarra League.

Photo: Aliesha Vicars

Perhaps we should give some credit to Layton for moving her feet around her opponent and confusing the space; another area for statistical reform. Having tested Layton’s lower reaches, the Thunderbirds followed up with two much more appropriate feeds to Nelson, allowing her to demonstrate her spectacular aerial athleticism.

De Bruin won a late deflection to bring the score back to a more respectable five-goal deficit, and the Magpies won the quarter 15-14, taking a five-goal margin to the half-time break.

The third quarter descended into chaos for Adelaide, and this time Layton earned full credit for deflection and disruption. With Msomi making fast runs to the Thunderbirds’ pockets in attack, Layton made several intimidating intercept attempts.

Photo: Aliesha Vicars

Even when she didn’t come up with the ball, the bloodcurdling cries undoubtedly contributed to Msomi’s panicked attempts to pass around her to the unattended Nelson at the post, resulting in two turnovers.

Thunderbirds coach Dan Ryan invoked the mercy rule with under four minutes remaining, and substituted Bryce to C with Petty coming on at WD. The terrible run continued, however, and Collingwood won the third quarter 18-8.

The introduction of Abigail Latu-Meafou at GA to start the fourth quarter made a significant difference to Adelaide’s attacking end. She put high, early passes into Nelson close the post, forcing Layton to re-think her attack-the-feeder strategy.

Adelaide focused everything on winning the quarter, with substitute GD Kate Shimmin being instrumental in winning two defensive gains from a deflection and a rebound in the Collingwood goal circle. After ten minutes of play, Adelaide had earned a short-lived two-goal quarter advantage, and then fought hard to maintain the quarter scoreline at an even 13-13.

It was with four minutes to go that coach Ryan made what proved to be a misjudged technical timeout, in which he exhorted his players to win the final quarter. What actually happened was that Collingwood re-focused on their game plan.

Photo: Aliesha Vicars

After returning to the court, Collingwood outscored Adelaide 7-2. It might have been better to leave the players to their own devices, as the slim chance of a bonus point for the visitors dissipated into Collingwood’s highest quarter score for the match.

After the game, a relieved and delighted Kristy Keppich-Birrell declared that she just wanted to “celebrate this amazing win” rather than thinking ahead to the match against the Sunshine Coast Lightning next week.

“The scoreboard doesn’t really reflect the pressure between the two teams. Our second quarter hasn’t been great in the last two weeks, and we’re really happy that we got that win by one point. Across the game we stuck to our processes, and the outcome came.”

Keppich-Birrell was especially happy with the way Collingwood pulled away from a determined Adelaide in the final quarter.

“They’re really aware of that quarter score with the points. You could feel that they were dropping off plan, and they have been absolutely on each other to make sure they stick to it. When the opposition got on a bit of a run, there are key things that they do for each other and with each other to bring their minds back to the game

Key issues for the Adelaide line-up appear difficult to resolve. While Dan Ryan can buy an occasional reprieve through position substitutions, there are problems that need more time to resolve. Msomi was simply out-muscled by a rampaging Shae Brown, who got a full game at C.

Photo: Aliesha Vicars

As England Roses coach Tracy Neville demonstrated with such devastation at the Commonwealth Games, individual matchups are the key to winning games. For Adelaide, the more realistic matchups in the midcourt would seem to have been to put Pitman or Bryce against Brown in C, and Msomi against Brazill at WD, yet it is a substitution that seems never to have been considered.

In Nelson, the Thunderbirds have a player with the potential for athleticism and creative interpretation of space unimaginable for the injured Cat Tuivaiti; yet, with the exception of Latu-Meafou, the feeders were struggling to see where to put the ball to her consistently.

For Collingwood, the winners were grinners and huggers, and there was no need to go to the video to review the post-match processes. If the catch-phrase for the Australian Diamonds is ‘Sisters-in-Arms’, the word that gets the most airing around Collingwood is ‘process’.

Thwaites epitomises this ethos – she is the foundation of the attack strategy, consistently and predictably holding space for the feeders, and shooting immaculately. Erin Bell’s new role in the lineup seems to minimise her shooting facility; in the team plan her contribution is to “draw the defender off” and selflessly leave the shooting glory to Thwaites. And yet, it is the danger and the unpredictability of the team’s defensive play that the Magpie army most passionately respond to.

They come alive when Ash Brazill pulls in an improbable intercept, and the roar of approval every time Layton charges from the circle would do credit to the outer at the MCG. There were signs for Collingwood from this game that the process of attack, and the spontaneity of a ball-winning defensive unit are becoming more successfully integrated.

 

Collingwood Magpies 70 def Adelaide Thunderbirds 50
(17-13, 32-27, 50-35, 70-50)
Player of the match: Caitlin Thwaites (Magpies)

 

Collingwood Magpies
Thwaites 55/57 96%
Bell 15/21 71%
70/78 90%

Adelaide Thunderbirds
Nelson 37/42 88%
Hodges 9/14 64%
Latu-Meafou 4/6 67%
50/62 81%

 

Starting line ups

Collingwood Magpies
GS Caitlin Thwaites
GA Erin Bell
WA Madi Robinson
C Shae Brown
WD Ash Brazill
GD April Brnadley
GK Sharni Layton

Adelaide Thunderbirds
GS Shimona Nelson
GA Charlie Hodges
WA Chelsea Pitman
C Bongiwe Msomi
WD Kaitlyn Bryce
GD Fiona Fowler
GK Leana de Bruin

 

Key stats

Intercepts
Sharni Layton (Magpies) 4

Rebounds
Shimona Nelson (Thunderbirds) 6

Team penalties
Collingwood: 46 contacts, 12 obstructions
Adelaide: 46 contacts, 23 obstructions

Goal assists
Madi Robinson (Magpies) 31
Shae Brown (Magpies) 22
Charlee Hodges (Thunderbirds) 16
Chelsea Pitman (Thunderbirds) 12

 

Cover image: Aliesha Vicars