The Adelaide Thunderbirds’ woes continue in a game which could have been theirs had they played a more restrained style of netball.

In a match where both sides couldn’t settle, Sunshine Coast Lightning were the first to apply pressure with a tip from wing defence Maddy McAuliffe and back-up from centre Laura Scherian.

It looked like the Lightning were going to run away, with a three-goal lead early. However, two uncharacteristic misses by Diamond’s goalers Caitlin Bassett and Steph Wood under the post brought the Thunderbirds back into the game.

The momentum swung for much of the first term, with the Lightning eventually obtaining the three-goal buffer. The gap closed following a timeout, where the instructions from Thunderbirds coach Dan Ryan were to keep applying pressure and lift the work rate.

Photo: Simon Leonard

The Thunderbirds took a two-goal lead with only three and a half minutes left in the quarter. Goal attack Charlee Hodges shouldered much of the pressure, and was shooting at 100%. Her impressive ball speed, front cuts and ball-handling kept Lightning goal defence Karla Pretorius unusually quiet for most of the match.

Just when Adelaide thought they might get their first competition point, Lightning made a charge. It started with 150-game veteran Geva Mentor who tipped the ball out of Shimona Nelson’s grasp. Every Lightning player got a touch of the ball as it sailed down the court and was eventually finished off by Bassett.

The untidy play continued in the second term. The standout player for the Thunderbirds was Chelsea Pitman. The wing attack used all the tricks she could; look away passes, strong drives and quick releases.

Photo: Simon Leonard

Thunderbird’s defenders Leana de Bruin and Kate Shimmin looked more settled in the second quarter. The duo was the cause of many misplaced feeds from Lightning midcourters including several balls sailing over the baseline.

However, just when it looked the Thunderbirds were going to extend their two-goal lead, the Lightning mounted a comeback.

Impressive midcourt defence stalled the Thunderbird’s drive over their transverse. But unable to shake the Thunderbirds, Lightning acting-coach Kylee Byrne called their second timeout for the half.

During the break, she took the opportunity to introduce a change, bringing on debutant Jacqui Russell at wing defence and shifting McAuliffe forward to centre and sending Scherian to the bench. The change did the trick with the home side making a surge to score four of the last five goals of the quarter.

Photo: Simon Leonard

The play from both sides was tidier in the third term, but the drama on the court continued. The score see-sawed as the ball speed intensified. Just when the Thunderbirds were making the goals rain they were struck a blow with young gun Hodges, coping a great knock to head, courtesy of McAuliffe’s shoulder. She spent the rest of the game on concussion-watch from the sideline.

The vacancy was filled by former Queensland Firebird Abigail Latu-Meafou. The 21-year-old relished her time on court and immediately contributed to the score.

As they did in the other quarters, the Lightning lifted in the last minutes of the third term. They intensified their defence by blocked the Thunderbirds’ options in attack. Mentor picked up a late intercept to spark her team heading into the final quarter.

Photo: Simon Leonard

Nelson looked emotional before heading out for the fourth. The words from her coach were “to stay strong” and rely on her team to get the ball to her.

The advice didn’t help as her team were unable to get the ball to her. Mentor and Pretorius seemed to have found the form from previous rounds and were coming off the body hunting for the ball.

Again, Kylee Byrne brought on an unusual player switch, opting to bench the economical Kelsey Browne in favour of Cara Koenen. After the game, Mentor said the change was made to “bring in a new dimension and extra height in that attack end”.

Photo: Simon Leonard

There were sparks of brilliant defence from the Thunderbirds with intimidating arms over pressure causing a couple of held balls. A switch between Shimmin and de Bruin also allowed the visitors to get a few crucial pickups.

The Lightning also had a causality to one of their key performers. Maddy McAuliffe stepped awkwardly on Kaitlyn Bryce’s foot and rolled her right ankle. Laura Scherian re-entered the game and made an immediate impact with a few defensive tips.

Sunshine Coast have the tough challenge of hosting fourth-placed Melbourne Vixens next week, who will be hungry for a win after going down in a close match against the Giants.

Adelaide will be looking to consolidate the sparks of good form, as they face the NSW Swifts in Sydney.

 

Sunshine Coast Lightning 60 def Adelaide Thunderbirds 51
(13-11, 29-26, 45-39, 60-51)

Player of the match: Geva Mentor (Lightning)

Crowd: 2,073 at USC Stadium

 

Sunshine Coast Lightning
Bassett 43/47 91%
Wood 17/20 85%
60/67 90%

Adelaide Thunderbirds
Nelson 30/34 88%
Hodges 12/14 86%
Latu-Meafou 9/12 75%
51/60 85%

 

Key stats

Intercepts
Geva Mentor (Lightning) 4
Fiona Fowler (Thunderbirds) 3
Maddy McAuliffe (Lightning) 2
Kate Shimmin (Thunderbirds) 2

Goal assists
Steph Wood (Lightning) 24
Chelsea Pitman (Thunderbirds) 17
Kelsey Browne (Lightning) 17

Turnovers
Shimona Nelson (Thunderbirds) 6
Laura Scherian (Lightning) 5
Maddy McAuliffe (Lightning) 5
Leana de Bruin (Thunderbirds) 5

 

Starting line-ups

Sunshine Coast Lightning
GS Caitlin Bassett
GA Stephanie Wood
WA Kelsey Browne
C Laura Scherian
WD Madeline McAuliffe
GD Karla Pretorius
GK Geva Mentor

Adelaide Thunderbirds
GS Shimona Nelson
GA Charlee Hodges
WA Chelsea Pitman
C Kaitlyn Bryce
WD Fiona Fowler
GD Leana de Bruin
GK Kate Shimmin

Umpires: Tim Marshall and Helen George

 

A look at…

Thunderbirds’ story as told by statistics
The Champion Data stats tell us that Thunderbirds have a strong goal-scoring machine in Shimona Nelson. Coming in to round five, the goal shooter is fifth in the league for goals (one position ahead of Caitlin Bassett), second for offensive rebounds (behind Romelda Aiken), and fourth for goal attempts (two spots ahead of Caitlin Bassett).

Nelson’s accuracy is lacking compared the league’s other shooters however, it is improving. Last week she shot at 90%, and if she maintains this trajectory she may be the key to the Thunderbirds winning their first game.

The is also a tale being told in defence. Over rounds one-to-four the Thunderbirds have notched up 288 contact and obstruction penalties collectively. What’s so interesting about this is that they have been consistently maintaining possession for 45% of the game time this season.

This tells us that they are gaining a reasonable amount of possession, but are losing it by spending too much time out of play. If they start to play a more controlled brand of netball (and tidy up the 30-odd turnovers from each game), they will easily find themselves more competitive.

 

The Mental Edge
The game featured a lot of vocalisation behind play. There were players mumbling to themselves or showing exacerbation and there were also conversations between players (between opposition and teammates).

What’s so intriguing about this is the impact they have on a player’s mentality. Some players were leaving these encounters with visible signs that they are lacking confidence or brimming with frustration while others would have smiles.

These emotions, and the ability to harness and channel them, becomes the difference between a team who can withstand the high-pressure moments and one who crumbles under the pressure.

 

What they said

Geva Mentor, Sunshine Coast Lightning

Congratulations on your 150th national league game
“Thanks. It is quite apt playing against the Adelaide Thunderbirds as that was where it all started for me. But, it has been a decade in this game and I have loved every minute. It has been great to celebrate with the Lightning, and it was a very special occasion for me personally.”

Today’s game was a bit scrappy but you got there in the end
“It was an extremely messy game I think, but an important one for us to able to grind out each quarter and come away with all those bonus points. There is definitely a lot we can work on, and I think for us, particularly defensively, I don’t think we got enough ball which meant that the scoreline was fairly tight throughout.”

Does this give you momentum, particularly heading into what will be a tougher game against the Vixens here next week?
“Yeah, we didn’t underestimate the Thunderbirds, but I think we just caught up in their style of play a little bit too much. So, we really need to let that ball go and we need to have confidence in our ability on court, and it is definitely going to be a tough contest next week. We are glad we are playing it at home. Our crowd are phenomenal at getting behind us. So it is important, that we ride off that and we make sure that we eliminate those errors in our game and we can really make our game count.”

Talk us through the line-up changes
“I think it is great. Those girls are in really good form and training really well. We can really put anyone out on court, and they still deliver. And the likes of having Jacqui on debut today, I think she did a great job across that transverse line and really shut down the wing attack. It was good that they got out there. It is important to keep the girls in touch throughout the season.”

You have said that it would take a few weeks to get going, do you think this is the start of it?
“Absolutely. I think from game one we have been building all the way through. That is the challenge I have set for these girls that each time we step out, we improve and learn from what we do. I think we are still improving on that. It is also important that we don’t peak too early, but we do make sure that we are in contention come the end of the season.”

How does it feel to come away with eight points today?
“It was very pleasing. That is what this competition is all about. You don’t want to just get those wins; you want to make sure you win each quarter and come out on the right side. So, a full eight points for us, was the first of the season and hopefully we will build from there.”

How’s Maddy McAuliffe?
“Classic ankle roll. I had one a couple of weeks ago. We all recover well, and we have a great medical team around us. So, she should be firing for next week.”

 

Abigail Latu-Meafou, Adelaide Thunderbirds

How tough was it playing against a defensive line-up with over 170 national league games between them?
“Look, they have one of the defensive ends in the competition. So, when I was inserted I just had to think about my own game and think of them as any other defenders.”

What instructions did Dan give you before you stepped out?
“He just said to go and use my strength and use my instincts. And not to over think it.”

How is the bonus point system impacting your game preparation? Are you focused on trying to get that first bonus point or just looking for the win?
“Always. Week after week, are always aiming for those bonus points – just any points on the board. This is the smallest margin that we have had in this competition, so we are definitely improving, and we are looking forward to next week.”

What do you think let you down in those clinch moments, when you could have walked away with one or two bonus points?
“I think we are still such a new team and we are still working on our connections and so it is in those two-minute lulls where we just drop, and we lose connection with one-another and they score quick goals, particularly off our centres. I think that is what is letting us down.”
“We are just really hopeful and will keep looking forward. We will continually work on our game week by week. “

How is Charlee Hodges after that heavy collision?
“Hopefully she is okay. I am not sure what exact injury she has. She is a strong cookie. I am sure she will be back next week.”

 

Jacqui Russell, Sunshine Coast Lightning

How are you feeling after making your Suncorp Super Netball debut?
“Getting picked for this game – a really tight one – it’s good to know that they have enough faith in me to put me on in a situation like that. So, it felt really good.”

You got picked in the squad late in the pre-season. Tell us about the ride so far?
“Yeah, I did get called in to the squad pretty late. And then Pheinna had her injury (Sarahpheinna Woulf) I was called into the ten. It was a bit of a whirlwind. I was living down in Brisbane at the time, so I was able to take some leave from work, they were really good about that. I then moved up the coast. It has been a bit of a lifestyle change, but it has been really good getting back in to this environment. I am loving it so far.”

You had that time at the Queensland Firebirds, and then moved away from the national league for a while. Do you feel like this is your second chance?
“Yeah definitely. It is something I have been hoping for, for a couple of years now. But I was never really sure if it would come to fruition. So, I am really grateful to the club for investing in me and letting me have a crack at it again. Knowing Kylee (Byrne) since the start of my journey, since I was a teenager, and having her here and being able to work with her again has been really awesome.

How do you think your game has evolved since re-entering the fray?
“I think I am probably a very different play from when I was with the Firebirds and from when I was younger. I am a lot smarter and have changed physically as well. Where I would have used to have run, run, run I am think I am now a lot stronger and smarter. So, I do feel like I have changed a bit and picked up a few different skills here and there. And playing with people like Geva and Karla, I am just learning heaps at the defence end.”

Now that you have had court time today, are you hopeful there is a bit more around the corner?
“Hopefully. But you never know. It just depends what combos the other teams put out and I suppose what works for us today. It is good in our squad of 10 that we can pop anyone out there and know they will get the job done.”