The Melbourne Vixens’ loss at home to the Giants makes their Suncorp Super Netball finals quest difficult.

While the game was eventually a very close one, intense defence from the Giants in the first two quarters broke down lines of attack for the Vixens and this was to be their undoing. The Giants let the Vixens well and truly back in for the third quarter to set up a thrilling finish.

Mwai Kumwenda (Vixens) and Kristiana Manu’a (Giants). Photo: Kirsten Daley.

With five teams still well and truly in the finals race, this game promised to come down to the wire with both teams desperate to cement their place in the finals. With Emily Mannix still out injured, Kadie-Ann Dehaney was again given the goal keeper bib to start the game and she started in style with a masterful tip on a feed into the Giants circle.

From the first whistle, Jamie-Lee Price was promising to stick to Liz Watson like glue. Despite being called for contact just inside the Vixens goal third twice, Price was influential early in challenging Watson for every ball that came her way.

Kadie-Ann Dehaney (Vixens) and Susan Pettitt (Giants). Photo: Kirsten Daley.

This stifling defence, as well as the double-teaming of Watson on the circle edge, showed the Giants had done their research and wanted to cut off the flow of the ball from Watson into the circle.

Kate Moloney could only do so much to fill the shoes of Watson and the Vixens midcourt were unable to adjust to the pressure throughout the court. Along with Price, Serena Guthrie was causing a lot of headaches, switching between Watson and Moloney to confuse the space in the Vixens goal third.

The Giants were finding things a lot easier in attack, opting to go backwards on the centre pass to Bulley or Price more often to free up their attackers in the goal third. Kim Green and Guthrie were finding great space on the edge of the circle for an easy feed into Jo Harten.

Jo Harten (Giants) and Jo Weston (Vixens). Photo: Kirsten Daley.

By contrast, the Vixens were struggling more to find their players who were caught up in the second phase with no one free to pass to.

Both defenders for the Giants were looking for intercepts as well with Bec Bulley causing the Vixens attacking end a lot of grief. A key part of the Vixens usual game plan usually involves Watson hitting the circle edge to enable the best possible ball into the circle.

Since Watson was being held back by Price and Guthrie, the usual space wasn’t opening in the circle and the ball was being forced in, often ending in a turnover.

Serena Guthrie (Giants). Photo: Kirsten Daley.

The saving grace for the Vixens in this first quarter was Dehaney who kept the Vixens in it when they couldn’t seem to penetrate their attacking circle. Dehaney picked up two rebounds and two intercepts for the quarter and this kept the Vixens within distance.

Unfortunately, these gains were often lost further down the court. In one particularly unlucky episode, Philip fell to the ground and Watson was called for held ball on the edge of the circle.

The Giants went to four goals down before a miss from Harten under intense pressure from Weston bounced out over the baseline. The Giants went into the first break up by two goals.

Jo Harten (Giants) and Jo Weston (Vixens). Photo: Kirsten Daley.

The defensive unit of Weston and Dehaney put the Giants shooters under intense pressure to start the second quarter resulting in a turnover from a held ball. The Vixens were moving in attack with increased confidence and the ball started flowing into the circle more easily. Watson started to run rings around Price rather than trying to push past her for the ball and it paid dividends.

However, the Vixens’ shooters were struggling. Tegan Philip had lost her range and her shooting percentage slid down into the 50%-range. Mwai Kumwenda was accurate, but did have a crucial miss after rebounding one of Philip’s misses which handed the Giants the ball. Despite a brief lead at the beginning of the quarter, the pressure from the Giants started to tell on the Vixens.

Bec Bulley (Giants) and Tegan Phillip (Vixens). Photo: Kirsten Daley.

The Vixens hit freefall in a three and a-half minute period where Susan Pettitt scored eight goals to the Vixens’ two. Pettitt found some outstanding space in the circle, as Dehaney fell away. Key to this was short, sharp balls into Pettitt rather than trying to go over Dehaney’s head.

The Vixens scored the next two goals before calling a timeout. Sam Gooden came on in goal attack, with Philip going to the bench in her 100th elite domestic match. The desperation from the Vixens was showing as Kumwenda received a warning for dangerous play after she took Poolman out going for a rebound over her shoulders.

Simone McKinnis opted to put Philip back on the court for Gooden in the third quarter, but the Vixens started poorly, with more uncharacteristic turnovers helping to extend the Giants’ lead. A magnificent rebound from Dehaney gave the Vixens a chance to narrow the gap further but the ball was lost in transition largely thanks to the work of Guthrie and Price in the midcourt.

Mwai Kumwenda (Vixens) and Sam Poolman (Giants). Photo: Kirsten Daley.

Kumwenda also began to receive more ball from the feeders, despite the presence of Poolman threatening to take an intercept. The Vixens began to show greater trust in the strength and elevation of their goal shooter and drew back the lead further.

Pettitt continued her excellent game, finding space in the circle despite the efforts of both Vixens defenders, but Jo Harten had her worst quarter of the game as Weston began to gain an upper hand.

As they’ve shown several times this season, the Vixens managed to get their heads back in the game, going for more of their trademark passages into the circle. Philip’s impact increased feeding some excellent ball into Kumwenda and improving her accuracy.

The Giants then began to relinquish control, falling off the pace of the ball and allowing the Vixens back in as they gave away soft turnovers. A timeout was called when the Vixens came within three goals and Julie Fitzgerald opted to bring on Kristiana Manu’a for Poolman. Manu’a came on well, running in from outside the circle to almost steal a flying intercept on an offload to Kumwenda.

Kate Moloney (Vixens). Photo: Kirsten Daley.

With a two-goal buffer, Green rushed a feed into Harten and Weston picked it off immediately. In what was becoming a pattern for the game, the Vixens lost it in attack with a misplaced feed that was immediately picked off by Manu’a.

A hand to the ball on the edge of the circle by Ingles finally allowed the Vixens to draw level with one and a-half minutes left in the quarter. A crucial intercept by Guthrie on the circle edge meant the Giants went into three-quarter time up by a solitary goal.

The fourth quarter was the tightest, with teams going goal-for-goal throughout. Both teams were turning over the ball and some spectacular work by Guthrie in the middle third was not being converted for the Giants.

The Vixens defence end were being whistled out of the contest and failed to adjust to the umpire, often giving the Giants free shots at goal. Poolman returned to the court for Manu’a in the last ten minutes.

Harten came roaring into the last quarter bringing back her trademark speed and helping to bring the ball through the court. The battle of the Jo’s had been see-sawing the whole game but began to fall in Harten’s favour in the last quarter.

The Vixens were desperate for a turnover drifting behind by two goals on their centre pass with under five minutes to go in the quarter. Both sdies played their most accurate games in the last five minutes with neither side able to create turnovers. The Giants struggled more to get into the circle but were meanwhile wasting precious seconds for the Vixens to draw back.

Mwai Kumwenda (Vixens). Photo: Kirsten Daley.

With 90 seconds to go, the Vixens lost the ball in attack with a ball over the baseline from Philip. The Giants took full advantage, passing the ball around to run down the clock and sealing the win.

This was a key game looking to finals. Crucially, the defensive effort all over the court from the Giants was crucial in cutting off the Vixens attacking line and particularly the work of Watson. The Vixens showed extraordinary fight to come back in the third quarter and the efforts of were impressive.

This loss makes the last two rounds particularly tough for the Vixens. They travel to Perth next week to face a West Coast Fever outfit smarting after a loss to the in-form Queensland Firebirds. From there, they come back home to face the Sunshine Coast Lightning, with both clashes must-wins to cement their place in the finals.

The Giants will face the Magpies in Melbourne, before facing the West Coast Fever at home. This win and the three bonus points that came with it has pushed the Giants just two points adrift of the Fever and could potentially lock in top spot in their remaining games.

 

Giants 60 def Melbourne Vixens 58
(17-15, 33-27, 45-44, 60-58)

Player of the Match: Serena Guthrie (Giants)

 

Giants
Pettitt 30/35 86%
Harten 30/35 86%
60/70 86%

Melbourne Vixens
Kumwenda 41/43 95%
Philip 17/22 77%
Gooden 0/1 0%
58/66 88%

 

Key stats

Gains
Dehaney (Vixens) 10
Weston (Vixens) 5
Poolman (Giants) 4

Goal assists
Watson (Vixens) 31
Green (Giants) 29

Turnovers
Vixens 21
Giants 13

 

Starting lineups

Melbourne Vixens
GS Kumwenda
GA Philip
WA Watson
C Moloney
WD Ingles
GD Weston
GK Mannix
Changes: Q2 GA Gooden, Q3 GA Philip.

Giants
GS Pettitt
GA Harten
WA Green
C Guthrie
WD Price
GD Bulley
GK Poolman
Changes: Q3 GK Manu’a GK, Q4 GK Poolman.

 

What they said

Simone McKinnis, Melbourne Vixens coach

On the game
“Obviously (there was) not much in it. We just couldn’t get that turnover ball in that last quarter that we needed. You know, it was hard work for us in the first half and I thought we came out much better and stronger in the second half.”

Was the high number of turnovers for the Vixens costly?
“Yeah it was. I mean, there’s not much in a lot of these games and you’ve got to score off the ball that you get – even just the centre passes. A couple of little errors in decision-making, but I’m pleased that came out a lot better in the second half.”

On the disruption in the Vixens attack for the first half
“It is hard for us to find that flow, but they’re a very good defensive team and it was important that we kept sticking and working on finding that timing. That was the main thing – that timing – which came in the second half.”

On Kadie-Ann Dehaney’s performance
“She’s doing great. It’s a big few weeks for her having not had much court time and she’s been in these last three of four weeks playing some of the best shooting circles and she’s doing well. I’m really pleased for her.”

On Emily Mannix’s injury and any possible return
“Hopefully. Each week she progresses and it’s all going really well and we’re hoping her return won’t be too far off.”

Is this game going to help the girls in terms of facing a team who were really desperate and behind you in the ladder and those sort of things?
“I think it’s being in these tough matches it really does, because it identifies all those little areas we have to work on. And it’s not just the physical or the tactical, it’s the mental. You know, being in situations where you’ve got to work through it and the decision-making that comes through it, so you know, really invaluable. I prefer to win, but anyway we’ve got to roll on to next week. We’ve got the Fever in W.A. so no time to dwell on that, except take what we need to and be prepared to fight next week.”

On the tough two weeks leading into finals.
“Lightning are fighting to stay in the finals. We all are. This is a tough couple of weeks but if we’re going to go and play finals, there’s no better platform than some tough matches leading into it, so we want to be there so we’ll be pushing and working hard to be there.”

 

Julie Fitzgerald, Giants coach

Thoughts on the win and getting seven points
“I’m pretty happy with that win and obviously points at the end of the season are so valuable and I have so much respect for the Vixens side that to be able to come away with a win I always feel is very valuable.”

How were you disrupting them today?
“I think that we had a lot of intensity in defence and I think we managed to move our feet and try and cover them as much as we could. They’re such a hard team to get the ball off and you’ve got to have that resolve that you’ll keep coming and coming and coming. We know how easily you can be worn down.”

On Guthrie and Green’s performance
“Yeah, I think they played really well. I thought we might have tired a bit towards the end, but we kind of got a second wind there and the ball was going down a bit easier.”

On the discipline and control in the final quarter that kept the Vixens from catching up
“From both sides really, but I thought the discipline in that last quarter was excellent because it was just so tight – there was so much at stake. And I thought both teams went through that period where we held onto our centre pass for so long. I think that’s a credit to both teams.”

On Jamie-Lee Price’s performance against Watson
“She’s against one of the best players in the world so I think she did fairly well in the fact that we were able to hold Liz up a little bit and disrupt her flow a little bit.”

On heading into the finals
“We were so bitterly disappointed after last week and we knew that while the Firebirds had a superb game, we knew that we hadn’t played as well as we could. So to see them be able to bounce back from that shows that they’ve got a bit of grit and courage there as well.”

 

 

Report: Cara Gledhill
Photos: Kirsten Daley

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