If I was not already excited about the 2019 Suncorp Super Netball season, I certainly was after watching the electrifying contest between Giants Netball and NSW Swifts at a pre-season game at Netball Central, Sydney Olympic Park. The coin toss and obligatory hand shake between Swifts captain Maddy Proud and Giant, Jo Harten was as friendly as it got for the next 60 minutes as these two teams took their physicality and skills to the next level.

Both teams had some stars in reserve who did not take the court, but that did not dilute the intensity of the game. Captain Kim Green, youngster Matilda McDonald and Tiegan O’Shannassy (who is still injured), watched from the sidelines for the Giants. While the Swifts had noticeable absences in their line up with the experience and accuracy of Helen Housby and the strength of Kate Eddy warming the bench.

The starting 7 for both teams delivered wonderful match ups all over the court and from the initial whistle the intent and physical desire of the players was on show. It was clear within the first few minutes that the crowd was in for an arm wrestle.

Sam Wallace and Sophie Garbin were solid in their efforts for the Swifts; their timing in the circle and off the ball was read well by their circle feeders Maddy Proud and Paige Hadley, who helped them find nice space under the post. Garbin was worked hard by Kristiana Manu’a but was strong to the ball and showed good patience when working the ball around the shooting third.

Paige Hadley’s work rate was staggering. As vice-captain of the Swifts she led by example, chasing down loose balls and applying pressure in defence. The Swifts will look to her in clutch moments this season as she is a player that provides back up and will hustle until the last whistle.

Making sure the Swifts front line did not have it easy, Sam Poolman and Kristiana Manu’a were disruptive to set plays and were a very physical presence for the Swifts to deal with; they are a combination that has continued to develop well during the off season. At times they were an unsettling unit for the Swifts.

The midcourt athleticism on display from Giants, Jamie-Lee Price and Amy Parmenter will be a key feature of the Giants tactics this year. They both look incredibly fit and will be a headache for teams this season as they swap seamlessly from wing defense to centre.

Price in particular had an outstanding game. Her hustle to loose balls, coverage of the court, circle feeds and transition with a defensive turnover, left no one guessing what sort of season she is planning on having. Parmenter is a born athlete and joy to watch on court. Her footwork is so fast and she is so light on her feet it makes all the running she does around court seem effortless. Her solid performance in the midcourt will give her confidence heading into round one.

Caitlin Bassett looked comfortable in her new role for the Giants in the first three quarters, and her connection with Harten looks to have established quickly despite Bassett being sidelined for most of the preseason with a fractured forearm.

The trademark strong hold of Bassett was target practice for Keira Austin, who had a solid game and gave her opposition something different to think about with her timing and deceptive manner on court. The game was played at a frantic pace, yet Austin never looked frenzied or chaotic, such is her ability to read the game and find space.

Lauren Moore was impressive and held her own in a physical battle on court. Her hustle, fast feet and elevation proved to be handy as she managed some tips and a very handy intercept in the dying minutes of the match. It will be the sort of spirited performance the Swifts will need from her every game if they are going to win the tight contests.

Maddy Turner and Sarah Klau worked themselves into the game, and showed their versatility as they moved to WD and GD, respectively, throughout the 60 minutes. Between them, they provided a handful of tips and deflections for the Swifts and helped them get out to 4 goal lead in the forth quarter.

Klau did a commendable job on Bassett, similar in height, Bassett was made to work under the post with Klau paying her close attention. The tussle between Jo Harten and Maddy Turner is always entertaining and this clash was no different. Harten had to work for every inch of space she took on court as Turner applied her usual defensive pressure, with her characteristic one on one marking.

Both Julie Fitzgerald (Giants coach) and Briony Akle (NSW Swifts coach) took the opportunity to make changes to their teams throughout the game and play with their line-ups.The Swifts brought on English Rose, Natalie Haythornwaite at the start of the second quarter, and she started strong, sadly with just 15 seconds left until half time she went down clutching her hamstring.

Helped to the sideline by Kim Green, she received immediate treatment. It would be a big blow to the Swifts to lose Haythornwaite for an extended period of time before the season has even started as she is a versatile player that they would no doubt be looking forward to utilising throughout the season. We are also in a World Cup year and Haythornwaite will almost certainly be picked in the Roses squad, so we can only hope this injury is a minor one.

The coaches also gave opportunities to their training partners. Toni Anderson and Georgia Marshall showed why they are worthy training partners of the Giants this season and Sophie Halpin came on for the Swifts and made Amy Parmenter work hard for every ball.

For a pre-season game it was incredibly physical, it is clear that this rivalry extends beyond regular season round games. While there is no doubt both teams have a mutual respect for each other, there are no friends on court. Both teams took big knocks and the clashes were heavy, there was some gamesmanship and the umpires chatted to a few players throughout the game.

It sets up a mouth-watering round one clash in Sydney on May 28, between these two heavyweights. A derby match that will no doubt live up to all expectations and set the tone for the rest of the season. The Swifts drew first blood in the pre-season clash, so you can be sure the Giants will be out for revenge.

FINAL SCORE: NSW Swifts 57 defeated Giants Netball 56