The refurbished stadium at the Sunshine Coast University trembled with excited anticipation and cowbells given out to the crowd, as the Sunshine Coast Lightning’s first ‘real’ home game for 2019 finally got underway. With the much-awaited return to the Coast of former Lightning goal shooter Caitlin Bassett, albeit in a Giants dress, the parochial crowd could sense they were in for a hotly contested match.

Giants first centre pass to goal attack Jo Harten linked back to centre Jamie-Lee Price, finding Bassett under the post to score – killing any early nerves former Lightning shooter Bassett may have harboured making her first local appearancesince defecting to the Giants for the 2019 season.

The first quarter was physical and brutal from the very start, with the Giants applying determined body on body defence, none more so than Giants wing defence Amy Parmenter. Playing against the in-form Laura Scherian, Parmenter surrendered 14 contacts for the game. But suffocating pressure applied by Parmenter and Kristiana Manu’a put early pressure on the Lightning mid court and at the top of the circle. The Giants continued to apply full court defence, leaving Lightning struggling to find their groove early on.

The physical battles continued in the Lightning’s circle. Although conceding 8 contacts for the first half, Sam Poolman worked relentlessly in a valiant attempt to contain Lightning shooter, Peace Proscovia. The Ugandan superstar is a difficult player to defend as she continually changes position, moving and shifting, or sometimes just applying a strong hold. The growing connection between Proscovia and Steph Wood is obvious as they worked well together, effortlessly anticipating each other’s moves.

Proscovia and Poolman holding their ground. Image Marcela Massey

Although constantly troubled by Lightning’s wing defence, Maddy McAuliffe, the ever-reliable Kim Green, provided unfailing and consistent support through the mid court. Green’s experience and never say die attitude allowed her to steady her charges and set up plays. With a total of 13 feeds and 7 goal assists for the first half, her speedy and accurate feeds into the circle contributed to the Giants early dominance.  Although Lightning defenders Phumza Maweni and Karla Pretorius were having reasonable impact in the Giants circle, it was clear that Bassett and Harten have been working hard in recent weeks to develop their new connection after Bassett missed all of the preseason with a fractured forearm. “We were moving the ball around the circle and we were finding ‘C Bass’, I was putting ball up as well. That’s exactly where we want to be and we [want to] just build on that”, said Harten after the game.

The Giants were rewarded for their effort, going into half time leading by three and collecting two bonus points for their efforts.

It was a revitalised Lightning side who returned to the court for the second half, as has regularly been the case this season. Noeline Taurua’s change-room talk certainly made for an instant transformation in the Lightning’s style of play with the return of the brilliance fans are used to seeing.

The Giants at times struggled to off-load the ball, due to determined pressure and one on one defence by Lightning’s mid-court, which resulted in several over-thrown passes straight out of court. McAuliffe, along with captain Laura Langman did well to contain Green and Price, as did Scherian. The pocket sized dynamo seemed to be contributing to play in both defence and attack.

A Pretorius intercept in the early minutes of the third quarter saw the speedy transition the Lightning are famous for. The agility of McAuliffe, Scherian, Langman and Woo, allowed for the extraordinarily fast movement of the ball back down the court to the shooters. Needing to remain composed, but in a chase position, Giants had little answer to the Lightning onslaught.

Pretorius helps herself to another intercept. Image Marcela Massey

Taking control and playing their own game, the Lightning patiently worked the ball around the centre and goal thirds until players were able to open up space and steadily move the ball into the circle.  With the 3000-strong crowd on their feet, screaming and shaking their cow-bells, the atmosphere in the stadium was skin-tingling. Lightning took out the 3rd quarter with an astonishing 25-14 goal margin, taking the bonus points with them.

It was a huge momentum shift and a massive statement by the 2018 champions, one which coach Noeline Taurua believed the team had to make. “We got caught up in everything they were doing, and we were weren’t proactive in either our defence or attack. Once we do that and get off the body and can create space in both ends we and are really effective. I think we did that, and we were able to put some really nice plays together”, Taurua said after the game.

With Lightning playing at their own pace and in control, the final quarter saw both teams substituting players. Shooting an admirable 89.6% for the game, Proscovia came off, with Cara Koenan taking the court fresh off the bench. Moving effortlessly around the circle to open up space, Koenan has excellent timing. This was rewarded with an impressive 89% success rate for the game.

The third quarter had seen a brief but determined debut by the Giant’s Teigan O’Shannassy into goal keeper before the return to court of Poolman in the fourth. Fresh from her selection for the Netball World Cup, English import Harten retired after a solid game – shooting 88.6%, with 7 goal assists and 9 feeds. The arrival of the unflappable Kiera Austin at goal attack saw defenders Maweni and Pretorius double up on Bassett, allowing Austin to roam and collect ball time and shooting opportunities. Austin connected well with Bassett, with both shooters scoring an impressive 100% for the final quarter.

With unlimited energy and playing like it was their first quarter, the changes made little difference to the Lightning assault. To the absolute delight of the home crowd the Lightning gave them the fairy-tale ending they had all come to see, finishing on top 72-61.

Bassett and Maweni had a fascinating tussle. Image Marcela Massey

Next week:

Lightning are home again to the Vixens, while the Giants come up against the Thunderbirds at Qudos Bank Arena in Sydney.

 

Sunshine Coast Lightning def Giants 72 – 61

(16-17, 14-16, 25-14, 17-14)

 

Player of the Match:   Karla Pretorius (Sunshine Coast Lightning)

Crowd: 3011 at USC Stadium

Shooting Statistics

Sunshine Coast Lightning

Peace Proscovia 43/48 (89.6%)

Steph Wood 21/24 (88%)

Cara Koenen 8/9 (89%)

72/81 (89%)

 

Giants

Caitlin Bassett 31/36 (86%)

Jo Harten 23/26 (88.5%)

Kiera Austin 7/7 (100%)

61/69 (88.5%)

 

Key Statistics

Intercepts:

Karla Pretorius (Sunshine Coast Lightning) 4

Jamie-Lee Price (Giants) 3

 

Goal Assists:

Steph Wood (Sunshine Coast Lightning) 22

Laura Langman (Sunshine Coast Lightning) 20

Kimberlee Green (Giants) 20

 

Centre Pass Receives

Laura Scherian (Sunshine Coast Lightning) 35

Jo Harten (Giants) 26

McAuliffe and Green on the edge of the circle. Image Marcela Massey

Line ups

Sunshine Coast Lightning

GS Peace Proscovia

GA Stephanie Wood

WA Laura Scherian

C Maddy McAuliffe

WD Laura Langman

GD Karla Pretorius

GK Phumza Maweni

Bench:  Cara Koenen, Jacqui Russell and Annika Lee-Jones

Changes: (Q4) Koenen GS

 

Giants

GS Caitlin Bassett

GA Jo Harten

WA Kimberlee Green

C Jamie-Lee Price

WD Amy Parmenter

GD Kristiana Manu’a

GK Sam Poolman

Bench: Keira Austin, Teigan O’Shannassy and Matilda McDonell

 

Changes: (Q3) O’Shannassy GK

  (Q4) Austin GA, Poolman GK

 

Umpires: Tara Warner, Tim Marshall

 

Congratulations to: Caitlin Bassett (Giants) 7000 League goals

Teigan O’Shannassy (Giants) Elite netball debut

Noeline Taurua (coach, Sunshine Coast Lightning) 100 National League wins

 

Langman and Wood have built a strong connection. Image Marcela Massey

 

What they said after the game:

 

Jo Harten (Giants)

Thoughts on tonight’s game?

“It was obviously a good first half for us and then a sloppy second half. We knew we had to come out in the second half with a purpose and I think we knew what the purpose was but didn’t execute it enough. We didn’t move off the ball in our attack and we let them move too much around in their attack and it just fell apart in that third quarter. Twenty-five goals to be scored on in a quarter is just immense and I don’t think I’ve ever seen that before in that sort of game, so credit to them, but not for us.”

Combination with Caitlin Bassett is improving each week. What were your thoughts on that?

“I was really pleased when she sunk her first goal and then got the nerves out of the way. We’ve had five games now and I think we’re starting to show glimpses of what we’re capable of, but we need to get it down pat now, because we don’t have enough time to keep on building throughout the season. I think we’re all experienced enough in our attack end to tighten things up a bit – and there’s more than two quarters of netball in us.”

Congratulations on your selection for the England side for the world cup. How are your preparations coming along?

“At the moment, I’m completely focused on the Giants, but it’s been an exciting week being named and having the selection announced to the world. But it’s now about putting my head down and working on the little extras in my Giants environment, which I hope will reflect when I arrive over there in five weeks. I’m just trying to get as fit as possible, trying to be in career best form – shooting wise, fitness wise, everything – and to just give it a massive crack at world cup.”

 

Noeline Taurua (Sunshine Coast Lightning)

What did you say to the team at half time, because it could’ve gone either way?

“I think the first thing was that they (Giants) were quite physical on us in the first half and we had to weather the storm, knowing that they wouldn’t be able to keep up that sort of intensity as well and I also think we had to be smart in what we did and don’t get caught up in it. I think especially going into that second quarter – because they’ve got some really smart players like Green and Jo Harten and they can pull the penalty really well. If we get caught up in that, and they end up getting penalised and I think we did that. And at our attacking end, we got caught up in the bodies as well and then we weren’t having that free flow and that’s sort of the type of game we like. It felt interesting going into that second half. We had a choice where we rolled over or we take it to them and I think we came out of the changing rooms really well.”

 

What did you think of the physicality of the Giants?

“I think that is the style that they play and it’s up to us to contest that and get our bodies on the line. I think if we don’t contest and we just stay on the side, we’ll get it as well, so it just pushes us too wide, so we’ve got to be able to handle that, that’s what it’s all about and if we’re more proactive in our movements then setting things up, then we’re the ones forcing it. Then I think we’ll be alright.”

 

Thoughts on Karla Pretorius again being named MVP?

“I thought it took her a while to get into the game, and when she does her own job at the front on Jo, she  is very effective as I say, but I think she was too loose in that first half, but like always she always comes and gets that ball in the end and we were really happy about it.”

 

Two top teams play tomorrow – Lightning could still jump up another place?

“Yes, that’s really good. The Gods are on our side at the moment and it would be good for us to be in the top two. That’s the target pretty much heading into the break for the worlds, so we’ve just got to keep doing our own business and just see what we can do to put our performance out on court.”

 

Former Lightning player Caitlin Bassett was back tonight, but Peace Proscovia had a great game at the other end, didn’t she?

Yes, I thought actually Caitlin did quite well. I think we got caught on the body and thought she held really well. I think 2nd quarter we may have shut her (Bassett) down a wee bit and Jo was their main shooter, so that was good. So overall, not too bad to see her back out on our court. Peace, I’m not quite sure of her stats yet, but I think she started really well, was strong underneath the post as we know, and I quite liked the change up with Cara going on in the fourth quarter, which provided us with a bit of movement, which I think was needed at that time.”

 

Thoughts on the crowd tonight?

“It was just amazing! It was one thing just knowing that we had an extra 1000 people here. It was something that we actually spoke about in the changing rooms, prior to coming out, one the team’s had involvement in the stadium, on the development of the stadium, but also too putting out a performance, that we’re really proud about I think also there was a lot of excitement and anxiety around the hype of the redevelopment and just coming in and settling ourselves – although I think we may have come in and settled ourselves too much and grounded when we needed to raise the energy level a wee bit, but we’re really happy how we came out in the second half.”

 

Manu’a watches Wood take aim. Image Marcela Massey