The last time the NSW Swifts were at Qudos Bank Arena was in round 1 against the Giants. Not only did they win the Carol Sykes Memorial Trophy that day and beat the Giants, they also stamped their intentions on the 2019 Suncorp Super Netball  competition and despite a close loss to the Sunshine Coast Lightning in round 4, little has swayed them from their end game.

There is always a bit extra to enjoy in games played between the NSW Swifts and Magpies Netball, with ex-head coach for the Swifts, Rob Wright, now quite at home on the Magpies bench. In fact, when these two teams last met in round 12, 2018, they could not be split at the game ended in a draw.

The atmosphere was electric and netball fans should have been proud of their efforts, with 10,365 people in attendance. It is exciting to see crowds of that number and assures us that netball in this country is on the right track.

The Swifts bolted out of the blocks in the first quarter, thanks to sloppy errors and two footwork calls from the Magpies. The quick court transition of the Swifts and accuracy under the post saw the visitors down by five goals early on. But the Magpies weathered the early storm and clawed their way back into the game, showing patience and a resilience they did not have in 2018.

Nat Medhurst (Magpies) shoots over Maddy Turner (Swifts). Image: Danny Dalton

The match up of Sarah Klau on Shimona Nelson was impressive early in the first quarter and you could not help but feel that the recent call up into the Australian Diamonds team had given Klau some extra confidence. Her body position early on Nelson was good and she was being very disruptive to feeds into the circle. The path into Nelson was not an easy one and with Klau able to take an intercept early, signs for the Swifts looked good.

April Brandley was playing her usual style of netball and wearing Helen Housby like a glove. Housby was restricted to five attempts in the first quarter and only converted two of them, but her workload was consistent; she had six goal assists into Sam Wallace, who again looked comfortable in her space under the post, despite close attention from Geva Mentor.

The Swifts were the first team to settle and they took the first quarter by three goals.

Again, in the second quarter the Swifts started strongly, and despite a great effort by Geva Mentor, who was trying to rally her troops, the Magpies simply had no answers early. Their general play errors were mounting and the pressure being applied by the Swifts in clutch moments was intensifying.

There is probably no player in the competition who tests the limits of the court, their opponent or their body quite like Swifts captain Maddy Proud and in less than twenty minutes of netball, she had been involved in nine goal assists, eight centre pass receives and 20 circle feeds. She knows no other gear than top speed and as captain of this team, she leads from the front.

Maddy Proud was immense in midcourt for the Swifts. Image: Danny Dalton

Ash Brazill, arguably the best wing defence in the game at the moment, must have run a marathon to cover the first leads being put on by Proud, which did not show up in the statistics. The commitment of those two players was inspiring to watch. In the end, despite Brazill’s hard work off the ball, Proud still ended the game with a staggering 47 circle feeds, such was her relentless pursuit to find the edge of the circle.

There was a growing frustration on court for the Magpies as the tried to halt the incredible momentum the Swifts were now running with.

Rob Wright was forced to make an array of changes in the second quarter. The SSN welcomed replacement player for Madi Browne, New Zealander Kimiora Poi to the court for her Magpies debut. Defender Matilda Garrett and goal attack Gabrielle Sinclair were added into the Magpies line up in hopes of giving the Swifts something different to contend with. It also sent a strong message from the coach, Rob Wright, to three of his top players: Kim Ravaillion, Nat Medhurst and April Brandley, who stayed on the bench for the rest of the quarter.

Paige Hadley (Swifts) takes the ball against Kimiora Poi (Magpies). Image: Danny Dalton

Captain for the Magpies, and England Roses stalwart, Geva Mentor, was close on many occasions to gaining tips in the circle, but the ball placement of the Swifts was simply too good; and with recently named Diamond, Kelsey Browne restricted to just sixteen circle feeds in a half of netball, the dominance of the Swifts defenders was on show.

Now in complete control of the game, the Swifts were up by eight at half time, and for the Magpies, the half time break could not come quick enough; it was going to take a huge effort from the visitors to come up with answers to the clinical form the Swifts had started the game with.

After a good look at the game from the bench, Wright injected Medhurst and Brandley again, but left Ravallion on the bench.

There were signs of a fightback from the Magpies, however any turnovers were not converted and as chances were being thwarted, Magpies players were dropping their heads on court. They were struggling to do simple things right, and momentum was firmly with the Swifts. They had an intensity that the Magpies simply could not match; they were first to the ball, they scrapped for everything and they were backing each other up.

Shimona Nelson (Magpies) and Sarah Klau (Swifts) jostle for position. Image: Danny Dalton

In the third quarter, recently selected Diamond, Paige Hadley, contributed 14 feeds to her shooters, the next best effort for the Swifts was Housby with seven. In stark contrast, the Magpies had three different players contribute only four feeds each. That is the sort of effort and dominance in the mid-court that has seen Hadley bolt into the Diamonds squad bound for Liverpool.

The Swifts had a comfortable lead going into the final quarter, winning the quarter by three goals, and the backline of Kate Eddy, Maddy Turner and Sarah Klau had moved into another gear.

The Turner and Klau combination appears to be seamless at the moment. Both players hail from South Australia and have known each other for nine years. They have commented that they know each other’s game inside out and that they don’t need to use words to know what the other is thinking. With Eddy now in the mix, you have a triple threat that teams are struggling to deal with.

Making their debut in the third quarter, was replacement player Amornagi Malesala, a New Zealander who formally played for the Waikato Bay of Plenty Magic in the ANZ competition. Her introduction allowed Housby a few minutes on the sideline before the start of the final quarter.

Amorangi Malesala debuts for the Swifts. Image: Danny Dalton

Housby lifted her work rate in the last quarter with six goals, and seriously suffocating defence from the Swifts allowed veteran Nat Medhurst only three attempts at goal. At no point were the Swifts forced to play a brand of netball other than their own. Even with some fierce hands-over pressure on passes, they were never flustered, they never rushed, they had an endless supply of options, and unlike previous seasons their maturity on court allowed for the ball to eventually make its way to their shooters.

The story of the game can be told in the amount of turnover ball the Magpies gifted the Swifts. The Magpies had 22 general play turnovers compared to the Swifts 13. A stat that proved to be the difference in the game. Also starved of scoring opportunities, the Magpies managed only 54 attempts compared to the Swifts massive 76 attempts at goal.

Swifts coach, Briony Akle is looking content and relaxed. The fact that she inherited this team, post Rob Wright, must have be a sweet victory. Though plenty of water has passed under that bridge, Akle picked up a NSW Swifts squad who were a little broken after Wright left, and it’s no secret that they felt abandoned. Akle has helped to rebuild the trust and she now has a unit that is as strong in talent as they are in self-belief.

Kelsey Browne (Magpies) looks for options against Kate Eddy (Swifts). Image: Danny Dalton

Whatever she is selling to this team, the have bought into it. Not only are her troops ready to get into a tussle on court and go head to head with the best, but they are relishing the opportunity to be tested each week and they are smiling as they do it.

What Akle has been able to achieve with this team is nothing more than what she always knew they were capable of; and if the last 6 rounds have not impressed enough, she is confident that they have not yet played their best netball.

If that is the case, while the NSW Swifts enjoy their view from the top of the ladder, the rest of the competition must be wondering what they can do to stop a team, who at the moment seem virtually unstoppable.

FINAL SCORE: NSW Swifts 68 defeated Magpies Netball 52

(17-14, 19-14, 13-10, 19-14)

Starting Lineups:

NSW Swifts

GS Sam Wallace

GA Helen Housby

WA Maddy Proud

C Paige Hadley

WD Kate Eddy

GD Maddy Turner

GK Sarah Klau

Changes:

Q2: Proud C, Hadley WA

Q3: Proud WA, Hadley C, Amorangi Malesala  GA

Q4: Housby GA, Sophie Halpin WD, Lauren Moore GD

 

Collingwood Magpies

GS Shimona Nelson

GA Nat Medhurst

WA Kelsey Browne

C Kim Ravaillion

WD Ash Brazill

GD April Brandey

GK Geva Mentor

Changes:

Q2: Matilda Garrett GD, Gabrielle Sinclair GA, Kimiora Poi C

Q3: April Brandley GD, Medhurst GA

Q4: Kim Ravaillion C

 

Helen Housby (Swifts) airborne. Image: Danny Dalton

 

VITAL STATISTICS:

Shooting:

Sam Wallace 54/57 95%

Helen Housby 14/19 74%

NSW Swifts 68/76 90%

 

Shimona Nelson 41/43 93%

Nat Medhurst 9/10 90%

(Gabrielle Sinclair 2/3 67%)

Magpies Netball 52/57 91%

General play turnovers

NSW Swifts 13

Magpies Netball 22

 

Circle Feeds

Maddy Proud 47

Paige Hadley 42

Kelsey Browne 28

Intercepts

Sarah Klau 4

Geva Mentor 2

 

What they said after the game:

Briony Akle NSW Swifts Head Coach

With performances like today, what drives this team?

“What drives us is still the tag of the uncertainty of whether people want to back us each week, and I think that drives these girls, because internally we know what we are capable of, and we are trying to put the doubt out of our own heads and I think it is working.”

What was training like this week with the news that Paige and Sarah had made the Diamonds Squad:

“Obviously the energy was amazing, but I always thought (today) was going to be a tough one, because it is a big high to come back (from) and then turn around and play against Collingwood. They were very focused, they are very humble, so they put that aside and had their focus back on the Swifts. We celebrated and then moved quickly on to what we had to do this week.”

Sarah Klau NSW Swifts goal keeper:

“For us it was about just taking each centre pass at a time, that is how we got that that final score. We worked a lot with our process and just focused on the moment.”

Talking about working with Maddy Turner and Kate Eddy:

“I don’t even reckon I touched the ball in the second quarter, they did such a fabulous job contesting on centre pass and, and our attackers were so clinical in attack and they were very patient so it was amazing to watch from the back line, they made my life very easy.”

Ash Brazill Magpies Netball wing defense:

Where do the Magpies go from here?

“Just going back to our game plan. The Swifts completely exposed us, and we can learn from them. They treasure the ball and it’s really hard to actually score if you are not getting turnovers. So, for us when we are getting the turnovers (we need) to score. It was a tough slog but I feel like the third quarter we actually matched it, and then it’s about doing that consistently.”

What positives do you take from today?

“They were just silly errors, to be honest. We had two steps in the first quarter and that threw our game straight away, so it is not letting those little things come in. But the fact that we were able to fight back, I think we were 1-6 at one stage, so to come back and draw (even), and know we should have got that bonus point, I think that is a positive for us (and) that we didn’t let it slip to 40 points, because it easily could have been like that within the first five minutes.

What will you focus on in training this week?

“It will be the same as the last few weeks, just treasuring the ball, we haven’t been able to execute that yet, and I think that just gets really frustrating. In the end it is basic skills and we are really letting ourselves down.”

What do you think of the Swifts?

“I think they are a brilliant side. I’ve actually really enjoyed watching them this year…they do the basics so well and I think that’s why they are on the top at moment because they do the little things better than anyone else.”

Kate Cornish

Email: katecornish@y7mail.com

Twitter: @KateKateCornish

 

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