Round 7 of Suncorp Super Netball saw the Adelaide Thunderbirds take their home game up to Darwin in the Northern Territory to do battle against the Sunshine Coast Lightning. It was the first time Suncorp Super Netball had been played in Darwin and was the christening event for the new Sitzler Netball Centre.

The Lightning was looking to bounce back after a lacklustre performance against the Melbourne Vixens in Round 6. Similarly, the Thunderbirds were hoping to string together a more consistent four-quarter performance, and sitting seventh on the ladder, they were hungry and desperately needing a win.

While the Thunderbirds had some incredible signings in the offseason, with international players the calibre of Shamera Sterling (Jamaica), Layla Guscoth (England) and Maria Folau (New Zealand) their connection through court, unconverted possessions and basic errors have cost them terribly in the first few rounds. Despite an incredible Round 1 win (their first in the SSN competition), frustratingly, they have been unable to re-create that form.

The starting seven for the Lightning had a different look, with young North Queenslander, Cara Koenen getting the nod over Peace Proscovia in the goal shooter position. It would remain to be seen if the connection with recently selected Aussie Diamond, Steph Wood would be up to task.

 

Laura Scherian (Lightning) Photo: Marcela Massey *photo from #teamgirls cup

The Thunderbirds burst out of the starting blocks with some spirited offensive turnovers and they were able to convert ball into points. Momentum in the first five minutes was solely with the Thunderbirds and they leapt out to a 6-3 advantage. They held their nerve for the next five minutes and continued to press on, but as has happened in the last few rounds, errors started to creep in towards the end of the quarter, gifting the Lightning the opportunity to close the scoreline and push for the bonus point.

Thunderbirds shooter, Sasha Glasgow, had an impressive start for her team. Her hands were strong and she was pulling in some very impressive (if not overly ambitious) passes from her feeders. With an offensive deflection early that set the tone for the Thunderbirds’ first quarter, she managed two rebounds and 11 goals from 12 attempts against Lightning goalkeeper Phumza Maweni.

The Thunderbirds held on valiantly to snare the first bonus point of the match. However, the Lightning had started to find their groove and the match had started to heat up.

The second quarter started with intensity and it did not take long for the Lightning to even the score. Pocket rocket Laura Scherian was finding Koenen much easier in the shooting circle and goal defence Karla Pretorius found her timing against Folau. As she often does, Pretorius worked her way into the game and was responsible for two clean intercepts in the second quarter.

Karla Pretorius was instrumental in keeping the Lightning in the game. Photo: Marcela Massey. *photo from #teamgirls cup.

With four minutes left on the clock and seven out of the last 10 goals going to the Lightning, the Thunderbirds were going to have to show real resolve as a unit, if they were going to hang on in this game. The Lightning looked to run away with the game, but the Thunderbirds would simply not go away, and just as the Thunderbirds had relinquished their hold on the first quarter with basic errors, the Lightning were now turning over ball with mistakes that saw the Thunderbirds able to mount an attack on the quarter, as the clock ticked down to half time.

Showing her impressive set of skills, double centurion and Lightning captain, Laura Langman, got her hand to a ball around the circle edge in Thunderbirds territory and sparked the turnover that allowed the Lightning to hold onto the second quarter. They were out by four goals in a flash, and as brave as the Thunderbirds had been up until that point, the dominance and experience of a well-crafted Lightning team had wrangled control of the clash.

The stats at half-time told the story of a game where the lead had changed hands a few times. The Lightning had 33 attempts to Thunderbirds 30, their shooting percentages were 88% and 83% respectively, and the Lightning had 3 more intercepts. On paper, there really was not much in the game as they lined up for the second half.

Laura Langman (Lightning) was a calming influence on her team. Photo: Marcela Massey *image from #teamgirls cup

Hannah Petty was back on the court for the Thunderbirds in centre, after being benched at quarter time and replaced by young-up-and-comer, Kelly Altman.

Again, Sasha Glasgow started strong, and her intensity and determination for the ball saw her with another deflection that ended in a gain. However, her work was for nothing as the Thunderbirds threw their advantage away.

In the first six rounds, it has not been the lack of possession that has let the Thunderbirds down, but their inability to punish their opposition with the turnovers and possession that they have been given.

With three-quarters of the match played, the Thunderbirds sat on 18 turnovers, their errors were once again telling the story of a game that was in their grasp to win, but ultimately slipping away due to simple and undisciplined turnovers. The brains in the game say it is nearly impossible to win a game with 25 turnovers or more, it was now or never for the Thunderbirds to tighten up their play and treasure possession.

The Lightning in contrast played their third quarter with discipline and patience. There was nothing showy about the way their play was organised, but they had options in attack and were able to move the ball around until they found their feed into the circle. Unfortunately for the Thunderbirds, both Maweni and Pretorius injected themselves into the game, finding their defensive rhythm together.

While it felt like the Lightning were in control of the game, they still had not been able to put their foot down. To the credit of the Thunderbirds, even though they were making life difficult for themselves with errors, they kept the score ticking over. When Shadine Van der Merwe managed an intercept that was converted by Folau, the lead was cut back to three with just under five minutes remaining.

The strategic move of switching Altman for Petty again halfway through the third quarter by Thunderbirds coach, Tania Obst, meant that a fresh set of legs were able to run out the quarter on Langman and the movement between Folau and Glasgow in the circle had found some good timing. The Thunderbirds were now showing some confidence and patience as they worked the ball into Falou, who had certainly found her sweet spot in the shooting circle.

In an incredible show of resilience, the Thunderbirds deservingly took the bonus point in the third quarter, and found themselves up by one goal.

The stage was set for a huge final quarter and the large crowd, who had found their voice, were being treated to a fine display of courage from the Thunderbirds. Fan favourite Shemera Sterling had certainly endeared herself to the crowd with four intercepts to her name.

Peace Proscovia made her first appearance on court for the Lightning in replace of Koenen, while veteran and superb impact player, Jacquie Russell came on in wing defence for Maddy McAuliffe.

Peace Proscovia (Lightning) and Shamera Sterling (Thunderbirds) fight for the ball. Photo: Marcela Massey. *image from #teamgirls cup

 

Both teams had some great defensive pressure early in the last quarter and were making their opposition play extra passes before the circle could be found, but it

was the Lightning who settled first, with the first three goals as they took the lead back.

Despite being the leader of the intercept statistic, Sterling was benched for Thunderbirds stalwart, Kate Shimmin, who was tasked with trying to shut down Proscovia, who had entered the game well.

If there is a player in the Lightning squad who the team looks to in big moments, it would have to be Pretorius. As a big game player, she knows when to take her game into the next gear. She was responsible for two crucial intercepts in the last quarter and continues to show not only why she has been selected into the SPAR Proteas for the upcoming World Cup, but why she is often unanimously voted by experts as the best goal defence in the world.

Finding themselves down by four goals with less than five minutes on the clock, Sterling was brought back on the court to try and pull off a miracle for the Thunderbirds.

Errors made at crucial moments saw the scoreline open up in favour of the Lightning. The visitors were all poise as they held on to win by six goals. They outscored the

Thunderbirds in the final quarter 10 goals to 17; showing their understanding for each other, their ability to handle pressure situations and, more importantly, why they are back to back champions of the Suncorp Netball competition.

The Thunderbirds will be disappointed, they played a fine game and took it to the defending champions, but they do not yet have the polished product, nor the team familiarly that the Lightning draw on in tight moments. If it is at all possible for this team to remain together for another season, it will be exciting to see what this team was capable of.

 

Sunshine Coast Lightning 59 defeated Adelaide Thunderbirds 53

(14-15, 29-25, 42-43, 59-53)

 

Adelaide Thunderbirds:

GS – Sasha Glasgow

GA – Maria Folau

WA – Chelsea Pitman

C– Hannah Petty

WD – Shadine Van de Merwe

GD – Layla Guscoth

GK – Shamera Sterling

Bench: Cody Lange, Kate Shimmin, Kelly Altman

Changes: Q2 Kelly Altmann C, Hannah Petty bench

Q3 Hannah Petty C then bench, Kelly Altman bench then C,

Q4 Kate Shimmin WD then GK then bench, Shadine Van de Merwe bench (blood rule) then WD, Shamera Sterling bench then GK

Sunshine Coast Lightning:

GS – Cara Koenen

GA – Steph Wood

WA – Laura Scherian

C – Laura Langman,

WD – Maddy McAuliffe

GD – Karla Pretorius

GK – Phumza Maweni

Bench: Jacqui Russell, Peace Proscovia, Annika Lee-Jones

Changes: Q4 Peace Proscovia GS, Cara Koenen bench, Jacqui Russell WD, Maddy McAuliffe bench

 

Statistics:

Thunderbirds

Sasha Glasgow 26/30 (87%)

Maria Folau 27/31 (87%)

53/61 (87%)

 

Lightning

Cara Koenen – 30/32 (94%)

Steph Wood – 14/19 (74%)

Peace Proscovia – 15/16 (94%)

59/67 (88%)

 

Intercepts

Shemera Sterling 5

Laura Langman 4

Karla Pretorius 4

 

Rebounds

Sasha Glasgow 3

Shamera Sterling 3

Phumza Maweni 3

 

Turnovers

Kelly Altmann 7

Laura Scherian  5

Chelsea Pitman 4

 

N.B.   All images used in this article are from the preseason Suncorp #teamgirls Cup as Netball Scoop did not have a photographer at the venue.