PREVIEW | SSN Finals Week 1: Four teams, one goal

AFTER the windiest of rollercoasters that was the 2023 Suncorp Super Netball season, it is now time for the crunch time of the fixture – finals.

There are four teams left – NSW Swifts, Adelaide Thunderbirds, West Coast Fever and Melbourne Vixens. This weekend, one of them will progress to the Grand Final, one will have their season ended and the remaining two will battle it out next weekend for that final spot in the decider.

NSW Swifts vs Adelaide Thunderbirds
Saturday at 7pm AEST
Qudos Bank Arena

The major final kicks off the weekend, and some may be feeling a sense of déjà vu as the Swifts host the Thunderbirds for a second weekend in a row.

These two have had two very different matches against each other this season, so how will the third finish?

Back in Round 2 the game was sensationally called off at half time due to a number of factors, with the scores locked at 25-all. Last weekend though was a very different situation, as they got to play a full game and the Thunderbirds got the win after things were tied at three quarter time.

Despite winning last weekend, the Thunderbirds’ form of late has been inconsistent, which they cannot afford to allow to continue against a side like the Swifts. The well timed strategy they employed last weekend of swapping around their defenders at the Power Five really seemed to have an impact, so it would be a smart move for the Thunderbirds to continue with that strategy this week. However, the Swifts may have cottoned onto the idea and may plan to counter the strategy accordingly.

Speaking of their defenders, Shamera Sterling and Latanya Wilson really are the core of the success of those in pink, plus combined with the experienced head of Eleanor Cardwell the trio provide strong leadership to a fairly inexperienced line up, particularly when it comes to finals. The Thunderbirds have not played finals since they last won the flag in 2013, with the squad’s entire SSN finals experience coming in the form of three minutes Matilda Garrett got while playing for the Magpies.

Contrast that with the Swifts, who still have many of their key players from their 2021 title winning side, including key playmaker Helen Housby and co captains Paige Hadley and Maddy Proud. Even 2023 recruit Romelda Aiken-George has some finals experience from her time as a Firebird, despite the Queensland side not playing in finals for several years.

With this in mind, how much will finals experience – or lack thereof – and knowing how to deal with the pressure that comes with finals play a role this weekend?

West Coast Fever vs Melbourne Vixens
Sunday at 2pm AWST
RAC Arena

Moving onto Sunday, and it is do-or-die action out west as the Fever battle the Vixens in the Minor Semi-Final.

Not only have these two developed quite a rivalry over the last 18 months or so, but the two also have plenty of finals experience, both within their squad and against each other, with this game being a repeat of last year’s Major Semi-Final and Grand Final.

Games between these two this season have been as tight as they get. Both teams have won one of the two matches they have played against each other this season by one goal, with both games hard fought and fought with a fierce nature. With this in mind, it will not be surprising if this weekend’s clash is the exact same.

The Fever did have finished third this season, which may seem low for a reigning champions, but four of their five losses this season have been only one point margins.

The visiting Vixens on the other hand have even been further than the level they were last season despite being the reigning runners up. Despite their side being consistent and injuries not too much of a recurring issue at the Vixens, but their form week to week has been far from consistent.

Both sides have plenty of experienced heads that will be called upon to help get their side over the line.

The Fever will be spearheaded by their formidable shooting duo of Jhaniele Fowler and Sasha Glasgow, and bookended down the other end by their defensive duo of Sunday Aryang and Courtney Bruce.

Meanwhile lot of the Vixens’ power stems from their midcourt, led by skipper Liz Watson, while fellow skipper Kate Moloney will need to put the disappointment of not making the final Diamonds’ squad of 12 behind her and put all her attention and focus into getting her side over the line this week.

The Vixens are going to need another huge performance out of Emily Mannix, who will be well supported by fellow defender Jo Weston in trying to neutralise the influence of Fowler and Glasgow.

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