Wins to both the NSW Swifts and Queensland Firebirds has seen them bridge the gap on the top two sides the Melbourne Vixens and Waikato Bay of Plenty Magic as the competition intensifies heading into the last month of the regular season.
Despite losing to the Swifts in Melbourne on Sunday, the Vixens remain on top after the Magic also suffered a defeat to the Central Pulse in the New Zealand derby.
The Vixens have played an extra game than their joint ladder leaders.
The Vixens and Magic are now just a game clear of the Firebirds (third) and Swifts (fourth), who themselves have a two-game buffer on those sides chasing a spot inside the top four.
That includes the Adelaide Thunderbirds, who revived their season with a 57-50 win over West Coast Fever on Saturday. That result ended the Thunderbirds’ five-game losing streak while the result also dealt a blow to the Fever’s top four hopes.
The NSW Swifts 54-50 victory continued its impressive winning record in Melbourne. The Swifts have won six of the seven matches played between the two clubs in the Victorian capital since the league began in 2008.
However, the Vixens did take come consolation by winning the Sargeant-McKinnis Cup for the first time since 2009 on aggregate, having beaten the Swifts by six goals in their earlier meeting this season.
The Swifts shooters Caitlin Thwaites and Susan Pratley were on target while Sharni Layton and Sonia Mkoloma shut down the Vixens attack.
“We felt like we had a great connection and that was something we probably lost in last quarter against Vixens last time around,” Thwaites said after the match.
“So we really wanted to push on for four quarters instead of three like we did last time.”
The loss brought the Vixens five-game winning streak to an end ahead of their bye this weekend.
“They were really good. Full credit to them,” Vixens captain Bianca Chatfield said of the Swifts.
“They fought it out the whole game and we didn’t put enough effort in.”
A strong opening and final term proved the catalyst behind the Thunderbirds victory with goal attack Erin Bell producing a career-best performance of 36 goals to lead the side to their first win in 47 days.
Adelaide captain Renae Hallinan was delighted that the players were able to turn their season around and keep their finals hopes flickering.
“Really, really proud of the group,” Hallinan said. “It’s been a tough couple of weeks, everyone just stuck to the task and they were really rewarded for it.”
The Thunderbirds are at home to the Firebirds this round in a crucial game for both clubs.
The Firebirds played the first of two home games on the Gold Coast on Sunday afternoon and had little trouble in disposing of the Mainland Tactix by 17 goals with Romelda Aiken dominating with 54 goals.
The Firebirds have now won three straight matches to sit inside the top four and are looking to secure back-to-back Finals berths for the first time in their history.