Two teams with huge talent and a very real chance of taking out the Deakin University ANL title this weekend will meet in the semi-finals on Saturday, in a game that’s worthy of a grand final.
The NSW Waratahs and Tasmanian Magpies have both had outstanding ANL seasons, with Tasmania setting the standard for much of the seven-week competition, and NSW coming roaring home in the last few weeks and claiming some major scalps along the way.
Who’ll book themselves a berth in Sunday’s grand final? Here’s our preview of Saturday’s huge clash.
When: Saturday, 30 June
Where: SolarHub ACT Netball Centre, Canberra
Watch: Broadcast live on Netball Australia’s Facebook page and via our website at 3pm.
How Tasmania got here
Two losses against the Victorian Fury last weekend wasn’t the finals lead-in the Magpies would have wanted, but the team comprised of both Tasmanian and Victorian athletes has been at (or near) the top of the ladder for most of the season.
From their second game in Round 1 to the end of Round 5 they won nine matches on the trot to shore up a finals berth long before the final round, and they’ll take confidence from their two wins against the Waratahs.
The Magpies copped a spanner in the works just prior to the start of the season, with Collingwood training partner Sam Gooden offered a contract with the Melbourne Vixens, and Jane Cook pulled into the Magpies to cover that loss, but the transition to the new combination appears to have been relatively seamless.
How NSW got here
A very young list meant the Waratahs were something of an unknown heading into this year’s tournament, but they’ve well and truly exceeded expectations, both internally and externally.
A win against eventual minor premiers Victorian Fury in Round 1 proved the team had the weapons to give the competition a real shake, and they demonstrated that time and again throughout the rest of the season, with 10 wins and only four losses from their 14 games.
While they didn’t record a win against Tasmania, their success against the Fury and two wins against the other top four finisher Canberra GIANTS, along with five victories from their last six games of the season, has the Waratahs confident they can go all the way this weekend.
Last time they met
While Tasmania bagged both wins when the teams met in Round 4, the NSW Waratahs could easily have won both games and were left wondering what might have been.
Playing at home, the Waratahs led during the first half of both games, only to fall away with poor third quarters.
In their first clash Magpies goal shooter Jane Cook ran riot, potting 51 goals from 56 attempts, including 15 from 16 in the decisive third quarter.
Leading 13-12 at quarter-time and 28-23 at half-time, the Magpies added 18 goals to 14 in the third term to put the result almost beyond doubt.
The Waratahs’ Sophie Dwyer and Natalie Eldridge netted a perfect 17 from 17 in the final quarter to help close the gap, but it was too little too late, with the Tassie team winning 58-54.
Sunday’s second game saw the Magpies crush the opening quarter, racking up 21 goals to the Waratahs’ 16. But this time the NSW team had answers, lifting their defensive pressure in the second quarter to restrict the high-powered Tasmanian attack to just 11 goals from 12 attempts, while scoring 18 of their own to take a 34-32 half-time lead.
The Magpies flicked the switch again in the third quarter, scoring a staggering 23 goals, with NSW managing only 12 to fall behind 46-55. Again the Waratahs came hard in the final term but could get no closer than four goals, with the final scoreline 62-66.
The Waratahs were also missing their main goal shooter Matisse Letherbarrow for this round, as she was away with Australian Schoolgirls team commitments.
What the coaches say
Kate Upton – Tasmanian Magpies
“Coming into the finals we get our group back together and I think that’s going to give us the best possible chance to execute our game plan, because they’re the players we’ve been training with week in and week out.”
“It’s a bit of the unknown (this week) because NSW didn’t have Matisse (Letherbarrow) when we played them … and she’s been a dominant goaler for them. So you’ve just got to take it as a completely different round and not like we’ve played them before.”
“We’re just going to prepare to deliver what we can to the best of our ability, and maybe tweak a few things based on which players are playing, but ultimately we’re going in there focused on what we do really well.”
Colleen Mitchell – NSW Waratahs
“At times (the team has performed) beyond expectations, and that comes down to the mixture of girls. They’re a really tight-knit group of girls and when they see someone struggling they help them along, both on and off the court.”
“We need to capitalise on our turnovers. In both games against Tasmania we lost by four, and in both games we had a lead and then let it slip. It’s maintaining consistency, and that’s one of the things over the last four to five weeks that we’ve been concentrating on. It’s just about cherishing the hard work that we’ve already done.”
The players to watch
Matisse Letherbarrow (GS) – NSW Waratahs
Letherbarrow (above) has been a revelation for the Waratahs. At only 16 years old the youngster has commanded the goal circle with aplomb throughout the entire ANL season, finishing fourth on the goalscoring table and unfazed by the more experienced opposition she’s come up against each week.
Jane Cook (GS) – Tasmanian Magpies
The former Adelaide Thunderbird has been all but unstoppable this season under the post for the Magpies, leading the competition with 442 goals from 506 attempts, despite missing both games in Round 6 with an illness.
The Waratahs will have their hands full trying to contain the 201cm target, and if they can’t, another 50-goal haul could be on the cards.
Kelsie Rainbow (WA/C) – Tasmanian Magpies
Originally from Tasmania, Rainbow (above) has won plaudits from both the Magpies coaches and her opposition this season, with her speed and workrate in the midcourt a key reason why Cook has been able to shine.
Elle Bennetts (WA/C) – NSW Waratahs
A former Victorian Fury member, Bennetts headed north this season to play with the Giants in the AFLW competition, and has slotted into the Waratahs lineup after her football commitments ended. She forms a lethal midcourt combination with Nicole Deegenaars and Sophie Halpin,
Where it’ll be won
Can the Waratahs shut down the supply to Cook? The answer to that question will go a long way to determining the result here.
The key for NSW will be slowing down the Magpies’ midcourt in Kelsie Rainbow and Vanessa Augustini, as once the ball is on the edge of the goal circle it will almost certainly be too late.
Look for NSW’s Halpin and Deegenaars to exert their influence here and attempt to quell Tasmania’s midcourt speed.
Important to note
While both teams have had players from their aligned Suncorp Super Netball franchises (Magpies and Swifts) rotating back into ANL in order to get court time, this weekend it will be ANL athletes and Super Netball training partners only.
The Waratahs have had players such as Kate Eddy, Sophie Garbin and Claire O’Brien take to the ANL court throughout the seven rounds, while Collingwood’s Shae Brown, Alice Teague-Neeld, Matilda Garrett are among those to have pulled on the Tasmanian dress.
But with all ANL semi-finals and the grand final to be played in Canberra, and Super Netball games being played across Australia, there is no opportunity for SSN players to jump across and join the ANL action.