A watershed win, two one-goal thrillers and only one game decided by more than eight goals.
It was a thrilling weekend of netball in Round 4 of the Australian Netball League, with close calls and surprise results across the board.
Territory Storm v Southern Force
The challenges that the Northern Territory faces at a national netball level each year are no secret.
A smaller talent pool and a constant exodus of their best athletes for study, work and other opportunities makes life for NT netball teams increasingly difficult when they come up against the bigger and better resourced states.
Case in point: it had been so long since Territory Storm won an Australian Netball League game that when coach Penny Shearer and Netball NT Executive Officer Shelley Haynes were chatting on the plane home from the Sunshine Coast on Sunday, no one could remember when that last win was.
Turns out the last victory came in 2012, when the team managed to win two games in a row, before enduring six years of torment, including the 2016 season when they didn’t field a team.
But the long wait ended in spectacular fashion on Saturday, when the Storm defeated Southern Force in a one-goal thriller that those who experienced it will never forget.
What made it all the more special was the manner in which the victory came, with the Storm down early, grabbing the lead in the second and third quarters and then grimly clinging to their advantage amid a withering 19-goal final-quarter burst from the Force that almost killed off the dream result for the underdogs.
For Shearer, who said before this year’s eight-week ANL tournament that the Storm were focused on just trying to win quarters, rather than concerning themselves with registering wins, it was a special moment for the players and for netball in their state.
“It was super exciting. A bit of a heartstopper though,” she said.
“It just goes to show they had lots of fight and they remained composed enough to finish it off.”
Down 12-14 at quarter-time, the Storm moved wing defence Jacqui Russell to centre and brought Bethany Fry on at wing defence, while switching goalers Binnian Hunt (12 goals from 17 attempts) and Cara Koenen (37 from 43), with immediate results, holding Southern Force to nine goals in the second quarter to take a four-goal lead at half-time.
They maintained their four-goal edge in the third quarter and pushed it to five early in the final 15 minutes, before the Force came storming home, with goal shooter Asha Thurlow netting almost half of her 28 goals in the last quarter alone.
The Storm refused to lie down, however, and scratched together 16 goals in the final term to hang on by the slimmest of margins.
The Storm, playing on the Sunshine Coast after partner team Sunshine Coast Lightning’s game against Adelaide Thunderbirds, welcomed Lightning stars Erena Mikaere, Koenen and Jacqui Russell into their line-up for Saturday’s game, which Shearer said presented both advantages and challenges for her team.
“I think it probably helped that the weekend before against Tassie we had an opportunity to put some of the (Lightning) girls on court with us. It probably took us a good half (this weekend) for that to start clicking again,” she said.
“Everyone can say, ‘Yeah, they won, they had Lightning players, but we’ve still got to manage to make it work on court in a seven-person team sport.”
The next task for the Storm was to replicate their watershed performance in Sunday’s return clash, but the Force were on a mission from the outset and collected an easy win, 68-46.
“We really wanted the girls to be able to back it up,” Shearer said. “They wanted to as well, but the ‘want’ and the ‘doing’ are two different things, and they really struggled the next day. There were a lot of errors in our own game on Sunday, which we’ll look to rectify this week.”
The Storm face the second-placed Victorian Fury this weekend, while the Force play against NNSW Waratahs.
Tasmanian Magpies v NNSW Waratahs
The Tasmanian Magpies underlined their status as ANL favourites with a pair of four-goal victories against the resurgent NNSW Waratahs.
The Waratahs used all 12 players throughout a tough contest on Saturday in a bid to wear down the Magpies, who sat atop the ANL table coming into Round 4, but the Magpies slowly built their lead through the second and third quarters to lead by nine at three-quarter time.
NNSW came hard in the final quarter to narrow the gap, but with Magpies shooter Jane Cook again a force with 51 goals from 56 attempts – including 11 from 11 in the final quarter – the Tasmanian side held on to win 58-54.
The Magpies were again too good in a rollercoaster contest on Sunday, with the lead changing hands constantly throughout.
Tasmania was quick out of the blocks, piling on 21 goals in the first quarter to establish a 21-16 lead. The Waratahs then responded in kind, with an 18-11 second quarter handing them a two-goal lead. But the half-time break halted the Waratahs’ momentum, with the Magpies sending home 23 goals from 25 attempts in the third quarter to turn the game on its head.
A nine-goal deficit was again too tall an order for the Waratahs, who won the final quarter 16-11 but suffered their second loss of the weekend, 66-62.
Queensland Fusion v Western Sting
Defending champions Western Sting are clinging to a spot in the top four after splitting the points against Queensland Fusion in their two games in Round 4.
Fusion were too strong in front of their home crowd on Saturday, taking an 18-8 lead in the first quarter and never relinquishing it.
The Sting, trailing 21-30 at half-time, seized the momentum in the third quarter to put themselves within touching distance of Fusion, 35-40, but managed only five goals to Queensland’s seven in the final quarter in what became a defensive tug-of-war. Fusion did just enough to wrap up the win 47-40.
The WA side turned the tables in game two on Sunday to win 49-48, but were forced to do it the hard way – trailing at both quarter-time and half-time before levelling the scores 37-37 at the final change.
From there the Sting were able to generate more scoring opportunities, with their 12 goals from 17 attempts enough to scrape home by goal against Fusion, who netted 11 from 15.
Canberra GIANTS v Victorian Fury
The Victorian Fury looked like picking up where they’d left off last weekend – having secured two wins against Southern Force – when they took on Canberra GIANTS on Saturday, rolling to a 17-10 lead at quarter-time.
But Fury’s lead evaporated in the second quarter as Giants goalers Georgia Marshall (38 goals from 46 attempts) and Beryl Friday (14 from 15) combined for a perfect 21 from 21 to slice the visitors’ advantage to just one goal.
A few changes swung the game back in Victoria’s favour in the third, pushing their lead back out to four goals, with goal shooter and Melbourne Vixens training partner Rahni Samason again too strong when it counted, finishing with 49 goals from 54 attempts as the Fury won 61-53.
It was a tale of two halves on Sunday, with the Giants on song early, scoring 17 goals to 14 in the first quarter and then boosting the margin to eight goals – 36-28 – by half-time.
But 15 minutes of netball was enough for the deep Fury lineup to turn things around, winning the third quarter 18-8 to take a two-goal lead into the last quarter of the weekend. From there it was all Victoria as they restricted the Giants to 10 goals in the fourth quarter to shore up a 61-54 result.