Su­per Netball: Light­ning to face Giants in pre­lim­i­nary fi­nal as Fever win through

The Guardian Australia - - Sport -

De­fend­ing cham­pi­ons Sun­shine Coast Light­ning have sur­vived a spir­ited Queens­land Fire­birds play-off come­back to set up a Su­per Netball pre­lim­i­nary fi­nal show­down with the Giants.

The teams will meet at the Giants’ home court next Sun­day in a re­match of last year’s grand fi­nal af­ter the Light­ning won a bru­tal mi­nor semi-fi­nal 57-56 at the Bris­bane En­ter­tain­ment Cen­tre.

With Aus­tralian coach Lisa Alexan­der tip­ping the win­ner to go all the way to the ti­tle, both sides pro­duced a match wor­thy of the billing on Sun­day af­ter­noon.

The Light­ning led for vir­tu­ally the en­tire match but al­most had their ti­tle de­fence de­railed by a des­per­ate Fire­birds out­fit, who fought back from seven goals down in the fi­nal term.

The home side tied the match with seven min­utes left and had their chances to take the lead but the de­fend­ing cham­pi­ons were more clin­i­cal and com­posed when it mat­tered.

Sun­shine Coast coach Noe­line Tau­rua was over­joyed with the re­sult but ad­mit­ted to feel­ing lucky. “That could have gone ei­ther way,” she said. “Geez, that last 15 min­utes was pretty in­tense and very tor­rid.”

Fire­birds cap­tain Gabi Simp­son lamented not tak­ing their op­por­tu­ni­ties at the death but rated the Light­ning favourites to up­set the Giants again and meet West Coast in the Au­gust 26 grand fi­nal in Perth.

“I think they have a great chance,” she said.

Both Queens­land sides showed their cham­pi­onship cre­den­tials from the out­set, go­ing goal for goal in the open­ing half, high­lighted by bru­tal bat­tles in both goal cir­cles.

Light­ning de­fend­ers Geva Men­tor and Karla Pre­to­rius pro­vided the break by forc­ing two late at­tack­ing turnovers for their side to score the last five goals of the first half for a 31-27 lead.

Fire­birds shooter Romelda Aiken net­ted on the last shot of the half but the buzzer sounded as it was mid-air to deny the goal. It was telling in the fi­nal wash-up.

The vo­cal crowd of 6453 raised the roof in the last term as all play­ers put their bod­ies on the line. Ahead 48-42 at the last change, the Light­ning started to feel the heat as the home side threw ev­ery­thing at them.

The Fire­birds tied the scores when Pre­to­rius threw an er­rant pass but she im­me­di­ately made up for it with a turnover to deny her ri­vals the lead.

The Light­ning were then never headed as Caitlin Bas­sett, who fin­ished with 37 goals from 39 at­tempts, iced her chances and Kelsey Browne was named MVP.

“It wasn’t the most pol­ished per­for­mance but it was sturdy and gritty,” skip­per Men­tor said.

West Coast Fever, mean­while, will host the 2018 Su­per Netball grand fi­nal in Perth af­ter they de­feated the Giants 63-57 in Syd­ney on Satur­day.

West Coast and Su­per Netball’s lead­ing scorer, Jhaniele Fowler, was helped off the court af­ter in­jur­ing her knee in the first quar­ter on Satur­day, mark­ing the first real shift in the game’s mo­men­tum, when an eight-goal Fever lead was re­duced to three.

A heav­ily strapped Fowler wasn’t as mo­bile as she might have liked on her re­turn but she was ac­cu­rate when she had a clean shot at goal, claim­ing 48 goals from 48 at­tempts. The dom­i­nant shooter – re­spon­si­ble for more 90 per cent of Fever’s reg­u­lar-sea­son goals – was not con­cerned about the pos­si­bil­ity of se­ri­ous in­jury.

“I’m all good,” Fowler said. “I’m just go­ing to go back home and re­cover and do all I need to do to be ready for a home grand fi­nal.”

Fever goal keeper Court­ney Bruce and goal de­fence Stacey Fran­cis frus­trated the Giants at the other end. Six in­ter­cepts from Bruce and strong body po­si­tion­ing saw goal at­tack Jo Harten (33 from 38 at­tempts) and goal shooter Su­san Pet­titt (24/30) hit the floor a num­ber of times.

The Giants re­fused to give up, com­plet­ing a five-goal run just be­fore half­time to threaten the Fever’s dom­i­nance be­fore be­ing ground back down to eight be­hind mid­way through the third pe­riod.

The seven-goal run from Giants that fol­lowed would see them just a sin­gle goal away from ty­ing up the game as they headed into the fi­nal quar­ter, but Fever con­trolled the Quay­cen­tre clash un­til the fi­nal whis­tle.

Pet­titt ac­knowl­edged they didn’t take full ad­van­tage of a home court and the chances they were granted through­out.

“I just don’t think we cap­i­talised when [Fowler] was off the court,” Pet­titt said. “I think we were a bit too wor­ried about the out­come. It was hard to keep that mo­men­tum – I just think we did silly things, or got a bit scared of tak­ing them on.”

The sil­ver lining is the Giants host the pre­lim­i­nary fi­nal at the big­ger Qu­dos Bank Arena next week­end.

“It’s good we’re at home – it’s bet­ter than to be on the road, but we’ve made it hard for our­selves,” Pet­titt said. PRE­LIM­I­NARY FI­NAL

Sun­day, Au­gust 19: Giants v Sun­shine Coast Light­ning at Qu­dos Bank Arena, Syd­ney

Head-to-head this year: April 29 – Giants 54 bt Light­ning 51 at Qu­dos Bank Arena; June 23 – Light­ning 53 drew with Giants 53 at USC Sta­dium

Bradley Ka­naris/Getty Images Pho­to­graph:

The Sun­shine Coast Light­ning will play the Giants next week in the semi-fi­nal.

Bren­don Thorne/AAP Pho­to­graph:

Joanne Harten of the Giants con­tests theball with Stacey Fran­cis of the Fever.

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