One player is laying claim to being the best in the world as the race for the Super Netball finals heats up in the second half of the season.
The Super Netball season is past its halfway point and the finals race is still wide open.
The emergence of the league’s dark horse, a star becoming the “best in the world” and a captain left bloodied — here are the talking points as we turn our attention to Round 9 this weekend.
Watch Suncorp Super Netball on Kayo. Every game of every round LIVE. New to Kayo? Try 14-days free now >
Finals race is still ‘anyone’s game’
All eight teams still have a chance of making the top four, such is the congestion on the ladder.
The bottom four teams are remarkably all equal on 12 points, meaning wins are ultra valuable and can catapult a team into the top four.
Former Australian Diamonds captain turned Fox Netball and Kayo commentator Laura Geitz believes West Coast Fever and Melbourne Vixens are locks for finals, but the two other spots are well and truly up for grabs.
“Fever are obviously continuing on their merry way, probably doing everything right to be minor premiers at the end of the rounds,” Geitz told news.com.au.
“The top four, you just don’t know. Apart from maybe Vixens and Fever being there, those last two positions could be anyone’s. It’s so congested and just so unknown, it could be anyone.
Results have been hard to predict in an unpredictable season that continues to throw up plenty of upsets and thrilling finishes each weekend.
Geitz also believes the Queensland Firebirds will join the Fever and Vixens in the finals, but the Sunshine Coast Lightning are likely out of the running.
That leaves Collingwood Magpies, Giants, Adelaide Thunderbirds and NSW Swifts all battling it out for the remaining finals spot.
“That’s the thing, it can change every week,” Geitz said.
“I’m still going to run with the Firebirds because I think realistically they had their opportunities against Vixens (in Round 8). They could have won. I’ve got them in the top four still.”
‘Dangerous’ dark horse looming
The Thunderbirds claimed an “outstanding” win over Lightning in Round 8 and Geitz believes they are the competition’s wildcards and is backing them in to make their first ever Super Netball finals series.
“I’d actually love to see the Thunderbirds in the top four,” she said.
“The biggest thing about Thunderbirds is if they can convert the ball that they are winning, which they did better the other night against the Lightning, if they can somehow squeeze their way into the top four, they’re really dangerous. They’re really, really dangerous.
“If they address that midcourt and just the general play turnover in the midcourt and down in their attack end. The ability of (Tayla) Wilson, (Shamera) Sterling, (Matilda) Garrett and even (Hannah) Petty — they’re just winning so much ball it’s unbelievable, like outstanding.
“It’s more who I’d love to see there because T’Birds have never made finals in Super Netball history and you always say once you hit that top four anything can happen.
“I think if they can get there and convert the gained ball, they’re just an exciting prospect for fans to watch in that situation. And I love Tanya Obst and what she does with them as a coach. She she’s sensational. So I’m going to go Thunderbirds.”
Gun defend ‘the best in the world’
Geitz is all aboard the Thunderbirds bandwagon largely because of their defense, led by star goal keeper Shamera Sterling.
The Jamaican defender had a day out against the Lightning, reeling in intercepts and turnovers at will.
Geitz was seriously impressed by Sterling’s ability to stifle Steph Wood and Cara Koenen’s tricky moving circle combination — which involves the goal shooter coming out of the circle and working in tandem with the goal attack to orchestrate circle feeds that are more unpredictable for defenders to read.
The legendary former goal keeper was so was blown away by Sterling’s improvement and versatility she believes the Thunderbird is arguably the best GK in the world at the moment.
“Shamera’s strengths are her athleticism and her ability to contest the high ball and her vertical jump,” Geitz said.
“Then all of a sudden you put her on a moving circle, she has to adapt again in terms of being able to utilize her footwork to come around the body.
“I said if she can have an impact on this moving circle on Koenen, who exposed the baseline, with a Steph Wood out the front, who is one of the smartest playmakers in the competition, then I would go as far as saying absolutely Shamera Sterling is the best goalkeeper potentially in the world.
“(West Coast Fever’s) Courtney Bruce has been strong, she’s amazing. But the other night Shamera Sterling got player of the match on a moving circle.
“A couple of seasons ago she (Sterling) was a good player that played well on a holding shooter. But what we’re seeing this season is an outstanding ball-winning exciting goal keeper who can play not just on a holding shooter but on a moving circle.
“Her ability to win ball, like you watch her and go what is she going to do this time? Is she going to win the ball with a rejection over a shot? Is she going to get a clean intercept? Is she going to come around the body and get fingers to tips.
“She’s amazing. Ella she’s outstanding and just such an exciting player to watch. Ella she’s an entertainer. I was just absolutely blown away with her the other night.”
Captain bloodied after head clash
The Thunderbirds take on the NSW Swifts on Sunday afternoon and despite the closeness of the ladder, the team that loses could well be out of the finals race.
Swifts co-captain Paige Hadley had blood dripping from her face after an innocuous head clash with the Giants’ Lauren Moore in last weekend’s NSW derby.
Hadley spent most of the last quarter off the court receiving medical attention but will be fine to play this weekend.
Moore posted a photo of the accident on Instagram and could see the funny side of the collision.
“Just @paigehadley informing me my tooth’s lodged in her forehand.”
Round 9 Super Netball games
Sunshine Coast Lightning vs West Coast Fever — Saturday 5pm AEST
Giants vs Melbourne Vixens — Saturday 7pm AEST
Collingwood Magpies vs Queensland Firebirds — Sunday 2pm AEST
NSW Swifts vs Adelaide Thunderbirds — Sunday 4pm AEST