Adelaide Thunderbirds Mid-Season Review: There’s work to do

Maisie Nankivell passing
Adelaide Thunderbirds vice-captain Maisie Nankivell in action. (Photo: Adelaide Thunderbirds/Twitter)

As the Super Netball enters the bye round, it’s time for the Adelaide Thunderbirds mid-season review.

The Thunderbirds currently sit a disappointing seventh on the Super Netball standings. After six losses and two wins, there is ample room for them to grow in the second half of the season.

Thunderbirds fans were feeling a sense of deja vu, the team starting with five losses – the fifth by just one goal, as the team seemingly forgot how to win. Two wins in a row then saw much more positivity around the development of this squad.

Dealt a reality check by the Giants before the bye, how has Adelaide faired and what’s to come in season 2021?

What’s worked?

Sterling’s defensive quartet. Shamera Sterling has continued to rule the defensive end for the Thunderbirds, taking intercepts and blocking shots, and even added the team rev-up to her repertoire.

Her defensive team looks a little different this year, but she has gelled quickly with young star Matilda Garrett. Garrett moved across from the Collingwood Magpies this season, making her mark at goal defence with Sterling in keeper.

Also agile in defence are international stars Shadine van der Merwe and Latanya Wilson. Both offer something different at wing defence or goal defence when required, and have been injected into the game with great effect.

What hasn’t worked?

An unsettled seven. Early in the season, head coach Tania Obst was putting match officials to the test with her rolling substitutions. At times this has been to the detriment of team cohesion, as combinations are given little time to gel on court. 

In the opening four rounds, the Thunderbirds averaged 22 substitutions per match. The following week, in a one-goal loss to the Lightning, they made just six changes. For the wins against the Vixens and Swifts, Adelaide made 18 and 14 substitutions respectively.  

There’s a difference between keeping the opposition on their toes and having your own players guessing. Obst needs to find the balance between the two. 

Season Highlight

Round 7 victory over the NSW Swifts. In front of a healthy home crowd on a Saturday night at the Adelaide Entertainment Centre, the Thunderbirds pulled off a brilliant win over top four contenders the Swifts.

This was the more impressive victory in Adelaide’s short-lived winning streak of two matches. Adelaide had been building to success with strong patches, but finally got a six goal victory against the Melbourne Vixens in Round 6.

Against the Swifts Sterling starred again, leading brilliantly from defence with vice-captain Van Der Merwe.

Season Lowlight

Giant losses. A 14 goal loss in Round 1 and a 16 goal loss in Round 8, both at the hands of the Giants, were far from Adelaide’s best performances.

The Giants have been one of the best teams in the competition this season, but the issue with these losses is greater than the opponent.

Throw in an 11 goal loss to the Queensland Firebirds and an eight goal loss to the West Coast Fever, and Adelaide has shown a habit of letting games go.

Letting margins blow out in the opening quarter has become a problem for the Thunderbirds, as has closing out games. There’s room for improvement in the second-half of the season.

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Moving Forward

After a slow start, their first win coming in Round 6, the Adelaide Thunderbirds will be after some more success in the back half of the season.

Obst is looking for greater consistency across the four quarters, and her players need to provide it.

The greatest improvement needs to come from the attacking end. In the mid court, Maisie Nankivell and Hannah Petty are going solid, with sparks from Elle McDonald.

However, connection through to the goal circle is lacking, confidence on the feed has been low and there have been too many turnovers. Offensively, Adelaide needs to lift.

There is potential for this side to steal a few wins in their last six games, but it’ll take four quarter efforts and greater connection on transition to ruffle the feathers of the top four sides.

Predicted finish

Seventh. It’ll be another season where the Thunderbirds don’t feature in Super Netball finals. They will fail to make the top four, once again looking on from the outer come August. 

The Thunderbirds still have their bottom four friends – the Firebirds, Collingwood and Vixens – to play again in the second half of the season, and all at Netball SA Stadium.

Every win will be progress as a team, keeping them above the wooden spoon placing. 

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