The Collingwood Magpies charged home to miss finals, but caused plenty of upsets at the top along the way. (Photo: Collingwood Magpies)

The signs were strong early in the 2021 Super Netball season for the Magpies, and with the future looking stable and a strong finish, there's excitement aplenty at Collingwood.

Collingwood had to bounce back from a wooden spoon performance in 2020. While it couldn’t return to finals, the signs showed at the back end of the season should have fans more optimistic than ever.

A wide range of departures across the end of 2019 and 2020 were still being felt coming into this season.

Kimiora Poi, Kim Ravaillion, Nat Medhurst, Matilda Garrett and April Brandley all departed from the side that lost to the Vixens in the 2019 minor semi final across the span of 18 months.

In addition to that, senior coach Rob Wright was not offered a new contract in what was a tumultuous period for the club.

Nicole Richardson has well and truly righted the ship, and seems to be the coach of choice for the Magpies near future. Impressive victories, rising stars, veteran returns and major upsets gave plenty for Pies fans to enjoy.

The Inner Sanctum explores Collingwood’s 2021 Super Netball season, in review.

What worked?

Dynamic play. The connection between the mid court and shooters was one of the most exciting aspects of the Magpies’ play when they got going.

Molly Jovic, Kelsey Browne and Ash Brazill have struck up an incredible partnership as a trio in such a short amount of time. While Browne and Brazill played together in 2019, and Jovic and Browne played together in 2020, this was the first year the three were working in tandem.

Jovic’s consistency and willingness to trust in Browne complement’s Browne’s penchant for short, sharp circle edge feeds perfectly. When Browne is getting more attention from her opposing wing defence, Jovic is no slouch either, with 265 feeds and 167 assists for the year.

The two work reliably when they’re needed to defend as well, combining for 16 intercepts and 30 deflections.

Brazill then, at her disruptive best, keeps opposition mid courters out of the hair of her teammates who are able to be more damaging with ball in hand. It’s unselfish play, and the way the three work for each other makes life easier for every other player on the court.

The Magpies mid-courters and shooters formed a strong connection in 2021. (Photo: Collingwood Magpies)

Shooters benefit. Shimona Nelson constantly drew the praise of commentators, fans and media alike throughout the season. Richardson wouldn’t be doubting for a second that her strong season wasn’t off the back of the feeds coming directly to her in the circle.

The goaler finished the year with 614 goals and 34 rebounds to her name. This included a personal best of 69 goals in the win over the Swifts, notching up 2000 total Super Netball goals in the early minutes at just 22-years-old.

Gabby Sinclair, one of the feel-good stories of the Pies’ side, has also benefitted from the improved connection between the mid-courts. Often pushing up past the transverse line, she would regularly take either the second most or most centre pass receives of any Magpie each week.

Her high up the court playstyle allows her to also do plenty of the feeding herself to the damaging Nelson. Sinclair was still a scoring threat as well, finishing the season with 132 goals and 28 Super Shots.

What didn’t?

Defenders exposed. While the Magpies managed to make use of their strong mid-court throughout the season, there was one clear weakness.

Collingwood gave up the highest score of anyone in 2021, with an average of 63 points scored by its opponents. The West Coast Fever (times two), Sunshine Coast Lightning (times two), Queensland Firebirds and Giants Netball all scored 65 points or more against Collingwood through the year.

Jodi-Ann Ward is an excellent defender, not many would argue that. She’s highly aggressive, and uses her pace and agility to work out of the circle in a way that not many defenders can.

Throughout the season, she’s managed 83 deflections, 34 intercepts and 17 rebounds.

However, in her second season of Super Netball, her height has been exposed. Standing at just 178cm, Ward often finds herself matched up against significantly taller opponents.

Tall shooters can’t match Ward’s pace, but when she’s put in a body-on-body situation in the circle, she suffers more often than not.

The Round 13 match against the Queensland Firebirds saw the likes of Gretel Bueta and Romelda Aiken utilise their size to completely nullify any advantage Ward might hold. It left Geva Mentor copping the brunt of the work, often finding herself matched two-on-one.

When Ward can get released into wing defence, the side seemed to find a better balance down back. However, with the end of Mentor’s career fast-approaching, there’s a serious need to find more height for the Collingwood defence.

Season highlight

Collingwood’s run home was one of the best of any team in the Super Netball competition. At the very least, the best of those who didn’t make finals.

In three consecutive matches the Pies won a thriller over Victorian rivals the Vixens, did away handily with title contenders the NSW Swifts, and ended the Queensland Firebirds finals hopes.

At the end of three games, the side’s finals hopes were well and truly alive. They were soon ended by the West Coast Fever, but it couldn’t take away from the Pies remarkable run home.

Double derby domination. After a lean 2020 season which saw Collingwood win just a single game, revenge was sweet over Melbourne rivals in the Vixens this year.

The first match up in Round 7, despite being relocated to Sydney, was a complete show of domination by the Magpies.

It was a tied first quarter 15-15, but it was all Collingwood from there on out. A 36-25 second half all but put the stake through Vixens hearts. Sinclair and Nelson were beginning to form a strong connection, while Mentor and Ward put in a strong defensive performance.

The Round 11 match up was a tighter affair, Collingwood winning 52-48. What was pleasing to see in this match though for Richardson, was her side’s ability to adapt and come back from a deficit.

Trailing by two goals at half time, Jovic and Browne switched bibs while Nelson worked on a clear plan outlined by her coach in a crucial time-out.

The Collingwood seven was mostly settled, but to watch them adapt in a high pressure game late in the season was a sure sign of things to come.

More Netball News

Adelaide Thunderbirds Season Review: Mixed results end in seventh

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The future is bright for Australian netball through Diamonds and development squad

Season lowlight

No cure for the Fever. Both matches against the West Coast Fever for the season were some of the worst for Collingwood all year long.

Mentor and Ward had absolutely no answer for Fever star shooter Jhaniele Fowler, as she cruised her way to 59 goals at 98.3% efficiency. The same happened in the second game, Fowler finishing with 62 goals at 93.6%. More importantly, she exposed Mentor even when she missed, with six offensive rebounds.

Star defender Courtney Bruce blanketed Nelson, keeping her to a relatively low 40 goals while having a massive game of her own with 11 intercepts, 10 deflections and five gains.

Both games were 20+ goal smashings that the Pies would be keen to quickly forget. Even at their worst in 2020, they still only lost to the Fever by 15 goals at the most.

Team MVP

Kelsey Browne. Back at her best in a full, uninterrupted season, Browne is our selection for most valuable player.

It was a very, very hard one to pick. Brazill, Mentor, Jovic and many more all had cases to make for this category. However, there aren’t many players who epitomised the Pies at their best like Browne in 2021.

Jovic and Browne worked remarkably in tandem as the C/WA combination, Browne finishing the season with 267 centre pass receives and 254 assists.

Every mid-courter for Collingwood could be classed as trustworthy with ball in hand, but Browne found her niche. While she could sometimes be too overzealous with the long pass, her sharp and blisteringly fast circle edge feeds couldn’t have been any better for the shooters.

The only notable area lacking in her game was her defensive capabilities, but Brazill, Jovic and Ward more than made up for this at various points.

She was dynamic, she worked incredibly hard across the court, and she deservedly takes out the honours for 2021.

Rising Star

Who else but Jovic? Jovic may be 25, but the 2021 season was her first full season at Super Netball level.

She worked her way up through the Australian Netball League, playing for both Vic Fury and the Tasmanian Magpies for three years as she completed her Super Netball apprenticeship.

Jovic joined the Magpies in 2020 as a replacement player for the injured Brazill, but she’s well and truly the first option in centre now.

Her decision-making and workrate is as good as any other mid-courter in the league. She finished the season with 265 feeds, 167 assists, 11 intercepts, 23 deflections off of 13 games.

Jovic suffered a brief set-back, missing the Round 2 match against the Giants. It was a brief blip in an otherwise outstanding season for the ever-rising mid-courter.

What was even more impressive was her ability to come back firing early after missing a match.

Jovic was pivotal in the win over the Thunderbirds, finishing with 29 feeds, 17 assists, three gains, three deflections and an intercept. That ability to never miss a beat has kept Jovic in good stead all year round in trying circumstances.

Moving forward

The recent announcement of the re-signing of head coach Nicole Richardson for two more years adds some much needed stability to the Collingwood side. It’s a level of assuredness in the club’s future that hasn’t really been seen in their existence yet.

As with every other team, however, every player’s contract is set to lapse come the end of the finals series.

If the Pies can keep the core of the side together for 2022, finals should be the aim. They showed this season that they can match it with the best sides (aside from being blown out twice by the Fever).

Brazill makes her return to the Diamonds squad, but was unfortunately the only Magpie selected. This shouldn’t discourage Richardson or her team, with sure signs that there is plenty of talent as a unit.

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