April Brandley defends as Helen Housby shoots.

April Brandley defends as Helen Housby shoots. Image: Dani Brown

The Giants had the tactical plan to beat the West Coast Fever, but a tweak will be required to slow down Helen Housby and the NSW Swifts in the Grand Final.

The Giants last week dominated the West Coast Fever in the Preliminary Final of the 2021 Suncorp Super Netball Season. Even though the final result was only three goals, the Giants dominated for most of the match, leading by 10-11 goals for most of the way, and only a late flurry of shots made the scoreline flattering for the Fever.

The key to the Giants last week was upsetting Jhaniele Fowler, one of the most dominant goal shooters in the world. The Giants managed the task pretty successfully, keeping Fowler to a season-low 37 goals.

While Sam Poolman, Fowler’s direct opponent for the afternoon got the accolades for her brilliant performance, and rightly so, it was a combined team effort.

Poolman had more gains against the Fever than in her previous games this season and had her lowest tally for contact penalties on the day. While the gains are the fun stat, the fact that she kept her contact penalties to just three meant that she had a hand over Fowler almost every single time she went to shoot.

The importance of being in play and not giving away easy shots is never overstated, but the most interesting stat as a differential was further up the court. Amy Parmenter had fewer contact penalties than in the previous matches against the Fever as well, and this was part of the key to victory.

PlayerContacts – Round 5Gains – Round 5Contacts – Round 14Gains – Round 14Contacts – Preliminary FinalGains – Preliminary Final
Sam Poolman1118032
Amy Parmenter1229246

The Giants also managed to force Alice Teague-Neeld to be on the receiving end of the centre pass and be the first phase of play. In the first match against the Fever, Emma Cosh and Verity Charles were responsible for the vast majority of the centre pass receives (CPRs).

In the second match, when the Giants won, Sasha Glasgow, who played goal attack for the Fever that day was responsible for the vast majority of CPRs. The pattern was the same the second time the Giants won, as Teague-Neeld was the team leader for CPRs.

PlayerCPRs – Round 5CPRs – Round 14CPRs – Preliminary Final
Charles (WA)181914
Cosh (WA)1238
Total WA302222
Glasgow/Teague-Neeld (GA)182420

In forcing the goal attack to be the CPR, the Giants ensured that the goal attack would be the player responsible for passing the ball across the transverse line, and more likely to force an extra pass through the attacking third. Every extra pass is a chance to be deflected and turned over.

The other benefit is that it allows the wing defence, Parmenter, to defend that pass, and ensure that the goal defence can be more settled in the circle, and can wait for the arrival of the goal attack later. It also allows the defence to congest the area, and particularly the goal circle to slow the ball movement.

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This is part of where the Fever and the Swifts present different challenges. While the Fever attack revolves around Jhaniele Fowler, the Swifts have subbed off Sam Wallace at times this season, and don’t have the same focus on the goal shooter.

Instead, their methodical play, particularly in the attacking half, revolves around the movement, passing, and misdirection of Helen Housby, the goal attack.

While the strategy was effective against the Fever, the Giants will have to adapt against the Swifts. Turnovers will be key this weekend, and particularly Helen Housby’s turnovers.

Housby’s turnover numbers reflect this challenge and will be one of the key indicators for the weekend. If the Giants are getting on top, it’s likely that the Swifts’ key playmaker, Housby, will have been turning the ball over.

Helen Housby will be the key player this weekend, and the Giants will be set on slowing her down
Helen Housby will be the key player this weekend, and the Giants will be set on slowing her down. Image: Dani Brown

In the three matches this season against the Giants, Helen Housby has had one, five, and three turnovers respectively. When the count has been low, the Swifts have beaten the Giants. The Giants forced two turnovers from Housby in the final quarter of the semi-final, as they made their charge and five in Round 11 when the Giants beat the Swifts.

For the Giants to win, forcing Housby into turnovers will be key. Although Sam Wallace is considered to be one of the best shooters in the world, she’s not the same as Fowler. Wallace is more mobile and more prepared to get out of the circle.

In Round 11, while Brandley didn’t have any gains or intercepts, she had four deflections. Poolman had four deflections, but the circle combined for eight gains, as Poolman capitalised on Brandley’s work.

In the semi-final, the defensive circle of Brandley, Poolman, and McDonell, who rotated on in the second half, had two different halves, as reflected in the game. In the first and fourth quarter, the Giants’ defenders combined for three gains and one deflection total. In the second and third, it was four gains and four deflections.  

While the gains are not all that different, the ability to disrupt the Swifts’ feeding channel was again key. And as the Swifts were kept to 15 points or fewer in each of the final three quarters, their efficiency was particularly low, and in the final quarter, they forced two intercepts of Housby directly.

She had a single turnover in Round 6, with five in Round 11 and three in the semi-final. The more the Giants can force her passing across the transverse line, and into Sam Wallace for the goal circle into turnovers, the better for the Giants.

The success indicators for the Giants this week will also be deflections and CPRs, but almost in reverse. While throughout the season, Amy Parmenter has been prolific in deflections, with the focus on Helen Housby, the key to success is with April Brandley.

April Brandley will be tasked with slowing down Helen Housby this weekend
April Brandley will be tasked with slowing down Helen Housby this weekend. Image: Dani Brown

When Brandley and Poolman have had more gains, the Giants have performed better against the Swifts. This is hardly ground-breaking, but the reason for its importance is stark.

In Round 6, when the Giants were thumped by the Swifts, the Giants’ defensive third (and Jamie-Lee Price) combined for eight gains. The problem was, Price had four of those, and Parmenter added another two.

While the actual gain number was high, it showed that once the ball crossed the transverse line, the Giants struggled to stop it.

PlayerGains – Round 6Gains – Round 11Gains – Semi-Final
Sam Poolman183
April Brandley003
Amy Parmenter130
Jamie-Lee Price412
Tilly McDonell1DNP1

In Round 11, when the Giants beat the Swifts, the same players combined for twelve gains, with Poolman pulling in eight of those.

In the semi-final, the same group combined for nine gains, with Poolman and Brandley having three each, and Tilly McDonell, who came on for Poolman adding another. That day, the Giants pushed the Swifts to the very edge, and it was on the back of the disruption in the defensive third.

The same applies for CPRs. Housby was fifth in the regular season for CPRs across the competition with 256. It’s just slightly shy of the combined total for the next best two Swifts, in Hadley and Natalie Haythornthwaite, who had 134 and 127 respectively, totalling 261.

In Round 6, when the Swifts dominated, Helen Housby had more CPRs than the rest of the attacking group combined. She had 27, while Paige Hadley, Tayla Fraser and Sophie Garbin combined for 24.

In Round 11, Housby led the Swifts with 22 CPRs, but Hadley had 21, and Fraser and Garbin combined for another six.

In the semi-final, in the first and final quarters, when the Swifts won or tied the quarter, Housby had 13 of the 27 available CPRs. In the second and third quarters, where the Giants won, Housby had three of the 25 CPRs.

PlayerCPRs – Round 6CPRs – Round 11CPRs – Semi-Final (Q1 & 4)CPRs – Semi-Final (C2 & 3)
Haythornthwaite /Fraser21422

Housby’s importance to the Swifts cannot be overstated, and with their notoriously patient passing game, it allows her to direct traffic and be a major playmaker.

And herein lies the Giants challenge for the weekend.

If they can force the ball out of Helen Housby’s hands at the centre pass, they have a stronger chance of forcing the Swifts to play slower, simply because there is an extra pair of players crowding either the goal circle, or the circle edge.

Sam Wallace struggles for space with Sam Poolman and April Brandley defending
Sam Wallace struggles for space with Sam Poolman and April Brandley defending. Image: Dani Brown

The more that the goal circle, and the circle edge is crowded, the harder it is to find an easy passage for the feed to Sam Wallace. Where the Giants can force the Swifts to throw into a congested circle, they’ll be able to slow the Swifts scoring.

A big part of forcing the congested circle is forcing the midcourters of the Swifts to make the feeds because Housby is likely to be inside the circle already in that event.

When the Giants have been able to force the feeds to come from Hadley and Maddy Proud, the conversion of feeds into goal assists has been telling in matches against the Giants.

PlayerAssist Percentage – Round 6Assist Percentage – Round 11Assist Percentage – Semi-Final

In Round 6, Housby turned 95 per cent of her feeds into goal assists. Haythornthwaite converted 66 per cent of her feeds into goal assists, and Proud was just below 65 per cent.

In Round 11, Housby was working at 56 per cent, while Hadley was the same, and Proud was at 46 per cent. In the semi-final, Housby was assisting on 76 per cent of her feeds. Proud was at 64 per cent, while Hadley was below 50 per cent.

In essence, where the Giants force the feeding role to Hadley, Haythornthwaite, and Proud, they convert at a lower rate. While it seems counterintuitive, the more ball that can be forced into the hands of the Diamonds’ midcourters, rather than the Swifts’ star English goal attack, the less efficient the Swifts are.

Maddy Proud (L) and Paige Hadley will have to find a way not to be slowed down by the Giants.
Maddy Proud (L) and Paige Hadley will have to find a way not to be slowed down by the Giants. Image: Dani Brown

While the prospect of completely shutting out one of the best goal attacks in the game, for an entire game, is unlikely, the semi-final showed how much even a quarter or two of dominance can do.

For the Swifts to win this weekend, it’s likely that a big part of that will be the success of Housby. For the Giants, it’s an equally simple proposition. Slow her down, win the game.

The trick will be who actually manages to execute that plan. We know the numbers that will reflect the result. The question is simply, what does the result look like?

The Suncorp Super Netball Grand Final between the NSW Swifts and the Giants starts 2:30pm on Saturday.

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