The NSW Swifts celebrate winning the grand final.

The NSW Swifts celebrate winning the grand final. (Image: Helen Housby/Twitter)

The NSW Swifts celebrated their 25th season in style, as they won their seventh championship in their anniversary year.

The NSW Swifts were on the road for more than half the season in the end. Despite being away from home, and with a few other challenges thrown in, the Swifts came away from the grand final as the 2021 Suncorp Super Netball premiers.

In a celebratory year, with milestones for the Club (25 years), head coach Briony Akle (50 games coached), and captain Maddy Proud (100 games), there was plenty to cheer about throughout the year, and it was even more so on the final day of the year.

Despite the challenges of the year, the Swifts maintained their high level of excellence throughout, and were in the upper echelon of the competition all year.

What Worked?

The acquisition of Bec Bulley. Bulley came across from the Giants to assist Akle this year. In her first year in the role, her input on the defensive end for the Swifts was immediately noticeable. Sarah Klau and Maddy Turner were the second-best defensive pair all season, conceding fewer goals than all but one other team.

Bulley, who was a defensive star herself as a player, spent 2019 and 2020 as the Giants development coach, assisting players like Amy Parmenter and Maddie Hay to grow into the stars they have become. Her penchant for athlete development was on show with the experienced duo, who took their game, and the chemistry to another level this year.

All season, Klau and Turner worked together, forcing opposition teams into lesser performances, and holding down star shooters across the league. The duo had particularly dominant performances against the Firebirds in Round 1, the Giants in Round 6 and the Fever in Round 9, but were consistent all season.

Sarah Klau lifts Maddy Turner as they attempt to block Sophie Dwyer shooting in Round 11.
Sarah Klau lifts Maddy Turner as they attempt to block Sophie Dwyer shooting in Round 11. (Image: Dani Brown)

Klau was fourth across the competition for defensive rebounds and deflections, and third for intercepts, as she particularly terrorised opposing teams. After her performances for the Diamonds previously, she has put herself well and truly in the frame for a return to the goal keeper bib for the national team.

The final masterpiece was the grand final defensive performance, shutting down Sophie Dwyer and the Giants attack to seal the premiership.

What Didn’t?

Not much. In a season that ends in a premiership, any real issues come as nit-picking.

The Swifts at times struggled with consistency, winning three games in a row in two stretches, but otherwise dropping games to lowly ranked teams at inopportune moments.

For the most part, they struggled in fourth quarters, but most of the time that that was an issue, the game had already been won and the Swifts could afford to relax a little bit, and take their foot off the gas.

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Season Highlight

Hard to go past the win over the West Coast Fever in Round 9, or the win over the Giants in the semi-final. That said, a win in the grand final does take the cake.

The Swifts came out with a fast start, jumping out to a six goal lead before the Giants got on the board. They kept up the relentless pressure through the first three quarters, and continued to possess the ball for long periods of time.

In the third and fourth quarters, in particular, the Swifts took control of possession, up over 56 per cent of the time of the quarter, preventing the Giants from forcing turnovers and scoring quickly as the Swifts put the game further and further out of reach.

READ MORE: The Super Netball Grand Final – How the match was won

Sam Wallace and Helen Housby’s chemistry allowed for the circle to be both a strength for the Swifts, and an outlet when the midcourt needed a bailout option, functioning as it has all season to be a major strength for the Swifts.

The game plan, combined with the execution, meant that the Swifts stayed in the box seat, and were in control of the match all the way through. In an eerily similar fashion to 2019, the Swifts came out fast, and held on for a big win to seal the premiership.

Season Lowlight

After Round 11, the competition shifted from Adelaide to Queensland, and with it, the Swifts. Except for Briony Akle and two of her sons who were with her.

The coach had visited a COVID exposure site, and was unable to enter Queensland. She and her sons stayed in Adelaide for 14 days, going through the mandatory quarantine period.

Briony Akle (L) and Bec Bulley coach together in Round 11, before Akle would be forced into isolation.
Briony Akle (L) and Bec Bulley coaching together in Round 11, before Akle would be forced into isolation. (Image: Dani Brown)

While the team had travelled, Bulley coached the team to a loss in Round 12, but what was clear was that the team was missing their talismanic coach. Despite Akle’s best efforts to stay engaged remotely via Zoom, it seemed that the toll of being on the road for weeks and the repeated relocations had taken their toll on the team.

It was not all bad news that day, as some pointed out that the last time the Swifts lost to the Magpies, in 2019, they went on to win the premiership. It was an omen that would carry to 2021.

Team MVP

Social Media Guru Maddie. The NSW Swifts are widely recognised as having one of the best social media presences, as Maddie live tweets games in a chaotic manner, making light heart of everything and coming across with a true engagement with the game.

But seriously, Sam Wallace. The star shooter was named Most Valuable Player for the Swifts after the season, winning the award for the third time. Wallace had the third most goals across the competition, with 674 goals for the season a very handy return.

Wallace’s stellar season included four outings where she didn’t miss, as she put together a season for the ages. Her combination with Housby has continued to grow the longer the pair are together with the Swifts, and Wallace is in the conversation as one of the best two or three shooters in the world.

Sam Wallace had another brilliant season as the centrepiece of the Swifts' attack.
Sam Wallace had another brilliant season as the centrepiece of the Swifts’ attack. (Image: Dani Brown)

Her continued growth will excite the Swifts, as she continues to build more into her game, showing greater movement and passing as the season went on, and the game plan became more sophisticated.

She was particularly dominant in the finals series, and especially the grand final, where there was some debate as to whether she would be crowned player of the match.

Rising Star(s)

The Wing Defence Position. With a team as experienced and settled as the Swifts, its hard to pick out a rising star. The two young players on the team shared the wing defence bib for most of the season, and its only fair that they split the award too.

After Sophie Craig was not re-signed last year, young friends Tayla Fraser and Lauren Moore made the wing defence bib their own. While each brings a different game style to the position, they have both helped the Swifts mid-court and defensive end to hum smoothly.

Fraser also had some time in the other mid-court positions, particularly wing attack early in the year as she settled into the position. Her speed is her trademark, as she has the ability to turn defence into attack in a heartbeat.

Moore also spent some time in the goal defence bib, giving Maddy Turner a break from time to time. Her versatility means that the wing defence position can be an extra lockdown defender on the circle edge when she is on court, forcing attacking teams to slow down their play, and risk more turnovers.

It’s not clear whether Akle has decided if Moore or Fraser is the long term future at the position, or if both will continue to rotate through the position as the team shows off its versatility.

Moving Forward

The Swifts have had a very settled core and roster for a number of years. The chemistry between the players, and between the players and Akle has been clear, and has been one of the keys to the sustained success of the team.

While there are no guarantees in the signing period, it is expected that the Swifts’ roster will stay largely the same going forward, with no obvious retirements or departures on the horizon. With such continuity, the focus will be on continuing to grow and improve the chemistry.

One thing to watch is how the Swifts handle the premiership success.

In 2019 they were premiers, and in 2020 the team was eliminated in the minor semi-final after being unable to secure a top two finish. The focus for 2022 will be continuing the momentum of this season and taking the team to an eighth premiership.

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