22/05/2024
The NSW Swifts are on the cusp of a seventh premiership.

The NSW Swifts are on the cusp of a seventh premiership in today's grand final. Image: Dani Brown

The NSW Swifts have set themselves up to finish their 25th season with a special highlight, a seventh premiership. See how they made it to the big day.

The NSW Swifts will be looking to take their seventh title, at the end of their 25th year. It’s been a momentous year, with the history and all the challenges this season, they have been steeled for today’s match, and the fourth Sydney Derby of the year.

How They Got Here

The NSW Swifts are celebrating 25 years as Swifts, and the proud club has had plenty of success. In that quarter-century of top-flight netball, the Swifts have been crowned champions six times, and came into the season hoping to add another to that tally, and their first since 2019.

The Swifts came out of the blocks in up and down fashion in 2021. After finishing 2020 on a low note, being knocked straight out of the finals, the team was keen to make amends this year. A tight win in Round 1 over the Firebirds set them on the right path, but they wouldn’t string back to back wins together until Rounds 5 and 6.

A month into the season, and the Swifts were hitting their straps, with dominant performances over Collingwood and the Giants in back to back weeks, including a flawless shooting performance against the Giants, with Sam Wallace making all 58 of her shots that day.

The Swifts crashed back to earth the next week with a loss to the Thunderbirds, where the scoreline flattered how much they had struggled that day. A win over the Firebirds before the bye set them on a path of three consecutive wins, including a tight one over the Fever.

That win over the Firebirds would be the last time the team played at home, as they relocated to Queensland, then Melbourne (two games), then Adelaide (one game) and then back to Queensland. With the travel disruption, the Swifts failed to find a rhythm initially, before hitting their straps heading into finals.

With Covid wreaking havoc on the schedule, the Swifts had two matches in Round 14, and heading into the final day, needed to beat the Lightning to secure a place in the major semi final. They managed without too much trouble, and carried the form into the major semi final.

Awaiting them in that semi final were the Giants, for the third Sydney Derby of the year (in the third different state). The Swifts leapt out to an early start, piling on an eight goal lead, before the Giants came back and challenged them, and going into the final break, the lead was just one goal.

In the end, a final second interception from Sarah Klau put them straight through to the grand final. Lo and behold, the Giants would win through, as we are set for the fourth Sydney Derby of the season.

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Surprise Package

When Sophie Craig was not retained for 2021, there were questions about who would play wing defence, with no specialists on the roster, and no obvious replacements. Enter Tayla Fraser and Lauren Moore. When the roster is fit, these two have alternated taking on the position.

Moore, a natural defender has shown the ability to disrupt play with hands over, and the ability to crowd the circle edge. While it has not been all smooth sailing for her, she has grown in the position as a young player, while also mixing in as a true defensive player at times.

Moore has had time in all three defensive bibs at points this season, as she has developed into the versatile star that the Swifts had identified her as years ago.

Fraser (L) and Moore (R) have each left their own mark on the wing defence position
Fraser (L) and Moore (R) have each left their own mark on the wing defence position. Image: NSW Swifts/Twitter

Her partner in crime has been Tayla Fraser. A natural midcourter and wing attack, the pocket rocket has brought a speed and attack to the position that has proven hard for opposing players to counter. Fraser’s ability to cover the court means that she can get in front of players and crowd passing channels, and has the ability to turn any turnover into a scoring opportunity for the Swifts.

While she was expected to play a lot of midcourt time this season, very few saw Fraser’s time being spent at wing defence, and even fewer as a rising star in the game.

Best Win

After the bye, the Swifts were faced with, at that time, the biggest challenge in the league, the then-undefeated West Coast Fever. By that stage, the Fever had wiped off the 12 point deficit from their salary cap threat, and were looming as the team to beat.

Celebrating Maddy Proud’s 100th match, the Swifts played a thrilling match against the Fever. After the Fever jumped out to an early start, the Swifts came back in the second quarter.

Helen Housby’s playmaking came to the fore in the third quarter, but it was the stone-faced shooting she displayed as she sank super shots to put the Swifts in front late in the quarter.

What stood out to many was it was the first time in a number of weeks that the Swifts showed the possession-style close to matches. They gained possession with about 90 seconds to play, and rather than scoring, and giving the Fever a chance to get the ball back and steal the match, the Swifts strung pass after pass together.

A few times since, the Swifts have shown the ability to slow down play, and hold onto the ball, and it’s likely one of a few lessons they will take into today’s grand final.

Team Challenges

If there was one team that found the relocations the toughest, it was the Swifts. While they didn’t let the struggles show on court, there is no doubt that the team has found the process difficult.

Head coach Briony Akle and assistant coach Rebecca Bulley both initially brought children along into the various hubs. Akle brought two of her sons, with the other two remaining behind with her husband Sarkis. Bulley brought along her young daughter, and has been essentially a single parent in the time away.

This was compounded after Akle was listed as having attended a tier-two covid exposure site, and was forced to quarantine in Adelaide for 14 days, while the team relocated to Queensland. Akle remained in Adelaide with her two sons, homeschooling and remote coaching, while Bulley was thrust into a caretaker role, coaching the team while her mentor was away, and with a child in tow.

Bulley’s game in charge did not go as planned for the Swifts, but the perseverance through the adversity has equipped them for the run to the finals, and the ability to rise to the challenge will be key.

The Swifts have also struggled with injuries at different times. Maddy Proud missed early in the season and then the season was condensed at the end. Paige Hadley missed all of the first Round 14 match, which was played just three days before the second Round 14 match.

While injuries have taken a toll on all teams, the tight schedule in Round 14 particularly challenged the Swifts, but they appear to have made it through unscathed.

Maddy Proud again required medical assessment at the end of the semi final, but was cleared, and is set to lead the Swifts in the grand final.

The NSW Swifts will take on Giants Netball at Nissan Arena in the Suncorp Super NEtball Grand Final this afternoon.

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