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The Giants faced as much adversity as any team over the 2021 season. The team spent months on the road as they tried to stay a step ahead of COVID-19 border closures, including being turned back from Queensland at one point.
Despite all those challenges, the Giants made it all the way to the Grand Final, doing it the hard way as they lost the major semi final. In the end, they fell agonisingly short of a maiden premiership, but the moves made in the signing period suggest that last year was only the beginning.
With additions in all three sections of the court, The Inner Sanctum reviews the Giants’ signing period.
|Jo Harten||Matisse Letherbarrow (elevated)||Kiera Austin (Vixens)|
|Sophie Dwyer||Amy Sligar (elevated)||Kristiana Manu’a (Pulse – NZ)|
|Maddie Hay||Lauren Moore (Swifts)||Samantha Poolman (retired)|
Biggest Signing: Lauren Moore
With the loss of two defensive players, and two experienced players at that, bringing in a versatile and experienced defender was a high priority for the Giants in the 2021 Signing Period. Enter Lauren Moore, from the cross-town Swifts.
Moore spent the prior six seasons with the NSW Swifts, as part of the development pathway or as a fully-fledged member of the squad, learning from Sarah Klau and Maddy Turner. She has spent time in both defensive positions at different times at Super Netball level.
Given that Manu’a played mostly goal defence and Poolman played mostly goal keeper, being able to cover both positions gives the Giants a new level of versatility at the defensive end.
This is only magnified by Moore’s development in 2021, where she shared the wing defence position with Tayla Fraser. Moore’s ability to push up into the midcourt only further allows Julie Fitzgerald to change up the defensive end for the Giants.
Moore had 11 intercepts and 29 deflections in 2021, and will be hoping to bring the same level of ball play and disruption to the Giants, whether in the circle or at the circle edge.
Biggest Departure: Sam Poolman
While Kiera Austin is a massive loss, both structurally and reputationally, the Giants had a chance to imagine life without Austin after she tore her ACL in Round 1 of the 2021 season.
Poolman, however, was a key player for Fitzgerald starting in goal keeper, including shutting down Jhaniele Fowler in the thrilling preliminary final victory.
Her departure, after a long and decorated career, left Tilly McDonell as the only recognised goal keeper on the squad, and while McDonell has shown plenty of promise, she has just 22 caps to her name, but likely needs a more experienced defender alongside her in the goal keeper position.
Manu’a saw limited court time in 2021, largely filling in as a replacement when April Brandley was injured. Her departure does leave a hole, but it’s expected that Moore will fill that role to a large extent.
Austin’s departure would have been a big loss for the Giants, who would have been hoping that she would return to the team on her recovery from an ACL tear, after joining the club on the road for most of the season.
Projected Starting Seven
When healthy last year, the Giants had a fairly consistent starting lineup (not counting Austin’s injury). Sam Poolman is the only player missing from that lineup, and Lauren Moore will likely fill her shoes.
Jo Harten and Sophie Dwyer settled as a combination very quickly for the Giants after Austin was injured, and played all but 13 minutes of the season (from Round 2 onwards) together in the goal circle.
The midcourt combination of Parmenter-Price-Hay was both incredibly successful and very durable for the Giants last year. When fit, the trio played every minute together, and was a key part of the Giants’ push for the minor premiership.
Brandley was outstanding in her first season back in the full squad, and quickly cemented her status as one of the best goal defence players in the competition. While Moore will join her as a starter, expect McDonell to have plenty of court time as an impact player, as the combinations change regularly.
This team was the group that took the Giants to the minor premiership in 2021, and just four goals short of a premiership, so expect the team to be pushing hard for the same results or better in 2022.
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Jo Harten has been a leader at the Giants since the beginning, and has continued to grow as a shooter and as a leader throughout her time under Julie Fitzgerald. In 2021, her 525 goals led the team.
A standout member of the English Roses, Harten brings experience on the big stage to what is otherwise a very young and inexperienced shooting trio. Harten has 107 caps for the Roses, including a Commonwealth Games medal and has played in the national colours since 2007, which would have been about the time that her shooting teammates were making their junior netball debuts.
Sophie Dwyer was arguably the biggest breakout player of the entire Suncorp Super Netball competition in 2021. Coming into the season as a relative unknown, the 19-year-old was thrust into the starting goal attack position when Kiera Austin was injured.
Dwyer didn’t just step into the role and survive however, as she scored 389 goals, including 52 Super Shots. But Dwyer’s achievements weren’t limited to her scoring.
As a player who entered the season with just four Super Netball appearances, Dwyer didn’t blink as she was tasked with game-winning shots and difficult matchup, never taking a backward step.
The only time that the moment appeared to get to her was the first quarter of the grand final, where she had turnovers and penalties early as the Giants fell into a hole. There is no doubt the experience has made her a better player.
Joining Dwyer is fellow 19-year-old Matisse Letherbarrow. Letherbarrow was elevated to the Giants full squad in 2021 as a replacement player after Austin’s injury.
While she had limited opportunities on the court (13 minutes), Letherbarrow showed the ability to shoot from long range, and will likely see more court time as she settles into the role.
Similarly to Dwyer the year before, Letherbarrow’s late call up to the full squad meant that she had the chance to observe and learn from the more experienced players around her, and will be better for it.
The midcourt trio from 2021 came on in leaps and bounds. Maddie Hay and Amy Parmenter made their stamp on the wing positions, while Jamie-Lee Price further developed her game at centre.
Parmenter was rewarded for her growth with a spot in the Nissan Net Points Team of the Year, and a callup to the Australian Diamonds squad. She had 71 deflections and 31 interceptions, as she proved a thorn in the side to attacking teams across the competition.
Hay may have played predominantly wing defence as a junior player, but since 2019 she has transitioned to the wing attack position, and thrived. Hay led the competition in centre pass receives in 2021 with 336, and was second in the league for goal assists with 309.
She proved hard to stop for teams all season, and brings plenty of her own defensive pressure, with 11 intercepts and 31 deflections as well.
Jamie-Lee Price was the midcourt Giant who entered last season with the biggest reputation, and did herself no harm across the season. Appearing in all 17 games, Price was key to the Giants moving the ball up the court, and ensuring pressure on teams as they attempted to move the ball against the Giants.
Price had 278 goal assists of her own, and 22 intercepts when playing without the ball.
One of the big issues the Giants faced in 2021 was that there were only three midcourters on the roster. It meant that coach Julie Fitzgerald had limited ability to bring players off for a rest or a tactical change, or change the matchups.
That won’t be the case in 2021, as Amy Sligar has been added to the midcourt mix. Sligar has played all three positions at junior level, and made three appearances in 2021.
A promising product of the Giants Academy, Sligar ensures that there are more 19-year-olds than players over 30 for the Giants next year, and will provide support and respite to the midcourt starters.
Expect Sligar to come along in leaps and bounds with the development of being in the full squad, and will no doubt make the leap to Super Netball level with ease.
After having four players in the defensive group last season, replacing Poolman and Manu’a with Moore means that this group will be more pressed for versatility.
April Brandley, in her first season in the full squad after returning from maternity leave was a star for the Giants, shutting down goal attacks across the league. She will look to continue that form, and provide experience at the defensive end.
Brandley had 58 deflections and 21 intercepts in her 15 appearances last season, and was key to the Giants’ victories over the Swifts in Round 11 and Fever in Round 14 and the semi final.
Tilly McDonell has made a name for herself as one of the leading impact defenders in Super Netball. In 12 appearances last year, most with limited game time, McDonell had six intercepts, 17 deflections and Maddy Proud’s broken ribs to her name.
With her energetic and uncompromising style, McDonell has quickly become an imposing matchup and a physical challenge for any opposing goal shooter. There is little chance that changes in any way in 2022.
Lauren Moore was the key addition for the Giants ahead of 2022. Her versatility and experience provides an opportunity to change up the combinations for the Giants. As Brandley played exclusively goal defence and McDonell goal keeper last season, Moore’s play in either position gives a tactical edge to coach Julie Fitzgerald.
Adding to that is Moore’s ability to play wing defence and get arms over opposition players in a way that only circle edge players are used to means that the Giants defensive end has lost no edge, despite the loss of two experienced and talented players.
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