The last ever ANZ Championship finals series is underway, with four teams taking place in the do-or-die elimination finals.
The first round of the finals showed a distinct jump from the first and second placed teams in each country, to the third placed teams, with the margins from the weekend’s two games blowing out to over 14 goals each.
The NSW Swifts continued their recent dominance over the Melbourne Vixens, overpowering the Melbourne side, 67 – 53. A huge 20 goals to 12 second quarter by the Swifts set them up for the win, with the lead escalating to 21 goals in the third quarter.
With the game almost beyond reach in the final quarter, Vixens’ coach Simone McKinnis took the opportunity to introduce some of the team’s youngest players to finals netball, with 11 of their 12 players getting a run on court.
The second game of the elimination finals was played between the Northern Mystics and Waikato/Bay of Plenty Magic, with the Magic running out 16 goal winners, 63 – 47 and securing themselves a place in the conference final.
The Swifts will now move on to challenge the reigning premiers, the Firebirds, in the Australian Conference Final next weekend. The two grand finalists from last year have played twice this season, and are sitting at one win each, setting up for what will be a hard-fought battle between the two sides.
There is a wealth of mouth-watering match-ups throughout the court, from the ferocious pairing of Kimberlee Green and Gabi Simpson to the battle of the young-guns at centre between Kimberley Ravaillion and Paige Hadley.
There is however two combinations that will be key to the match, and they are at either end of the court. The first match-up is between Swifts’ shooter Caitlin Thwaites and Firebirds captain Laura Geitz. In recent encounters, Geitz has had the advantage over Thwaites, restricting her to just 10 goals for the first half in their last encounter, resulting in Thwaites being benched for the second half of the game. This match-up will have a crucial bearing on the match, with the Swifts needing Thwaites to fire if they hope to defeat the fast-scoring Firebirds.
Down the other end of the court the other key match-up is between Firebirds’ shooter Romelda Aiken and formidable Swifts’ defender, Sharni Layton. Aiken is the go-to player under the goals, scoring 571 of Firebirds’ 796 goals for the year, whilst Layton is one of the hardest and most athletic defenders in the competition, leading the competition in intercepts with 52 and deflections, 95.
The winner of the match will go on to verse the loser of the New Zealand Conference final between the undefeated Southern Steel, and the Waikato/Bay of Plenty Magic, whilst the loser of the Australian Conference final will take on the winner.