After a chaotic season, Super Netball has locked in its top four teams to contest the semi-finals.
For the first time, two NSW teams will feature, with the Giants winning the Minor Premiership and the Swifts hot on their tails in second place.
Despite their 12-point sanction for cheating the salary cap, the West Coast Fever finished third, with the best win-loss record, only dropping three games.
The Sunshine Coast Lightning have made their fifth consecutive finals campaign, an impressive feat that shows their strength as a club through player and coaching personnel changes.
So what are the main obstacles for each side? We take a closer look at the defining factors that could determine their placings this season.
The Giants’ reliance on the super shot
After a rough 2020, the Giants have bounced back with vigour.
They’ve shown a ton of resilience after losing their starting goal attack to injury in the opening game and have faced more stints in quarantine and interstate travel than any of the other teams.
Now they’ve made finals, some of the pressure to prove the naysayers wrong has been lifted and with a full week to prepare, fans are hopeful defenders April Brandley and Tilly McDonnell will return from their ankle injuries.
But the biggest question around their team is their use of the super shot.
Last year, they were criticised for relying too heavily on it to try and claw back games, and this year captain Jo Harten said the aim was to find a better balance.
Yet it is Harten again leading the super-shot tally (97 attempts and 47 conversions), while her shooting partner Sophie Dwyer sits third for attempts (73) and second for conversions (42).
Their confidence to turn and shoot from long range is a huge asset and one of their biggest advantages coming into the finals. But there is also great risk, seeing as the Giants have turned 53 per cent of their missed super shot attempts over to the opposition this season.
The NSW Swifts’ habit of fading out
The NSW Swifts are another team that have pushed through adversity.
They’ve faced almost as much travel and quarantine as the Giants, spending the majority of that time with five kids in tow, as head coach Briony Akle, assistant Bec Bulley and the team’s physiotherapist have juggled motherhood, homeschooling and netball commitments.
The Swifts were also forced to leave Akle in Adelaide for more than a week in July and had to play their round 12 match without her because she’d been linked to a COVID-19 exposure site.
The good news is all of their 10 senior contracted players are healthy, and they’ve been able to maintain their composure in most games, despite battling fatigue.
But their biggest issue heading into finals is their strength in the back end of games.
In nine of their 14 home-and-away games, they’ve lost the last quarter. And in five of those, they’ve lost the last half.
The Swifts have also made a habit of losing that fourth period over consecutive matches, unable to win it in rounds one and two, seven to 10 and 13 and 14.
It is important to note they actually won six of those nine games where they lost the last quarter, having just done enough to hold on to the result. But when it comes to finals, endurance is crucial, so the Swifts cannot afford to fade away if they hope to lift the trophy.
The West Coast Fever’s mental fortitude
West Coast have been the most consistent team with the highest for-and-against percentage, only losing three games by really small margins.
They have the strongest bookends in the competition — GK Courtney Bruce and GS Jhaniele Fowler — and have been extremely hard to beat given they so rarely give away possession.
The team have made the least amount of general play turnovers this season (274) and have converted the most goals off their own centre pass (663 at 77.1 per cent).
So the biggest obstacle they’ll need to overcome is the mental aspect.
There is a good chance they’ll win this weekend, as both times the Fever have made Super Netball finals (2018, 2020) they’ve also made it to the grand final.
But they lost both of those deciding matches and won’t want to finish as runners-up again.
The Fever have also been playing with huge motivation during the regular season, with a strong focus and clear goal to beat their salary cap sanction to make the finals. So will they be able to sustain that pressure for three more weeks? Or will their finals hoodoo see them fall at the last hurdle?
The injury cloud over the Lightning’s Steph Wood
Struggles with consistency mean the Lightning have been unable to win more than two games in a row. Their inability to hold onto a commanding lead and small winning margins (on average four goals) also means they have the lowest for-and-against in the top four (98.92 per cent).
On the plus side, Lightning have the most finals experience, and the way they’ve won most of their games this year in scrappy, desperate fashion shows they know how to steal victory in crucial moments.
Their biggest question mark rides on the fitness of goal attack Steph Wood, who has been battling an ankle injury in recent weeks.
Without her, their versatility in the circle becomes limited, with less flexibility to switch between a moving circle and a holding shooter.
Overall, Wood has only contributed 23 per cent of the Lightning’s goals (181/797), but when you consider she’s put up 22 of their 28 super shots, you can see how the long-bomb shooter’s absence may cause a problem if they get caught behind.
Her influence is also integral to their attacking line, having tallied almost as many goal assists (205) as their starting wing attack Laura Scherian (216).
Wood is reportedly on track to play, but there are still questions about to whether she’ll be able to play 60 minutes at 100 per cent.