Sport

Coaches to the fore after series of masterclasses light up Super Netball

Super Netball coaches tend to keep a low profile. There is no punching of walls, no screaming expletives at umpires and no post-game altercations. And in addition to living up to the behaviour demanded of such role models, the league’s coaches this weekend also proved they boast some of the finest minds in sport, regardless of gender or code.

Round seven saw tactical brilliance from Lightning coach Kylee Byrne, which produced an important 58-52 win over the Giants, and a no-punches-pulled post-game assessment from Vixens boss Simone McKinnis after her side’s 16-goal capitulation to Collingwood, which has been applauded for its authenticity and power.

There was also a long-awaited back-to-back win for the Thunderbirds and their coach Tania Obst, who has steadfastly stuck to a new game plan since the controversial dumping of Chelsea Pitman last year. At home, her team beat the Swifts 58-53, a result few predicted.

On Saturday, the league also celebrated Julie Fitzgerald as she coached her 350th national league match. Her Giants team did not get the points, but the milestone was a chance to recognise the stalwart’s enduring career, which has included five domestic titles and stints at the AIS and in club land in New Zealand.

And on Sunday, Fever and Diamonds coach Stacey Marinkovich calmly led her club – which finds itself under the microscope because of historic salary cap rorting and a subsequent 12-point penalty – to a 10-goal victory over a gallant Firebirds outfit.

It was a succession of coaching masterclasses.

With score tied 40-all at the last break in Sydney, Byrne took the gutsy decision to send Ugandan Peace Proscovia – who until then had played only 35 minutes across six games – to shooter and put Steph Wood out of position at wing attack. That, and another move to replace Wood with youngster Binnian Hunt at WA in the super shot period, paid off with Proscovia scoring 16/16. She also took a rebound and had a pick-up in Lightning’s best quarter.

With Cara Koenen chipping in two from GA, Sunshine Coast pulled away and finished with Wood, as well as starting seven star Laura Scherian, on the bench – a rare sight – and put themselves top of the table with five wins and two losses. The undefeated Fever is second, but did not receive points for three wins as part of the sanction for “serious” and “deliberate” cap breaches in 2018 and 2019.

In the round’s second game, played in Sydney because of Covid, last year’s premiers the Vixens were outclassed by state rival Collingwood. Despite countless positional changes, McKinnis – schooled in the Victorian system which demands the basics are done well, regardless of the score – could not find an answer and in the last, lost her patience.

In the final time-out, she told players they had “four minutes to show some bloody guts, determination and fight”, saying the performance was not acceptable. “Basic skills, execution, work rate … not acceptable.” Her side managed to add four to the scoreboard via two super shots, but the Pies scored another six goals, four regulars and a super shot, to outscore them.

Post-match, McKinnis’s assessment was equally brutal. “I’ve never been quite so disappointed. It’s not very Vixen-like. It’s not acceptable,” she said. “There’s nothing to feel positive about from the game at all. Things have to turn around, be different. It’s the fight, it’s the fire. Vixens don’t let leads blow up to 10, 15, 20 goals.”

Perceived as ruthless to some, McKinnis’s observations were viewed favourably by many, with some suggesting they demonstrated why McKinnis should have got the Diamonds coaching job ahead of Marinkovich. On social media, Victorian and former Diamonds coach Lisa Alexander described it as an “awesome insight from an outstanding coach”.

After her Thunderbirds overcame the Swifts, Obst was equally forthright and understandably so, given the heavy critiques she has faced since cutting Pitman. “If anyone wants to underestimate [us], do that at your own peril, because we have world-class athletes and our combinations are building,” she said.

Obst’s squad, which include a mixture of burgeoning South Australian talent including Georgie Horjus and Maisie Nankivell and imports such as Jamaican Shamera Sterling and South African Lenize Potgieter, have clearly bought into Obst’s new approach, which is starting to pay dividends.

And in one of the few games this season when her team has been truly challenged, Marinkovich helped the Fever find a way against the Firebirds. A seemingly tougher, more direct Marinkovich put usual starting centre Verity Charles to wing attack to focus her mind on feeding Jhaniele Fowler and made just one change all game, switching Sasha Glasgow for Alice Teague-Neeld at goal attack. It wore down Megan Anderson’s young Firebirds, who had no sustained answers.

The classy performances courtside, where there are no stats to be earned, show why maybe Super Netball coaches should have a higher profile after all.