The Sydney Swifts will take on the Queensland Firebirds on Sunday. Photo: James AlcockThe 2015 ANZ Championship grand final is the Queensland Firebirds’ to lose, although their opponents, the NSW Swifts are the only team in the league capable of making them do just that.
Both teams come into the game with momentum. Firebirds have qualified for the decider courtesy of a 12-match winning streak, while Swifts have dropped just one match – the conference final to the Firebirds – in their past 10 outings.
It is the Firebirds, though, who look the steadier of the two. With a line-up that has barely changed since round three they are a settled outfit with an average winning margin that has gone from two goals in their first five games of the season to 16 goals in their past five games.
When a team builds across the season to the point of consistently demolishing the opposition by double digits, they become difficult to stop.
This is because not only are they physically on a roll, but they are mentally in a zone that is tough to stop. Consistency of performance at the end of a season builds a sense of invincibility that is invaluable in the pressure of a grand final.
The Swifts on the other hand have built momentum in terms of wins in the second half of the season, but have been unable to field a consistent line in the mid-court all year. Only once have they played a full 60 minutes without making changes in either wing attack, centre or wing defence, and not once have they been able to play the same line for two matches in a row.
Compounding this is the persistent lower leg injury to their most influential player in that part of the court, Kim Green, which has meant that the Swifts have had to make it to the grand final with her playing just three quarters in the last four games.
The upside of this, of course, is that the Swifts have shown they have great depth in their mid-court, and tend to cope with changes reasonably well.
The downside is that if they are to beat the marauding Firebirds they will need to produce at least 60 minutes of the best netball they possibly can by the best players they have in their team. That means that Kim Green must play the full game, and she must be fully fit.
So what it boils down to is this. For the Swifts to win, their full-court attack must fire.
Kim Green is vital to this because of the penetration she gives the Swifts into their attacking third. They will need her influence to act as a valve for the pressure that the Firebirds build by way of their trademark smothering defence all the way down the court.
There is little doubt the Swifts will win ball off the Firebirds. While Firebirds are anchored at goals by league MVP Romelda Aiken and the super-exciting Gretel Tippett at goal attack, the athleticism and tenacity of both Julie Corletto and Sharni Layton will cause the Firebirds problems.
They will be helped in this regard by the fact that Tippett and Aiken are ranked numbers one and two in the league respectively for turnovers.
Where teams have come unstuck all year, however, is in trying to convert from the turnover ball that Firebirds cough up.
Defensively, the Firebirds have been absolute misers this season, and only once has a team scored more than 50 goals against them.
The Firebirds’ all-court defence is the key to their success and how well the Swifts get past it will determine the outcome of Sunday’s grand final.
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