If the introduction of Suncorp Super Netball’s controversial two-point 'Super Shot' came as a nasty shock to many, then a dash of more welcome news emerged from the Melbourne Vixens’ first full matchplay session incorporating the new scoring zone.
For all the fury over not just the rule change, but the lack of communication that preceded it (and a special shout-out to Caity 'Players-not-being-consulted-over-the-biggest-rule-change-netball-has-seen-is-terrible' Thwaites and Jo 'You-can-only-put-so-many-bells-and-whistles-on-a-bike-before-it-becomes-a-clown-car' Weston), it’s clear there will be no change of heart before the season opens on August 1.
And so, now that the inevitable has been accepted, preparations are accelerating, the hub arrangements have been revealed, what else has already been learnt that might not have been widely known?
A little secret: just like her shooting pals Thwaites and Tegan Philip, whose long-range talents are more obvious, Mwai Kumwenda can also shoot from distance.
“A lot of people probably think that ‘MJ’ is really comfortable under the post - which she is,’’ says Vixens’ Assistant Coach and former shooting great, Sharelle McMahon. “But she shot quite a number of really beautiful two point shots in the last five minutes of the quarters during our match practice.
“MJ is so amazing at getting the ball close to the post, but she’s intentionally putting herself into the two-point zone, and backing herself to take the shot, and I would encourage that from all our shooters whether there’s two points on offer or not. She often says ‘good shot, good shot MJ’, so she’s certainly giving herself a pat on the back when it goes through, which is good!
“The argument for this rule is that what it does do is reward that risk-taking, and that’s the mindset that MJ’s got: ‘when the two-point shot clocks over, well, let’s have a crack at it’.’’
The modification to what has been seen previously at Fast Five-level and in the recent bushfire fundraiser is a slightly larger bonus zone, starting 1.9m from the post. It will be in effect for the last five minutes of each quarter, and for the entire five minutes of any extra time played in the event of a draw.
No doubt, as Vixens head coach Simone McKinnis admits, it would have been preferable had there been more time to hone the tactical side of things through match-play. Ever the pragmatist, though, she continues: “But we don’t have that, and we’ll be fine.’’
Rebounding will be another key element, McKinnis expects. Thus, even if a Jhaniele Fowler, for example, prefers her attempts to be made closer to home, the towering Jamaican’s presence under the post may encourage her fellow shooters to confidently let fly from further out.
Equally critical, both coaches agree, will be how well the defenders adapt to any tactical changes required in the last third of each quarter, for there is no doubt how rapid the scoreboard impact can be if double points start to build.
“It’s about not letting a shooter get comfortable in that zone, or repositioning into that zone,’’ says McKinnis. “It’s not even just forcing them to have one point shots, because you don’t want to be just giving away free shots just so they’re not worth two points. So it’s a balance.’’
The game situation will also influence the intent of what McMahon predicts will be 'significantly challenging' adjustments for players at both ends of the court. “But the main thing for us is that we are embracing this. Whether we like it or not, it’s here, and we’ll hopefully find the right way to make it work to our real advantage.’’
The former Diamonds’ Captain is slightly concerned that the movement and creativity in the attacking circle will be stifled if shooters park themselves in the two-point zone, but hopes that - on the upside - it may reduce the common current practice of a tall holding target dominating from under the post.
“My first thought is that you wouldn’t change too much about what you do, and certainly from a Vixens perspective I think our goalers often use quite a bit of the circle. but perhaps it will be a situational thing depending on what the state of the game is,’’ says McMahon, confident her players are flexible enough to adapt as the season evolves.
“The structure might change, too, a little bit, in terms of where you want to open the space. As a general rule you try and open the space as close to the post as possible. That might not always be the case now, and how you do that is the piece of the puzzle that we’re still working through.’’
As for MJ’s secret identity as a long bomb enthusiast, that’s already out.
“She’s got great long range shooting, but you haven’t necessarily seen it in a game, so she’s excited and having fun with it,’’ McKinnis says. “In the match simulation that we’re doing, she’s putting them up.’’
Which may be a surprise, but, this time, also a pleasant one.
Written by Linda Pearce