The Melbourne Vixens have already won more games this Suncorp Super Netball season than the Sunshine Coast Lightning, yet an unfortunate consequence of the league’s contentious bonus points system means that even a victory in Sunday’s cut-throat last round will not be enough to guarantee the Vixens a finals place.
Despite being half-a-game ahead of the Lightning - on eight wins, compared with seven and a draw - the Vixens have accumulated eight fewer bonus points, leaving them six points adrift of the reigning premier.
And so, even by earning four for victory in what is effectively an elimination bout at Hisense Arena, Simone McKinnis’ depleted team also needs to prevail in three quarters to be certain of clinching a top-four spot.
Should they take two - and all this assumes the fourth-placed Firebirds defeat the Magpies in Brisbane on Saturday, by the way - it will come down to percentage, with the Lightning on 107.4, and the Vixens 106.1.
Little wonder heads are being scratched about the fairness, or otherwise, of it all. The fact, for example, that the Vixens could finish behind a rival that has won two fewer games is exactly the type of scenario that exposes the new system’s flaws.
Clearly, the broadcasters are strong supporters of the bonus points experiment, for even matches involving the hapless Adelaide Thunderbirds have retained an element of interest right to the end. No-one is denying the importance of strong TV ratings to the health of the competition - except when the competition’s integrity is compromised as a result.
At least the Vixens’ destiny is still theirs to decide, although complicating matters is the devastating news of spearhead Mwai Kumwenda’s ruptured anterior cruciate ligament. The season-ending injury was suffered during an awkward landing after a rebound against the Fever in Saturday night’s 68-55 loss in Perth. It was a long and unhappy flight home.
But this will also be a welcome return to Hisense against the Lightning, the Vixens’ defence end restored by Emily Mannix’s resumption last weekend from a finger injury, and replacement shooter Sammy Gooden having experienced at least a few minutes of court-time in each of the past three weeks.
The teams last met in round six on the Sunshine Coast, where the visiting Vixens started brightly, before the hosts won the last three quarters and the match 64-56. Gooden played the last six minutes, but on Sunday is expected to be elevated to the starting seven for the first time.
The fact the 22-year-old from Mt Eliza was not even in Vixens’ colours until young shooter Emma Ryde injured her knee on the eve of the season is indicative of how disrupted 2018 has been for McKinnis and her fifth-placed team.
Yet, entering the 14th and final round, only the Fever and Giants have won more games, and if a ninth victory can be bolstered by a trio of those precious yet controversial bonus points, a spot in the Super Netball finals may yet await.
By Linda Pearce, multi-award-winning netball writer with over 30 years experience.
Get your tickets to cheer on the Vixens as they take on the Lightning at Hisense Arena, Sunday 5 August at 1pm.