Former Australian captain and current national selector Anne Sargeant has praised the skills and timing of the Melbourne Vixens she believes are the embodiment of their coach, Simone McKinnis, in the lead-up to Sunday’s first instalment in the annual duel for the Sargeant-McKinnis Cup.
Continuing a traditional interstate rivalry that dates back to national championship days, the aggregate results of the two Suncorp Super Netball clashes between the Vixens and the NSW Swifts decide which team holds the perpetual trophy named for Sargeant, a former NSW great, and Victorian legend McKinnis.
Yet what is currently in the Vixens’ possession has belonged to the Swifts for seven of 10 years, with the latter claiming 13 victories and sharing in last year’s round three draw from 21 attempts.
In 2018, both teams opened with skinny one-goal victories - the Vixens 59-58 over local foe Magpies Netball, courtesy of an exceptional second quarter, and the Swifts with a 54-53 upset against the Queensland Firebirds that included two bonus points under the new system that rewards teams for quarters won as well as games.
“I’m just loving watching Simone coaching, and I love watching the Vixens play because they are team of skill and timing - and I’m not saying this at the exclusion of the Swifts,’’ said Sargeant, a Nine Network commentator.
“We’ve got two teams coming together this weekend that have done absolutely the right preparation in the off-season, we’re looking at two groups that are very fit, well-coached, very happy, and like playing together. As a netball purist, I love to see athletic players, but skilful players, and I see that in both groups.’’
Sargeant rates the respective midcourts as fairly even, and says she is more intrigued by what will happen at either end. Vixens’ goal-keeper Emily Mannix was outstanding against Collingwood, while Swifts’ debutante Sophie Garbin earned MVP honours for her 18-goal effort after replacing Samantha Wallace. Melbourne spearhead Mwai Kumwenda (41/42), another round one player-of-the-match, will face talented Swift Sarah Klau.
“It’s not the match-ups, but the ends of the court that interest me,’’ Sargeant said. “With the Swifts, of course, you have two alternate (attacking) styles, and at the other end you have Kumwenda, who is such a beautiful, delightful show pony, and such a scoring machine. I’m interested to see how the Swifts play as a unit to disrupt the connection to Kumwenda. So, I’m loving the ends.’’
She was also impressed last week with wing defence Chloe Watson, playing in the position McKinnis made her own.
“Obviously our performance in round one, it got us the win, but it wasn’t pretty and there’s so much to improve on,’’ Watson said. “But we’ve looked at it like ‘this is a really great opportunity to have these little things laid out for us so early in the season and learn from them’.’’
While admitting her “little Waratah heart” would enjoy seeing the young Swifts - coming off a sixth-placed finish in 2017 with three wins, the draw and a clutch of often- narrow losses - take a step forward under new coach Briony Akle, Sargeant tips a slim victory to the hosts at Margaret Court Arena.
“Common sense would probably steer you the way of the Vixens because they have a legacy as a group of competing at the back end of the competition, they had a sensational 2017 season as minor premiers and they know big-game scenarios as a group more so than the Swifts,’’ she said.
“It’s a beautiful juxtaposition. They’re both young playing groups, but one has been there doing it under pressure; the other is emerging and likely to cause an upset against anybody that underestimates them, so that’s a lovely game to come to the table early in the competition.
“I just hope the trophy is polished beautifully, I hope the players fight their little hearts out whatever side they’re on, and most importantly I hope it’s a fantastic game.’’
Sargeant also harked back to the days when Victoria v NSW contests were the marquee events at national carnivals.
“Some in the crowd are young and they’re excited by the new league, as they should be. Others have this rich history of knowing how much goes between the two states and what respect there is, that it’s going to be a great battle, so that just adds another level.
“We can’t put the history of the game in a back pocket and not go to it every now and again to remind ourselves of evolution, and of the things that are unchanged, which is skill and passion and pride and all those things.’’