Samsung Diamonds head coach Lisa Alexander has compared the intensity of the fledgling rivalry between Melbourne’s Suncorp Super Netball clubs the Vixens and Magpies to the atmosphere of a State-of-Origin rugby league contest or the AFL’s Adelaide Showdown.
Ahead of Sunday’s fourth instalment of “The Battle” at Margaret Court Arena, Alexander tipped another narrow win to the Vixens, who have logged victories by three, four and one goal in the teams’ previous encounters.
“It has a different atmosphere around it,’’ said Alexander, whose 2018 Commonwealth Games squad included six players involved in this weekend’s high-stakes contest.
“Even in the stands supporters are against each other. It definitely has got that edge, and that’s what makes it great for netball.’’
Neither team is where it wants to be at the half-way point of the season: the Vixens are fifth with a 4-3 record and Collingwood seventh at 2-5 following a three-goal loss to the Giants in Sydney.
Alexander was among the crowd when the Vixens toppled ladder leaders West Coast Fever 74-60 at home last Saturday after successive losses on the road and was impressed with what she saw.
“They really looked like they were hungry after the bye, they came out of the blocks, they asserted themselves, they had all seven players contributing and they played extremely well,'' said Alexander, a former coach of both the Melbourne Kestrels and Phoenix.
“They had a game plan to really counteract Fever’s, and implemented that in a really disciplined manner. It just looked like that real level of intensity was there. They'd done the work in training, they had the fire in the belly, and you could see it.’’
This time, Alexander is looking forward to the midcourt match-ups of Lizzy Watson versus Ash Brazill, Renae Ingles against her close friend Madi Robinson and Kate Moloney up against Shae Brown or Kim Ravaillion - the latter pair having shared the Pies’ centre duties in recent weeks.
Vixen Emily Mannix, typically, will have a huge task at goal keeper against Diamonds star Caitlin Thwaites, while in-form Jo Weston opposes the coming-into-better-form Erin Bell in what, until the past two games, has been the Magpies’ problem position.
“After that concussion at the start of the year, Emily’s really starting to show her footwork is getting sharper and she’s getting up higher and really confusing the space. She’s just getting better and better,’’ Alexander said.
“And she is coming out of the circle, which always put the feeders at risk with their passes; they’ve got to think about it much more, and I really like that light and shade that Emily has in her game. She’s getting some really good defence over the shot and she pulls those rebounds in. She’s so brave out on court, and she’s a beautiful, calm attacker who really sets the tone for that defence end.
“Jo’s the stopper. She does get ball, too, and she’s really working hard on her attack. You’ve just got to get her relax a bit on it, but when she does, she really delivers a great ball.’’
Which leaves the Vixens’ circle - notably fierce competitors Mwai Kumwenda and Sharni Layton (or rookie Matilda Garrett) duelling at the back and last week’s MVP Tegan Philip out front against April Brandley.
So, Alexander’s prediction?
“It’s going to be which team can really knuckle down and implement their game plan for the longest and with the most intensity, and you’d have to say that on the evidence in front of you, on current form, that the Vixens will do that.
“The Magpies will push it all the way, but I think the Vixens will win it by three.’’
By Linda Pearce, multi-award-winning netball writer with over 30 years experience.