The Melbourne Vixens’ 10-goal loss to the NSW Swifts was their first and heaviest Suncorp Super Netball defeat of 2019. Yet it was the second and most recent, against the Magpies, that was perhaps an even greater catalyst for what has occurred since.
In their only zero-pointer since the bonus points system was introduced in 2018, the Vixens departed empty-handed from their top-of-the-ladder clash with the Swifts in round five, played out on a tense and stressful afternoon in front of the national selectors on the day the team was finalised for July’s World Cup.
But, if possible, worse was to come. A fortnight later, with a marvellous away win over the Sunshine Coast Lightning in between, the Vixens were upstaged 55-52 by the Magpies, captain Kate Moloney describing it as underperformance across the board.
Yet if there was a nasty sting in that tale, then recent chapters are setting the scene for, potentially, a happier ending. As the surging Vixens prepare for the return fixture against the Swifts in Sydney on Saturday night, with the Sargeant-McKinnis Cup also to play for, coach Simone McKinnis’ well-drilled team has not lost since.
“It probably did hit us, the cross-town rivals getting one on us, and from then on I think we’ve built really well,’’ Moloney says.
“We were really disappointed in how we played. It was those basic ball-handling skill errors that hurt us, and I think we’ve worked on that a lot at training since then.’’
To good effect, it seems, as four consecutive wins could become five in what looms as a mini-final for the Vixens ahead of a return to Melbourne to play the Lightning and Magpies, given the tightly-bunched nature of the league’s standout trio.
Just four bonus points separate them. The top-placed Swifts and No.3 Vixens share eight-win-two-loss-one-draw records split only by the defending champion Lightning (whose 9-2 record would have them ahead if not for the bonus point factor).
For the Vixens, the minor premiership has always been the target - well, the first one, anyway - so bonus points matter. A lot.
“If we want to put ourselves in a really good position on that ladder come finals time, the next three games are must-win games, and a great opportunity to test ourselves against the two teams that are above us, as well,’’ says Moloney.
“We need to not only be winning, we need to be consistent across games and make sure we’re getting as many points as possible out of them. Our goal from the start has been to finish on the top of the ladder and the only way that we’re going to do that is if we can be consistent in all the games and hopefully be getting the wins on the board as well.’’
The week leading into that fifth-round loss was the last time the Vixens headed the ladder, even if Moloney argues that - given their lucky draw the previous week in Perth - the Swifts entered that game in the better form.
“We knew we were going to have to play bloody well to beat them, and we didn’t, that day,’’ says the captain. “Every quarter was only two or three goals but they were better than us over that whole game and that did hurt.
"You kind of walked away and thought ‘wow, we’ve got a lot of improvements to make’, and I think the girls have gone to work and done that. We’re playing much better netball now than we were then.’’
As for the perpetual Sargeant-McKinnis Cup, based on goal aggregate across the traditional rivals’ two games, then the 60-50 result in round one makes that a little harder than Moloney would like.
“I did look at that the other day, actually. I was like ‘how many goals?’’’ she laughs. “So I decided we’d just focus on winning the game and as many points as we possibly can, and hopefully that turns into a cup at the end.’’
You can watch the game live on Telstra TV or the Netball Live app from 7pm on Saturday.
Written by Linda Pearce