By: Suncorp Super Netball
Sunshine Coast Lightning prove they can still contest with the best, defeating the finals bound Adelaide Thunderbirds by two goals (54-56).
After a close loss last week against bottom of the ladder Collingwood Magpies, the TBirds were out to redeem themselves in front of their first sold out crowd in over a decade. But it was the Lightning who nabbed the four-points and held strong after a courageous fourth quarter fightback from the home side.
Both teams struggled to settle in the opening quarter, but Lightning were able to find their flow first with Diamonds’ duo Cara Koenen and Steph Wood’s shooter-to-shooter connection shining on court.
After taking the lead early, a miss from Wood in the Super Shot zone was punished down the other end and the home side were able to level the score at ten a-piece.
With eight international players between the Lightning and the Thunderbirds taking the court, it was an intense sneak peek into what’s to come during the 2023 Netball World Cup.
For the pink army it was Jamaican Sunshine Girl Shamera Sterling who was a workhorse in defence, coming up with four crucial deflections for the TBirds as they trailed by three going into quarter time.
Cara Koenen was unstoppable under the post, slotting in 10/10 in the second term, with Lightning’s defence continuing to pressure the Thunderbirds’ attack line down the other end.
TBirds’ skipper Hannah Petty entered the game for the first time, making an instant impact with two critical intercepts.
But South African international Karla Pretorius flew through with her own stellar intercept and the Lightning were able to push their lead out to five, forcing a Thunderbirds’ tactical timeout.
Ava Black was handed her second start for the Lightning and the speedy mid-courter impressed, coming up with three deflections in the quarter.
Under scoreboard pressure, Tippah Dwan opted to take a Super Shot but couldn’t find the centre of the ring and the visitors were still in control going into the main break.
Lightning goal keeper Ash Ervin really injected herself into the game through the second half, with Ervin and Pretorius seamlessly working together to shut down Dwan and Cardwell. This prompted a positional switch from the TBirds, with Lucy Austin making her first appearance on court and Georgie Horjus moving into goal attack.
The Jamaican internationals were on show with Shamera Sterling coming up with a vital intercept, but Kadie-Ann Dehaney won the ball back down the other end after a stunning rejection over Lucy Austin.
With Lightning still holding the lead, the Thunderbirds had to give it everything they had in the final fifteen, as all teams in the top four are gunning for a home semi-final.
Down by 13, the pink army willed their team on, with English Rose Eleanor Cardwell stepping up to drain her first Super Shot of the game.
Lucy Austin quickly followed up with her own two-pointer and the Thunderbirds’ shooters sunk six back-to-back Super Shots to get their side within three goals in the dying minutes.
Although the home side blitzed the Lightning with a 20-10 fourth quarter, the visitors stayed calm and collected, chewing up the seconds on the clock and finishing with a two-goal lead.
Mahalia Cassidy was awarded MVP with 44 feeds and 20 assists, while Laura Scherian was also a standout in the mid-court, racking up 13 assists and two deflections.
Lightning remain fifth on the ladder and will prepare for the QLD derby next week, while the Thunderbirds will fly to Sydney for a potential grand final preview, taking on the current ladder leaders the NSW Swifts.