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It is tight at the top of the table

THE UNFAMILIARITY OF AN EXPANDED COMPETITION HAS BRED AN UNFORGIVING NATIONAL LEAGUE WHERE A KNIFE EDGE SEPARATES THE WINNERS FROM LOSERS.

Suncorp Super Netball is galloping towards the halfway point of a season in which the competition has rarely been so fierce.

An average winning margin of 7.96 goals over the first six rounds suggests teams are fighting as hard as they ever have to reach the four-team finals of the inaugural season.

With just one point separating the top three teams on the ladder, and a mighty battle waging between the rest, the decision to grow the national league from five to eight clubs has been rewarded with exciting and unpredictable games.

Queensland Firebirds goal attack Gretel Tippett has been part of a team engaged in close grand final combat with the NSW Swifts, so she knows something about the tightness of the competition.

She believes the personnel changes brought about by adding three new clubs has reset the league and thrown tactical questions at its combatants.

“Everyone is sussing everyone else out and trying to figure out strengths and weaknesses,” Tippett said.

“One week you figure out what works for you and then the next they’ve cottoned on to what you’re doing.

“It pushes us to keep innovating week in and week out.”

First-placed GIANTS Netball, Sunshine Coast Lightning (second) and Melbourne Vixens (third) have formed a breakaway but the Firebirds and Magpies are still in touch heading into the weekend’s derby games.

West Coast Fever and Adelaide Thunderbirds have worn some bruises along the way but both clubs have invested in young, local talent who will be better for the experience.

The Vixens featured in one of two draws already, and 10 games have been decided by five goals or less.

“Potentially any team can beat anyone else on their day, and you’ll see teams get pushed when they’re not expected to,” said Vixens coach Simone McKinnis.

“And some of the bigger margins aren’t a true reflection of how hard it’s been.

“Sometimes you see teams spy an opening and go for it. But it’s still really hard work.”

Lightning coach Noeline Taurua is a relative newcomer to Australia after achieving success at trans-Tasman league clubs the Magic and Steel.

With the top four hardly set in stone, the Kiwi argues competition points could be decided by a turnover or rebound.

“Coming from New Zealand, I always knew (the depth and quality) was very strong here,” she said.

“The difference (between winning and losing) is nothing. The smallest thing, or an accumulation of small things can cost you.

“Those who can keep the ball in hand, hang onto possession, are the ones who will win.”

Written by Damien Stannard
Photography: Getty Images

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