20 Nov 2020 HART Sapphire Series Grand Final Preview
The Brisbane North Cougars and Ipswich Jets will take to the Nissan Arena Show Court on Saturday in a game that will determine the champions of the 2020 HART Sapphire Series.
Fittingly, the Final features the top two sides from the regular season. Over the last three months the pair separated themselves from the rest of the teams in the competition, displaying their quality by finishing as the two highest-scoring teams with the two best defensive records.
Although the Cougars held onto first place until Round 7, it was the Jets that claimed the minor premiership, benefitting from the Cougars’ defeat to Thunder before securing the title with a win over their main rivals in the final round of the regular season.
Liz White’s side bounced back, however, to defeat the Jets in a thrilling Major semi-final encounter, earning themselves direct qualification to the Final. The Jets, on the other hand, had to overcome a resilient Thunder side last week to confirm their place and set up an enticing final.
This weekend’s game will be the sides’ fourth meeting in this campaign and their respective coaches, the Cougars’ White and the Jets’ Tracey Jeanes-Fraser, have had ample opportunity to learn how their opponents operate.
“It always goes down to the wire and it’s always pretty tough, pretty full-on and physical and I guess it will be whichever team settles first and cuts down their error rate,” said White.
“The team that works the hardest will come out on top on the day and the team that plays with confidence in their teammates will be the team that wins it.”
Jeanes-Fraser has witnessed her side lose two of their three contests against last year’s runners-up and is eager to level the record for the season by correcting their earlier mistakes.
“The thing we’ve learned most of all is that you can’t afford to give them any room to move, so we’ve got to get off to a good start and maintain that pressure,” she explained.
“Realistically it is going to come down to a whole team approach, and just having some really level heads out there identifying when to let a ball go and when not to let a ball go.”
Both the Cougars and the Jets skilfully navigated a challenging season that started late and followed an irregular schedule owing to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the relocation of the Suncorp Super Netball to Queensland. Now the coaches are focused on driving their players to overcome the final hurdle and end the season on the highest possible note.
“We consider ourselves not fortunate but very pleased to be in the Grand Final, but we know that we’ve got one more game to play, and we’ve got to get it right,” said White.
“This is what you train for and this really is the one game of the season that counts, the one game that everybody remembers.”
White’s thoughts are echoed by her counterpart Jeanes-Fraser, who will be leading the Jets into their first Sapphire Series Final after they were eliminated in the Preliminary Final last year.
“We’re really excited to be there. It’s something that we’ve worked really hard for. While we’re celebrating that we’ve got there, the headspace is very much that we have still got another job to do,” she said.
“We would be absolutely elated to win. To be in this position to even have a good go at it is fantastic. A lot of these girls have been waiting for this moment, so we’re going to be putting everything out on that court.”
Round 5 – Cougars 51 – 48 Jets
Round 10 – Jets 55 – 51 Cougars
Major Semi-final – Cougars 51- 46 Jets
Ruby Bakewell-Doran vs. Charlie Bell
Charlie Bell has been instrumental for the Jets in her first season in the starting line-up, combining strength and athleticism to great effect to lead her team’s scoring efforts and at 6’5”, acting as an obvious target for her teammates in the goal circle. The Cougars cannot match Bell for height, making it even more important for them to apply enough defensive pressure to prevent the likes of Brooke Hams from getting into strong feeding positions. Goal Defence Ruby Bakewell-Doran will play an important role in achieving this. The Firebirds Training Partner was the stand-out player in the Major Semi-Final, delivering a series of vital intercepts, and if she can repeat that performance then the Cougars will go some way towards limiting Bell’s impact on the game.
Rylie Holland vs. Bridey Condren
The key battle at the other end involves two players at the top of their game. Both Holland and Condren excel near the goal line. The Cougars Goal Shooter has arguably the strongest hold in the competition and has overpowered most of the defenders she has encountered this season. However, she may find her equal in Condren, who will not provide her with much space to manoeuvre and remain alert to any turnover opportunities. The matchup is likely to be highly physical and could be lost by either player if they fall afoul of the umpire.
Maddie Hinchliffe vs. Stephanie O’Brien
While the goals will be scored at either end, the result may be influenced the most by what happens in the mid-court. Hinchliffe and O’Brien, who have already squared up thrice this season, will compete to set the tempo of the game and prevent the other from steering the outcome in their direction. The Final marks Jets Captain O’Brien’s 100th game at this level, while Hinchliffe has again proved instrumental in her side’s run to their second Grand Final in as many years. The experience that each offers to their team will be valuable in a game of this importance and crucial in keeping their teammates composed when the pressure rises.
Brisbane North Cougars
GS Rylie Holland
GA Mia Stower
WA Chanel Dyer
C Maddie Hinchliffe
WD Bella Sorby
GD Ruby Bakewell-Doran
GK Remi Kamo
GS Charlie Bell
GA Lucinda Benjamin
WA Brooke Hams
C Stephanie O’Brien
WD Mikeeley Hoch
GD Lia Woolnough
GK Bridey Condren
There is no clear favourite for the Final and both teams will enter the game with the belief that they can emerge victorious. However, I believe that the Cougars will claim the win by 4 goals. The Brisbane North side has scored 51 goals in each of the three previous meetings, and as long as they can sufficiently pressure the Jets attack, I think they will produce another performance that is just as consistent.