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Can Cougars Continue their Dominance to Claim the Inaugural HART Sapphire Series?

Can Cougars Continue their Dominance to Claim the Inaugural HART Sapphire Series?

The HART Sapphire Series competition heads into final mode over the next three weekends and all eyes are on securing a spot in the Grand Final to be played on October 13.

Brisbane North Cougars, the clear competition leaders are favourites to secure one spot but the battle for the other Grand Final berth is wide open, with the QUT Wildcats, the Ipswich Jets and the Bond University Bull Sharks all in the hunt to play on October 13.  

Netball Queensland GM High Performance Richard McInnes said it was difficult to separate those three teams with any of them capable of beating each other and with both Bull Sharks and QUT Wildcats drawing games against Cougars this year, demonstrating they have the capacity to push Cougars on their day.

“The Jets and the Wildcats have a good level of experience across the court, so I rate their chances highly.   Historically Jets have struggled against Cougars for some reason, but they certainly have the playing talent to be a threat if they can put it all together at the right time.

“That will be the challenge for Tracey Jeanes-Fraser, to get the best from her experienced team on the day.   Wildcats have been big improvers in both Sapphire and Ruby Series this year which has been great to see, and I am looking forward to what they can deliver come finals time.

“Head Coach Paula Stuart knows the Cougars style of play well and will be prepared to challenge them.  Bull Sharks have the youngest team in the competition, which can make winning finals difficult, but Head Coach Sheryl Burns will have them well prepared and if they can all do their job they will be a threat,” he said.

The finals will begin on the weekend of the 28th of September. The top four teams will face off against each other – 1 will play 2, and 3 will play 4. The winner of 1 vs 2 earns a week off, goes straight through to the grand final, with the loser taking on the winner of 3 v 4.

“It is widely accepted that once you get to semi-finals, it’s anyone’s game and you are only two good performances from holding the silverware.  I am expecting some really tight contests over the next three weeks,” McInnes said.

The Brisbane North Cougars have been undefeated this season, although they have drawn two games, one against the Bull Sharks and one against the QUT Wildcats.   They are the perennial front runners under one of our best coaches in Liz White, who will have them humming at the business end of the season

“It’s a pretty simple game plan to beat the Cougars, but hard to execute.  You simply can’t make errors. Their conversion rates from their own centre pass and from turn overs sits at 80% or more, so if you turn the ball over, you are going to be in for a long afternoon,” McInnes said.

McInnes listed Rylie Holland (Cougars) as one of the most consistently accurate shooters in the competition.

“She’s very good, has a great hold and will be hard to stop,” he said.

“The Wildcats have great shooters too, in Reilly Batcheldor and Aleesha Adams-Te Haara, but Aleesha’s can be minimised with good defence as a couple of teams have demonstrated this year,” he said.

“Having said that, the Wildcats have had a really great year and have transformed themselves from last year’s bottom-ranked team to finish second in the regular season this year. It’s been an amazing result and an indication that they can’t be discounted,” he said.

The Bull Sharks have been on the ascendency since star import Sigi Burger pulled on the grey and blue dress.

McInnes rates her as the equal to Rylie Holland for consistently accurate shooting.

“She’s certainly had an impact and has given the Bull Sharks a good chance in finals netball,” he said.  

The Jets have created a team with strong defensive and mid court capabilities, but they will need all three shooting options perform to be a real threat.

“Bridey Condren, Siobhan Shirlaw, Lia Woolnough, Brooke Hams, and Stephanie O’Brien are all really solid players. They work well together to limit play and restrict the opposition’s passing. They’ve got a strong chance for sure,” he said.

“Perhaps the Jets’ only vulnerability is a little bit at the shooting end, where young Charlie Bell has been performing well of late, but she will need the experienced Luci Benjamin and Rosie Baker to make solid contributions to ensure Jets have options in the circle,” he added. “That could be their Achilles heel come finals time,” he said.

The focus for the Jets, the Wildcats and the Bull Sharks in the coming weeks, will be on creating a strategy that can bring an end to the dominance of the Cougars.

HART Sapphire Series finals begin on the weekend of the 28th of September. The top four teams will face off against each other – 1 will play 2, and 3 will play 4. The winner of 1 vs 2 earns a week off, goes straight through to the grand final, with the loser taking on the winner of 3 v 4. The Grand Final will be played on October 13. Get your finals tickets online now.

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