Tall order: Romelda Aiken of the Firebirds. Photo: Quinn RooneyThe emergence of the towering goal shooter in the ANZ Championship has seen a marked shift in the way the game is played by some teams and should have netball powers considering the introduction of a two-point scoring zone.
This would not only have the obvious effect of encouraging teams to take a risk with a long-bomb shot for the reward of double points but it would also bring the goal attack back into play as a shooting option in those teams which rely on a tall goal shooter to do the bulk of their scoring.
Watching the NSW Swifts defeat New Zealand side Southern Steel in their historic ANZAC Day clash proved an interesting contrast in attacking styles, and showed up the limitations of the lofty, holding goal shooter. The Southern Steel – featuring the ANZ Championship’s tallest player, 198 centimetre Jhaniele Fowler-Reid – played an incredibly one-dimensional game and were held to account by a Swifts defensive unit that played a tight marking style, and never allowed Steel to find their rhythm and their gigantic target.
At the other end the Swifts more mobile duo of Susan Pratley and Caitlin Thwaites used ball speed and clever moves to pile on the goals to set up their team’s win. Interestingly the Swifts goal circle of Pratley and Thwaites have the most even returns of any partnership in the league, with just 13 goals separating their respective hauls of 210 and 197 goals for the season.
The most successful teams are those that can score through both their goal shooter and their goal attack. This is because a goal attack who is in the circle putting up goals splits the defensive unit, and in doing so creates more space to play with. To do this she needs a goal shooter who can get out of the circle to make space when necessary, and who can also set up play for her attacking partner.
When a team boasts a towering goal shooter whose game plan is to plant herself in the middle of the circle plucking in skyscraper passes there is little doubt that she will dominate the scoreboard, but the team also runs a huge risk that it will be shut down by a well-prepared defence. This is the case for the Steel, and, to a lesser extent the Queensland Firebirds with Romelda Aiken and West Coast Fever with Caitlin Bassett. Between them these three teams boast the tallest shooters in the competition, who regularly deliver 40 goal-plus games for them, yet only one of them, the Firebirds, sit in the top four of the ladder.
Added to the risk is the downside for the fans in that it really does make the goal attack the third feeder. This takes away the opportunity to see just how good goal attacks are at creating play, using space and, most importantly, sinking shots. Generally goal attacks are among the best athletes in the team, so the challenge is to find a way to encourage them to use that athleticism and skill when they are paired with a tall shooter who dominates the attacking space.
Coaches can do this in the game plan they devise, but administrators also have a role to play. Any change to the rules of netball as fundamental as altering the scoring system would have to be carefully considered. It would be a worthwhile exercise if it ensured that some of our sport’s best athletes don’t become a sideshow.
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