There is a moment in the Hunger Games – before a group of tributes are sent into the arena to fight to the death – where they all stand united before the crowd, holding hands in an unusual show of solidarity. But when they enter the arena and the games commence, they dutifully begin to fight to the death. What else could they do?
The Suncorp Super Netball finals were the culmination of weeks of animosity building up between the playing group and administrators. After the decision to sell the hosting rights to the grand final to Perth the players united to put together a strongly worded statement to Netball Australia. Tensions remained high as more details began to arise of the governing body’s financial difficulties, with some former players calling for a strike to send a strong message that they cannot be taken for granted.
But when the first whistle blew for the semi-finals and Netball Australia board members sat watching high in their corporate boxes, the players threw themselves into battle. What else could they do?
After the frenzied final round of competition, the major semi-final between the Melbourne Vixens and the West Coast Fever was surprisingly anti-climactic. The Vixens appeared to feel the pressure of having been the focus of the grand final discussions for the previous few weeks and played well below their best. The Fever took advantage and made light work of the minor premiers. Their nine-goal win doesn’t reflect their dominance with the Vixens managing to close the final margin through the two-point super shot efforts of the young bench player Rahni Samason.
The Fever are now through to the grand final after winning the match that would have given them hosting rights had Netball Australia not already sold them to their state government. It wouldn’t have been an easy lead-in for the team from the west either, with the pressure to ‘earn’ hosting rights building over the past few weeks, but they were able to withstand it and block out the hostile away crowd to cruise to victory.
It was in the minor semi-final where the emotions of the build-up came to a head. With the winner to head to Melbourne to take on the vulnerable-looking Vixens and the loser to be eliminated, there was much to play for.
Despite the quiet, friendly chats between the Magpies ‘Ash Brazill and the Giants’ Maddie Hay on the transverse line and smiles shared between Magpie Kelsey Browne and Giant Amy Parmenter – once the first whistle blew any signs of solidarity and unity melted away.
There was animosity between English teammates Jo Harten, the Giants’ captain, and Geva Mentor, co-captain of the Magpies, as the two grappled for ascendancy. Harten’s emotions are part of her game, she is able to wear her heart on her sleeve and continue to play at her peak. In contrast, Mentor is usually shrouded in the armor of her cool and calm demeanor, but this battle was too heated and she was forced to cast it aside and play a more emotional game in an effort to rattle the Giants’ captain and frequent barometer of their performance.
For a time it worked – the Magpies slowly gained control of the game and their second quarter was dominant. Harten’s final super shot attempt of the first half hit the ring, rolled around to the back, bounced on top of the post and for second seed like it might just come to rest there. The crowd held his collective breath before the ball eventually rolled off, away from the ring. It seeded almost like a sign that things were falling the Magpies’ way.
However, Harten’s experience in playing the emotional game came to the fore in the second half and despite her obvious frustration with Mentor and the constant niggle between the two of them she kept on turning to the post and sinking her shots. Her 40 goals at 90% accuracy were also able to compensate for her goal attack Sophie Dwyer, who was kept uncharacteristically quiet by the Magpies’ Jodi-Ann Ward and Jacqui Newton, shooting just nine goals at 64%.
Harten’s ascendancy in this match up swung the momentum of the game and her teammates rose with her, taking the win and the opportunity to pounce on a bruised and under-pressure Vixens to gain a place in the grand final.
The two England players characterized the fashion of the game and the overall feeling of the finals. Friends away from the court, joined in solidarity as leaders of their clubs against the might and power of those in charge. But in this moment, caught up in an emotion and desperate battle, they put their bodies and fellowship on the line in an emotion-charged fight. What else could they do?