Super Netball Round-Up: Umpire justified in send-off, an Aussie Diamond loses her shine and the Jamaicans dance their way to the top

Super Netball Round-Up: Umpire justified in send-off, an Aussie Diamond loses her shine and the Jamaicans dance their way to the top
  • PublishedMay 24, 2024

Only the West Coast Fever remain undefeated after Super Netball round six and the team had to fight tooth and nail with last year’s premiers the Adelaide Thunderbirds to keep a clean sheet in their tightest contest yet, 57-56.

An upset saw the Sunshine Coast Lightning put last week’s scoreboard drama behind them to break the Melbourne Vixens’ five-game winning streak, 64-57. Largely thanks to the intel former skipper Liz Watson brought to the court, carving up the middle and registering 45 feeds, 36 centre pass receives, 22 goal assists and two gains in a blistering performance against her old side.

The Melbourne Mavericks got their second victory as a club with game-changing English shooter Eleanor Cardwell back from injury as they held on to beat the Queensland Firebirds 69-62 without making a single substitution, to prove just how strong their starting seven can be.

The stands are packed as people watch a Super Netball game under lights
The suspension happened in front of a sell-out crowd at Ken Rosewall Arena.(Getty: Matt King)

Then we reached the sold-out NSW derby on Sunday afternoon which has surely been the most blockbuster match of its kind, with so many spicy moments it makes it essential viewing for any netball fan.

More than 9,000 people watched the Swifts lift the Carole Sykes memorial trophy with a 76-52 scoreline over the Giants, but don’t let that put you off.

Chelsea Pitman colliding with the commentary team and smashing one of their computer screens, a lippy moment from Jo Harten that got her a warning for backchat, some choice words from Swifts shooter Helen Housby to her opposing defender, and the first player suspension we’ve seen since 2020 make it one of the all-time Super Netball classics.

If you missed it, don’t worry — we’ll get you up to speed with our Super Netball Round-Up.

Jamie-Lee Price suspension

We knew this moment would eventually come and that it would stir up controversy.

Several two-minute suspensions have been handed out in New Zealand (seven) and England’s (eight) top-flight leagues since World Netball updated its rules in January in an effort to crack down on dangerous play.

But Australian fans had been questioning if Super Netball was going to ignore these updates and take their own unique approach, after several moments in the early rounds which warranted action — by letter of the law — were judged to be worthy of just a penalty.

In one of our previous Super Netball Round-Ups we reported the World Netball Rules Panel had been keeping a close eye on how each of the different competitions were implementing the new process that removes cautions and warnings for dangerous play and upgrades anything of this nature to either a two-minute suspension or a send-off, based on intent.

There has been a clear inconsistency from the Australian league’s approach to its counterparts and without any clarification from Super Netball we did predict this would lead to confusion somewhere down the line.

The rule update for dangerous play was made to take the pressure off the umpire and give them the confidence to send a player to the bench knowing they were just following due process.

But because a suspension hasn’t been called yet in Super Netball when it should have or at least the league’s stance on the rule, the moment involving Jamie-Lee Price and Allie Smith has instead put a spotlight on the umpire six rounds in.

As fans try to understand the inconsistency of this ruling, why Price has been made an example of and how the process around dangerous play is supposed to happen.

Pleasingly, the commentators handled the moment on live broadcast with composure, explaining Giants co-captain Price was late to the contest, took out Swifts wing defence Smith’s landing space and probably should’ve pulled out.

Price reaches out with her left hand to take the ball as she looks forward
Jamie-Lee Price catches the ball with one hand in the NSW derby.(Getty: Matt King)

The late challenge counts as “reckless play” and taking out another player’s landing space is classed as “causing contact” as once the athlete is in the air, they cannot change direction and it can lead to serious injury even if, like it was in this case, the defending player does it by accident.

Price deserves credit for the way she accepted the decision.

Initially, the mid-courter threw her hands up in frustration, but later she took ownership.

“Obviously, I’m going for the ball and nine times out of 10 I’m just a strong body, so there’s going to be bodies on the floor … I’m not proud of being the first one to be sent off the court but that’s the rules and what the umpire thought,” Price told Fox Netball show Pivot.

“I’m not going to change the way that I play, I’m still going to go for the ball but obviously I need to have a look at how I can get out of the way, because when people are [in the air] they need their landing space and so I need to find ways to get out of their way, so I’ll have a look at it.”

Two players leap into the air to go after a ball with the crowd in the background behind them
Price contests for possession alongside opposition centre Paige Hadley.(Getty: Matt King)

Had this happened in the last quarter of a close game, it might have been a different story. However, in this instance, it’s only really newsworthy because it is the first suspension we’ve seen since the rules update.

Being reduced to six players midway through the first quarter may have rattled the Giants a little mentally and forced them to shift Sam Winders into centre as they played on without a wing defence, but when it comes to the score, the Swifts didn’t gain an advantage.

Seven centre passes were taken and all were converted by the right team. There was even a moment where the Giants almost won possession through goalkeeper Tilly McDonnell.

When Price returned to the court, she got on with the job as if it had never even happened.

The comparisons therefore circulating about how much the Swifts apparently “got away with” in defence in this game to the accidental nature of this suspension are confusing a general contact call — which allows for a warning before escalation and more interpretation — with the strict updated process for dangerous play.

For some fans, when they explain their issue with this suspension, it’s also clear they’re misdirecting their frustrations with the rule change — arguing it doesn’t warrant suspension — and instead putting that criticism on the umpire, when really, due process was followed.

In New Zealand, suspensions are occurring less frequently and generating less controversy as the season goes on, demonstrating players have learnt how to adapt.

Moving forward, there is still a worry about how all of this will play out in the international arena, as umpires from other countries adjudicate teams that have experienced a different take on this rule.

From a playing perspective, Super Netball should take this opportunity to clarify with its playing group how it is going to implement suspensions and send-offs, what warrants one and why it is dangerous.

From an umpire’s perspective, the league also has an opportunity to make expectations clear on how they want this officiated and to ensure umpires have the support they need to make these decisions.

Jamaicans are having their moment

Every year we fall more in love with the Sunshine Girls contingent plying their trade in Super Netball and it seems the record eight Jamaican imports this season may be happier than ever now they’ve largely been condensed into two sides.

The Fever’s Jhaniele Fowler-Nembhard, Kadie-Ann Dehaney and Shanice Beckford joined the Thunderbirds’ Shamera Sterling-Humphrey, Latanya Wilson and Romelda Aiken-George in the middle of the court after their tight tussle to share a dance.

Only Jodi-Ann Ward (Giants) and Shimona Jok (Mavericks) are playing elsewhere.

After six rounds, a Jamaican player leads six of the top eleven stats: NetPoints (Fowler-Nembhard 690.5), rebounds offensive (Aiken-George 30), goals (Fowler-Nembhard 355), goal attempts (Fowler-Nembhard 363), deflections (Sterling-Humphrey 43), and intercepts (Sterling-Humphrey 20).

At 29, Beckford is the latest to receive a life-changing Super Netball contract and is absolutely relishing the opportunity, playing in a starting goal attack position for a team that is scoring more goals than anyone else in the league.

The very first to do it though was Aiken-George, who truly paved the way for her fellow Sunshine Girls teammates to follow. Remarkably, this is her 16th season in Australia at 35 years of age.

Of course, when the Super Netball season is over and the international window starts, we’ll go back to cheering for the Diamonds … But a soft spot has well and truly formed for our Jamaican friends.

What’s happened to Wallam’s sparkle?

The Queensland Firebirds are doing it tough at the moment, sitting second-last on the ladder, with just one win to their name.

In round six, they did well to fight back against the Mavericks without the guidance of their head coach Bec Bulley, as she took time off for a family bereavement, leaving assistant Lauren Brown and former premiership-winning coach Roselee Jencke in charge.

But there is one particular area of their game that has really got us puzzled and that’s the difference in the way Donnell Wallam is playing this year.

Donnell Wallam throws her head back and lets out a roar as members of the crowd stand of their seats cheering
Wallam’s international debut was shadowed with controversy but her star shone bright as she pulled off an incredible goal in the dying seconds to beat England.(Getty: Mark Evans)

In her third season of Super Netball, the Indigenous star has been holding nicely under the post and is sitting second in the league for goals: tallying 253 in total at an 81 per cent accuracy.

But the X-factor presence, wonderful flair and creative vision Wallam built her name on when she first broke onto the scene, which earned her an Aussie Diamonds call-up, seems to have gone missing.

In previous seasons, Wallam would make defender’s heads spin as she channelled her basketball skills to move around the circle and shoot lay-ups. There was also a real passion shown from the Noongar woman on game day, roaring after shooting a long goal and being the one who desperately wanted the ball in her hand in the dying moments.

Donnell Wallam
We haven’t seen a huge smile like this from Wallam for a little while.(AAP: Jason O’Brien)

Now, we’re seeing Wallam play a much more traditional shooting role, remaining in the circle, waiting for the ball to come down the court and just getting on the end of it for a shot under the post. She’s also having a harder time getting free from her defensive opponents.

Maybe we’re reading too much into it, maybe teams have figured her out or maybe this is just a result of the Firebirds struggling as a team, but we hope to see Wallam back to her fierce self soon.

We just hope that raw and exciting talent she’s known for isn’t being squashed for the sake of trying to fit a square peg into a round hole — whether it be a Firebirds or Diamonds coaching directive.

SOURCE: ABCNEWS

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