Semi final weekend often brings a pointer to the bigger matches yet to come: a tasty aperitif to the buffet that is presented in the last weekend of August. This year the Division 1 semi finals brought two of the best matches seen all season, and throughout the league the netball was of the competitive nature that we all hope to see for the remainder of the finals campaign.
The Second Semi Final between Mordialloc and Heatherton looked a routine affair for much of the day, but exploded into life in the fourth quarter. Mordialloc are renowned as slow starters, but they were well aware that this would be fatal against a side that wins the big games in August for fun. There would be no loitering around the blocks on this day, as Nicole Delany in particular started brilliantly and gave the Reds an early 4-0 advantage. The key to the early efficiency was intelligent passing into the Mordialloc goal circle, nullifying the intercepts and rebound play of Kirsten Daley. At quarter time with their side seven goals down, the Heatherton brains trust moved Jaya Blandthorn out to wing defence, Leah Seeto to goal defence, and Bayley Mifsud to goal attack. All three moves were to bear fruit as the game wore on, but Heatherton could not impinge upon Mordialloc’s five goal advantage over the middle quarters. It was at three quarter time where Heatherton could sense Mordialloc tiring. Maggie Carlon and Zali Mifsud got on their bikes and made their opponents chase them whilst providing the bullets for their shooters to fire, as the ladies in red clung on to their lead with all the will that they possessed. It was the last minute of normal time where Heatherton restored parity and took the game into added time. The black and whites looked the fresher early in the extra period but Mordialloc dug deep and found something extra, and it was the excellent Delany that propelled Mordialloc into the grand final, striking accurately and often to give her side a 41-39 victory.
The first semi final lost nothing in comparison, as Dingley took on Caulfield. The first three quarters were similar in their composition, as Caulfield shot out of the blocks before Dingley took control and looked the stronger side at the end of each term. Caulfield worked some of the best mid-court combinations that we’ve seen from them in some weeks; Makayla Bulte and Domica Wescombe being their creative best in providing options for Beth Wilson and Sophie O’Shea in the circle. Dingley looked to rebound the ball efficiently from their exciting young defenders Chloe Sinclair and Kirsty Clark and work intelligent angles to make space for in-form shooters Sarah Fischer and Laura Piper. As with the second semi final, it was the final stanza that told the tale, as Caulfield defied the earlier trend of tiring late, and also dispelled the notion that the rain was not their best friend. From a one goal three-quarter time deficit Caulfield scored six of the next eight goals, and although Dingley fought like the champion team that they are, Caulfield were not to be denied as they powered to a 42-40 victory.
So it came to pass that, after spending many weeks mid-season leading the way in Division 1, Dingley were first to be bundled out of the finals race for the first time in the club’s history. Heatherton and Caulfield will now meet to determine Mordialloc’s opponent in the grand final.
Cheltenham took on Heatherton for the right to be first into the Division 2 Grand Final, knowing that they had been the best side over the 15 rounds and had steadied after a mid-season wobble. Heatherton came in off a seven-game unbeaten run, with all the confidence that this brings, but it was Cheltenham that started in a fashion that no amount of confidence can counter. A 12-6 quarter time lead was a fair return for the dominance that they brought to bear, and whilst Heatherton didn’t waiver in their effort and endeavour, they were unable to reel in the advantage by half time. The third quarter was a different story. With Courtney Weiske, moved to defence, expertly marshalling her troops Cheltenham could not make a major impact on the scoreboard, as Heatherton set about reeling in the deficit. 30-28 was the score turning for home, and this set up a last quarter that resembled two prize fighters slugging it out looking to land the knockout blow. In the end neither unit was able to take the ultimate advantage, and Cheltenham at the final siren finished in front by the barest margin, that being 37-36.
Caulfield took on Murrumbeena in the First Semi Final, with the winner playing on next week and the other able to take their time preparing for Christmas. Caulfield have been near the summit at this level for some years without taking the ultimate prize. Murrumbeena, however, are new to Division 2 and they exhibit a hunger to learn, and to succeed. Such teams are to be admired, and are to be feared come August. Caulfield settled the quicker to lead 10-8 at quarter time, but this young Murrumbeena side show little fear, nor concern for a negative scoreboard, and kept the pressure going right throughout the day. The early deficit was wiped away long before the main break, and Murrumbeena were able to leave their local rivals well behind in the second half to win by 35-28 and earn a shot at Heatherton next week.
Division three saw top placed St Kilda City set a difficult task by a Dingley Gold side keen to assert a physical dominance. The game was poised in a knife’s edge early, with scores level at the first change. With Kate Hyland keeping star shooter Bianca Waras-Carstensen under at least some measure of control, St Kilda City were able to take advantage further afield, and extended their lead over the day to win by 33-27. Heatherton were able to establish a somewhat firmer footing earlier in the match against Dingley Red, clearing out to a three-goal lead by quarter time. The Dingley side huffed and puffed but were unable to blow the house down, and Heatherton managed to close the game out with some aplomb, a 48-39 triumph setting up a Preliminary Final with Dingley’s Yellow half.
Murrumbeena have as yet not been beaten in Division 4 – indeed they have rarely been tested. Heatherton Black franked their position as main challengers with some strong late season form, but all of that went out the window very early in the piece in this final. 56-34 in no way overstated the dominance of the Lion ladies as they marched into the Club’s maiden netball Grand Final. The vanquished Heatherton Black side will play Caulfield Yellow for the right to meet them, after the Caulfield side’s extra time win over CPL. There were no more than two or three goals between the sides all day, and with the two unable to be split after normal time the extra fourteen minutes was needed. Again, there was nothing to choose between the sides for the most part, but when time expired it was Caulfield Yellow that prevailed – just – by 49-48.
Division 5 has been the most keenly fought competition within the SFNL in 2018. Oakleigh District weren’t helped for their battle with Lyndhurst by a mounting injury list and form concerns around some of their most important personnel. Lyndhurst asserted their physical dominance early on and made it count on the scoreboard as the day progressed to win by 45-33 and progress to the Grand Final. East Brighton had secured their finals place in the final seconds of the last home and away match, and took their time getting into stride, trailing by as many as seven in the second quarter. Good sides, however, are able to snatch victories from adversity, and East Brighton are proving to be a very good side. They set to work about arresting the decline, and did so to the extent that they were able to win this one by 37-33 to earn a shot at the Oaks in the Preliminary Final.
Mordialloc Red have been dominant in Division 6, their unblemished record meaning that they entered the finals series as hot favourites to annex the title. Doveton Eagles, however, are a serious netball team in their own right, beating all Division 6 opposition with the exception of the Mordialloc outfit. The two leading combatants squared off for the second week in a row, and again it was Mordialloc that prevailed to enter the Grand Final first, but not without a heck of a fight. No side has scored more against the Reds than the Eagles’ 42 here, but Mordialloc’s 49 goals got the job done. Doveton can still enter the Grand Final by beating Keysborough this week. They were seldom in any great danger of defeat by Lyndale, but the defence of the Pumas kept them in with a shout until deep in the match. Keysborough though had the skill and fitness to win out, by 32-23.
Lyndhurst were the SFNL’s third unbeaten side, but Lady Luck picked the worst possible week to desert the Lightning as they squared up to Murrumbeena in the Second Semi Final. After a free-flowing but close opening it was Murrumbeena that seized the initiative in the second quarter, and a combination of classy Murrumbeena netball and two untimely strikes from the injury stick meant that there was no way back. A 45-37 scoreline means that Murrumbeena enters the decider, and Lyndhurst have to do things the hard way. To get to the final showdown they will have to defeat a plucky Hampton, who won a see-sawing battle which saw them lead Dingley by up to five goals, then trail by five, then claw their way back into the match with a 33-30 victory. This was Hampton’s first final in any division, and it will live long in the memory of all that saw it.
Hallam Red took on Lyndhurst in the Division 8 Second Semi Final keen to repeat their crushing Round 9 victory over the same opposition. This, however, is a very different Lyndhurst to that which faced the Hawks on that late June afternoon, and while Hallam Red are into the Grand Final, it was quite the battle to get there. 46-41 was the margin here, and having squared off against red, yellow and black uniforms Lyndhurst will have to do it all again next week as Hallam Yellow won the First Semi Final. Highett were the opposition, and after a tight opening to proceedings Yellow were able to wear Highett down over the day in a dour, defensive battle. Their winning margin was 27-20.
Division 9 has often been like netball through the looking glass in 2018, as nothing is exactly as it seems. The semi final weekend provided more of the same, as both lower-placed sides won their matches. Heatherton beat South Yarra in Round 15 to take the minor premiership. Here a chastened South Yarra took their revenge in the most emphatic fashion, never looking in danger as they bolted out of the gates early and held their lead for a 36-27 win. Lyndhurst were similarly impressive in a 40-24 blitz over a Black Rock side that has had a fine season, but has run out of steam when it mattered most. Lyndhurst will hence play Heatherton next week, and you’d need to be brave or silly to try and tip a winner there...