Sapphires crowned 2017 Premier League Champions

Manly Warringah Sapphires have seized victory in the Samsung Premier League Opens Grand Final after defeating Minor Premiers UTS St George Sparks, 59-56, at the Genea Netball Centre last night, Wednesday 20 September.

It was the second time in as many weeks the two sides met, with the Sapphires posting a thrilling come-from-behind win in the Major Semi Final to secure a Grand Final berth. With a re-match on the cards for the title decider, the stage was set for another exciting match-up.

And the first 30 minutes certainly carried that narrative with neither side able to get ahead of the other; the scoreboard locked on equal footing at both breaks. However, on closer inspection, Manly had shown early signs of dominating.

Opening out to an early lead in the first 15 minutes, Sapphires looked comfortable in attack with GA Lauren Cantwell proving an integral play-maker in the attacking third while shooting partner Georgia Marshall provided a strong target in the circle.

The play was fast, ferocious and tenacious between the sides, and the Sparks were ready to jump on any opportunity provided to them. With midcourt pair Kaitlyn Bryce (C) and Claire O’Brien (WA) finding GS Kristina Brice in the circle, UTS had the opportunity to quickly score. Finding momentum late in the quarter, the Sparks were able to get back on equal footing by the first break.

A similar story continued into the second quarter with Manly again finding early form. Captain Nikki Deegenaars (C) and WD Brooke Lawrence combined well to help their defensive teammates, doing their best to keep Bryce and O’Brien off the circle edge in order to limit the influence of Brice. In the meantime Marshall continued to dominate in the Sapphires’ circle – her aerial ability under close attention from Styles sisters Kara (GK) and Nicole (GD) a highlight.

Manly’s momentum could have spelled disaster for UTS, but the Sparks were all too eager to prove they could turn the tables. As unforced errors began to creep into the Sapphires’ game, UTS were ready for their opportunities.

The contest between Manly’s Georgia Clayden (WA) and UTS’ Amy Parmenter (WD) was an entertaining battle, and it was around the time Parmenter began to get the better of her opponent the tide started to turn in the Spark’s favour. Parmenter’s deceptive speed and aerial abilities helped create crucial turnovers, which shooters Brice and GA Beryl Friday dutifully converted. Again the game was locked at half-time, 30-30.

With scoreboard locked for the first half, the penultimate quarter presented the opportunity for either team to produce a ‘Championship quarter’. Manly and UTS put everything on the line to win back possession for their side, but the scoreboard remained dramatically goal-for-goal for most of the term.

Building defensive pressure forced both teams to take riskier passes to avoid held ball calls, and a wayward Sapphire pass found its way into GK Style’s hands, presenting UTS with the opportunity they’d been searching for – finding momentum. Having seized their chances, the game finally had a clear leader with UTS enjoying a two-goal advantage as the game headed into the final 15 minutes.

Despite the tide turning against them late in the previous quarter, the Sapphires came out firing for the fourth – winning some key intercepts to bring the game back onto equal footing. While the Sparks defence managed to stifle early conversion opportunities, an intercept from Manly Captain Deeganaars propelled the Sapphires into the lead – only to be stolen back moments later with an incredible circle-edge turnover from Parmenter to bring Sparks back into the lead.

The result could have gone either way and as the minutes began to tick away it was impossible to tell who would finish with the championship.

But two crucial intercepts from Sapphires late in the piece gave them an edge, and by holding onto possession for the final minute it also showed great game smarts. With a defensive contact call in the dying seconds, President’s Medal recipient Marshall shot her 40th goal to secure a three-goal Premiership winning victory for the Sapphires.

President’s Medal (MVP): Georgia Marshall (Sapphires)

Quarter-by-Quarter Scores
SAPPHIRES | Q1: 13 – Q2: 30 (17) – Q3: 46 (16) – Q4: 59 (13)
SPARKS | Q1: 13 – Q2: 30 (17) – Q3: 48 (18) –Q4: 56 (8)

Starting Line-Ups
SAPPHIRES | GS Georgia Marshall, GA Lauren Cantwell, WA Georgia Clayden, C Nikki Deeganaars, WD Brooke Lawrence, GD Stephanie MacGougan, GK Hannah Creelman

SPARKS | GS Kristina Brice, GA Beryl Friday, WA Claire O’Brien, C Kaitlyn Bryce, WD Amy Parmenter, GD Nicole Styles, GK Kara Styles

Shooting Statistics
SAPPHIRES: 59/68 @ 87%
G. Marshall: 40/43 @ 93%
L. Cantwell: 19/25 @ 76%

SPARKS: 56/66 @ 85%
K. Brice: 38/45 @ 84%
B. Friday: 18/21 @ 86%