CLINICAL GIANTS TOO GOOD FOR MAGPIES IN MELBOURNE
It was Sharni Layton's netball retirement party, but it was the Giants who helped themselves to the cake, in their 66-56 Suncorp Super Netball win over the Collingwood Magpies on Sunday.
The Magpies were already out of finals contention, but the roaring crowd at the Hisense Arena in Melbourne was in celebration mode to send off fan favourite Sharni Layton - who was playing her final home match ahead of her retirement at the end of the season.
Sharni face masks were distributed around the crowd and the Magpies were determined to secure a win to give the former Diamonds defender a send-off to remember.
The Giants couldn't afford to spare any sentiment though, with the tussle for the top four spots being wide open following the Lightning's annihilation of the NSW Swifts on Saturday.
Layton and fellow defender Ash Brazill gave them plenty of headaches, but the Giants exercised their usual patience and eventually broke the game open late in the third quarter - led by match MVP Jo Harten - claiming the win and all four bonus points.
The comprehensive win means that the Giants are now assured a place in the final four, along with West Coast Fever, leaving the Sunshine Coast Lightning, Queensland Firebirds and Melbourne Vixens to fight it out over the remaining two positions.
The Magpies had tasted victory just three times leading into this match, but showed they were up for the fight to get their fourth in the first quarter.
Layton brought vintage defensive energy while Ash Brazill continued her strong season form to frustrate the Giants and after 10 minutes of play, it was the home side with a one-goal lead.
A turnover in the final minute of the quarter handed the Giants the run they needed though, to open a two-goal advantage and claim a critical bonus point out of the first quarter.
Giants threatened to skip away on many occasions through the second term, prompting a Magpies time out.
Collingwood coach Kristy Keppich-Birrell called for better defence from her charges and they responded - including a Layton intercept that helped bring the Magpies back to within a single goal.
The roar of the Hisense Arena crowd grew louder as Layton imprinted her presence onto the match and the Magpies threatened to surge.
But Giants shooter Jo Harten reeled in a couple of critical balls to give the visitors another bonus point and a 34-30 halftime lead.
Collingwood refused to go away though, with Brazill playing a starring role in defence to cut the margin to one goal once again.
Every time Giants threatened to push away, the Magpies would pull out a stop to disrupt their flow - Layton being involved more often than not.
Shae Brown entered the fray to replace Kim Ravaillion at centre as the Giants pulled clear once more, but this time the visitors were able to make their run stick to take the bonus point for the third quarter and a 51-42 lead into the final term.
It was neck-and-neck throughout the final term, but the Giants were able to hold their nerve and complete the sweep of the Magpies.
After announcing that 2018 would be her final season as Collingwood's head coach, Kristy Keppich-Birrell said she she was proud of her group's effort against the Giants.
"It's disappointing not to get a win in your last home game as a group, but we fought til the end, and there were some good signs out there again," she said post-game.
"Madi Robinson was a playmaker as always. She's quite exceptional and showed that again today."
After announcing her decision to step down during the week, Keppich-Birrell said her focus would be on closing out the Magpies' 2018 campaign against the Firebirds.
"It was a difficult decision to come to, but it was one that I needed to make."
"We've broken down doors and opened new opportunities for players and staff in women's sport, and I'm really proud of that.
"Hopefully we can finish off on a high note against the Firebirds next week in Brisbane."
Q1: Magpies 14 v Giants 16
Q2: Magpies 16 v Giants 18
Q3: Magpies 12 v Giants 17
Q4: Magpies 14 v Giants 15
Suncorp Super Netball premiership points
Magpies shooting statistics
Caitlin Thwaites 37/41
Erin Bell 19/23
Giants shooting statistics
Susan Pettitt 30/32
Jo Harten 36/41
Magpies starting seven
GS: Caitlin Thwaites, GA: Erin Bell, WA: Madi Robinson, C: Kim Ravaillion, WD: Ash Brazill, GD: April Brandley, GK: Sharni Layton
Giants starting seven
GS: Susan Pettitt, GA: Jo Harten, WA: Kim Green, C: Serena Guthrie, WD: Serena Guthrie, GD: Bec Bulley, GK: Sam Poolman
Match MVP: Jo Harten