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The Grand Final gamebreakers

written by Damien Stannard

There are 15 seconds left on the clock and scores are level.

Ten thousand spectators gasp as the spinning netball brushes a set of outstretched fingers and begins to fall.

Possession is now in dispute and the winner of this critical moment will determine who lifts the final ANZ Championship trophy.

Who would you want with the ball in their hands?

That is the million-dollar question ahead of a delicious grand final match-up between reigning champion The Coffee Club Queensland Firebirds and the NSW Swifts.

Last year it was a Laura Geitz intercept that sealed a dramatic season climax and enabled a famous victory for the Queenslanders.

It takes otherworldly skill, courage, vision, hunger and athleticism to own such pivotal moments.

These are the potential gamebreakers who could turn Sunday’s decider on its head.

Gabi Simpson

Simpson prides herself on denying her opponent access to the top of the circle. In reality she does more than that.

Her intercepts and deflections alter momentum, and her long-range passes are impossible to defend.

“She’s a big time player. I love it how she backs herself and can create something with a tip or in some other way,” said coach Roselee Jencke.

“That creates uncertainty which then helps Laura and Clare (McMeniman).”

Sharni Layton

Her speedy, viper-like strikes make her one of the most feared players in the game.

Even her presence near the ball is enough to convince opponents, already beaten in the mind, to stand down from a contest.

Her spectacular leaps are not always timed perfectly – and Romelda Aiken is her kryptonite – but when Layton is in the zone she can own the court.

Caitlyn Nevins

The littlest Firebird was a lion when, with the semi-final hanging in the balance, she seized the intercept that confirmed her side would head to its fifth grand final.

She is not the biggest name on the team’s roster but it is clinical plays like that suggest her angelic features are merely a front for a competitive animal.

If Nevins fires, then the hosts will have too many weapons feeding from the circle edge.

Stephanie Wood

The former Queenslander might just be unique.

In a land of giants this nimble attacker ducks, dodges, drives, shoots and feeds using a skillset that suits three different positions.

Her captain Kim Green values her impact, likening her versatility to that of former Australian attacker Natalie Avellino.

“She’s so elusive and her timing’s impeccable,” Green said.

“I don’t think there’s anyone like Steph around.

“She’s almost like a Nat Av. They’re very similar in the way they move.”


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