Super-shot super-subs become commonplace as netball evolution continues

When Super Netball last year dropped a proverbial bomb – in the shape of the contentious super shot fewer than 40 days out from the start of the season – clubs had little time to recalibrate their game plans.

Some teams, like the Queensland Firebirds, “made it up” as they went along in 2020, according to defender Tara Hinchliffe. But after two rounds of the new season, it is already clear that the final five minutes of each quarter, when the long-range two-goal shot is in play, has been on the minds of many coaches over the off-season.

As predicted, the rule – used only in Australia’s elite league – is re-writing the book on how the game is played. For 20 minutes a match, the methodologies of both attacking and defensive play are shifting, as is how often the ball is worked around by circle-edge midcourters, as shooters search for their sweet spot.

But the emergence of the “super super-sub” is the most observable change. Long bomb specialists like the Firebirds’ Tippah Dwan, new Collingwood recruit Kalifa McCollin and Adelaide Thunderbirds Georgie Horjus and Samantha Gooden have been strategically brought on using the new rolling sub rule when the extra reward is on offer.

The sight of such specialists limbering up in the subs’ box as the clock ticks down to super shot time is now commonplace. But it is not a case of simply keeping the volume shooter at the back and adding a long bomb goal attack, as was seen in 2020.

In various stages of the Firebirds’ 68-57 win over the Thunderbirds on Sunday afternoon, Diamonds star Gretel Bueta switched her usual GA bib for GS, sending Jamaican tall Romelda Aiken to the bench, so Dwan could come on at GA.

Bueta, who is returning after a season out to have a baby, has added longer shots to her repertoire and is also a strong rebounder, so it was a shrewd move by new Firebirds coach Megan Anderson.

Bueta has rarely played at goal shooter, but given the falling value of former national captain Caitlin Bassett’s stocks, her minutes there may give Diamonds’ coach Stacey Marinkovich something to think about as she looks to the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham next year and the World Cup in Cape Town the year after.

In the same match, Thunderbird Gooden entered the game at goal attack just 10 seconds before the super shot period in the first quarter and duly sunk four from the zone. And after being the super super-sub in round one, Horjus also went to shooter in the last minutes of the game in an attempt by coach Tania Obst to reel in the scoreline.

While the Thunderbirds are sitting on two losses despite their approach to the super shot, the Giants are prospering, with their new starting pair of Jo Harten and Sophie Dwyer more than capable from the distance. They are firing from afar throughout the match, not just in the last five, and they generally have their eye in.

The Giants, who beat Collingwood 66-54 on Saturday, have attempted and scored the most super shots of any side in the league so far this year, with 15/29.

They are top of the table and mainly have Harten – who expressed her disdain for the rule when it was announced – to thank. She has already shot eight, adding 16 goals to her side’s 132 season total. Interestingly, the second-placed Sunshine Coast Lightning have the least, scoring just four in two matches, despite having Steph Wood, one of the best all-circle shooters in the world.

But it is not just the shooting end impacted; defensively it changes things too. Many circle defenders are now doubling up on the long-range “risk”, leaving the other shooter free, effectively conceding a regular goal, rather than chancing a super.

Also, pairs such as Lightning’s Karla Pretorius and Kate Shimmin appear to have worked on their “double defence” jumps, which are only achievable if the shooter is at range and the side is willing to leave the other goaler unmarked.

A little like the specialist shooters, Shimmin has been used tactically in super shot time this season. That’s because of her noted vertical leap on the shot, which works best when she has room to execute, as is the case with long shots.

In Lightning’s 56-51 win over the Melbourne Vixens on Saturday, South African Phumza Maweni got in on the action too, effecting a full block on a super shot attempt from youngster Ruby Barkmeyer in the shadows of half-time.

The new moves are all part of netball’s evolution, which continues – particularly in Australia – as the rule book is re-written and more chapters are added to the game’s history as this season progresses.