The battle for the 2021 Super Netball minor premiership will go down to the wire after NSW Swifts defeated Adelaide Thunderbirds 58-53 to create a four-way logjam at the top of the ladder with one round to play.
The Swifts snapped a two-match losing streak at Brisbane's Nissan Arena to join the West Coast Fever, Giants and Sunshine Coast Lightning on 32 competition points - setting up a season-defining double-header on Saturday that will determine the matchups for the upcoming semi-finals.
Currently sitting in third place with a points percentage of 105.38, the Swifts will open 'Super Saturday' against the fourth-placed Lightning (99.48) with the winner guaranteed a top-two finish and a double-chance in the finals.
The top-ranked Fever (118.82) will then close out the regular season against the second-placed Giants (107.46) with the victors almost certain to claim the minor premiership due to a superior percentage.
The remaining round 14 matches have been relocated to Brisbane and will be played under strict protocols, as part of an agreement with the Queensland Government, after the coronavirus lockdown in the southeast of the state was extended until Sunday.
After losses to the Giants and Collingwood Magpies, the Swifts were buoyed by the return of head coach Briony Akle following her isolation period from the team in Adelaide after being deemed a close contact of a positive COVID case.
The 2019 champions withstood a strong challenge from the seventh-placed Thunderbirds to lead by as many as 12 goals in the fourth quarter before taking their foot off the pedal, captain Maddy Proud showing signs of her best form with the finals fast approaching.
The Swifts enjoyed a healthy share of possession in the opening term but Adelaide stayed in touch on the scoreboard until NSW held them to two points over the final six minutes of the quarter to grab a 15-10 advantage.
But the Thunderbirds kept pace in the second quarter with Georgie Horjus starting to impact the game from goal attack and Lenize Potgieter providing a steady presence under the post.
NSW opened the second half ahead 31-27 and quickly gained the ascendancy with Proud and Paige Hadley taking control of the midcourt as their lead grew to 48-38 by the end of the third quarter.
Any hopes of a stirring Adelaide comeback were dealt a major blow when wing attack Maisie Nankivell limped off with a knee injury early in the fourth quarter.
While the Thunderbirds enjoyed a 15-10 win in the final stanza, the Swifts opted to give key contributors such as Proud, Garbin and Helen Housby some extra rest with the result safely in their keeping.
Australian Associated Press