NSW SWIFTS CAPTAIN ABBEY MCCULLOCH LANDED A BLOW FOR THE OFTEN-NEGLECTED WING DEFENDERS BY PLAYING A STARRING ROLE ON HER SIDE’S 54-44 SUNCORP SUPER NETBALL WIN AGAINST THE ADELAIDE THUNDERBIRDS AT QUDOS BANK ARENA.
Those wearing WD bibs rarely amass rock star statistics and are regularly overlooked, but not McCulloch whose defence was as spectacular as it was ruthless.
The Swifts had clearly done their homework on the Thunderbirds who were powerless without an influential game from their top feeder Chelsea Pitman.
There were some anxious moments in the last quarter as the visitors nibbled away at NSW’s lead, but the Swifts had learned from last week’s narrow loss and kept their composure.
Powered by a dominant midcourt, home team goalers Sam Wallace (35 goals) and Helen Housby (19) gorged on their opportunities.
At the other end, captain Erin Bell (17 goals) fought hard but was unable to spark anything productive for Adelaide.
Swifts coach Rob Wright would have been delighted with the suffocating pressure his defenders brought to the first quarter.
McCulloch camped at the top of the circle, forcing the Thunderbirds’ feeders wider than they would have liked.
One of the best shut-down players in the competition, McCulloch helped herself to four deflections in an outstanding first half as she put the squeeze on Thunderbird Pitman.
Maddy Proud also clogged up Adelaide’s attack and that made it easier for the circle defenders to pluck any lobs that were less than perfect.
That’s not to say the Swifts were without finesse.
Paige Hadley’s long-range missile into Wallace bisected the Thunderbirds’ defence and set up a 27-20 halftime lead.
If the Thunderbirds were to claw their way back, they needed to open a more direct channel into goalers Erin Bell and Karyn Bailey who were shooting accurately but starved of opportunities.
Space and scoring opportunities were even fewer for Adelaide in the third term.
The Swifts’ midcourt decimated their opponents, leaving Thunderbirds coach Dan Ryan looking desperately at his bench in search of some spark to reignite the Round 1 winners.
Adelaide trailed by as much as 12 goals before two-metre shooter Jane Cook was injected for a last quarter fightback.