A stirring comeback victory by Sunshine Coast Lightning has set up a thrilling conclusion to the Super Netball season with the race for playoff positions going down to the wire.
Following the penultimate round of the regular season, the Lightning and NSW Swifts are guaranteed to finish as the top two teams and meet in the first week of the finals.
But the minor premiership and home-court advantage is still up for grabs, with the Lightning (74) enjoying a two-point advantage over the Swifts (72).
Melbourne Vixens (63) are guaranteed to finish third and will host an elimination final in two weeks’ time, while the Giants (53) and Collingwood Magpies (52) are left to fight it out for fourth spot.
The Vixens were poised to make the minor premiership a three-way battle after building a 10-goal lead against the Lightning at Melbourne Arena on Sunday but the two-time champions worked their way back for a nail-biting one-goal win, extending their current winning streak to seven games.
“Obviously, us coming away with that win was massive, considering we were down in that first half,” Lightning coach Noeline Taurua said after her side’s 56-55 victory.
“We are in (the finals) to play either one or two so that’s really good.”
With a final-round matchup against the injury-riddled Adelaide Thunderbirds, Taurua has her team poised to claim the minor premiership for the first time in their short history.
“We are back home so it would be quite good to finish it off nicely,” she said.
“But the carrot of being number one is really enticing and we’ve never been in that position before.”
Vixens coach Simone McKinnis maintains her side is still in contention despite falling to the top two teams in consecutive weeks.
“We have got a big match next week against Magpies which is going to be a really tough one, they are playing great netball, and then we’ve got to be excited about playing whoever it is we play in that first final,” McKinnis said after the Vixens missed out on the double chance.
“Once you get into the finals, whatever happens in the season itself doesn’t matter.”
Playing without injured goal attack Helen Housby for the third successive week, the Swifts missed a golden opportunity to close in on top spot after they were upset by the desperate Magpies 64-56 in Launceston on Saturday.
The Magpies temporarily moved into fourth as they kept their playoff hopes alive, but it came at a cost with star midcourter Kelsey Browne suffering a serious knee injury in the second quarter.
The Giants then picked up seven competition points in their 54-40 win over the Thunderbirds in Adelaide to regain fourth place.
In the remaining match of the round, Queensland Firebirds finally broke through for their first win of the season with a 68-62 victory over the Fever in Perth.