Kristina Brice shoots for the Giants.
Kristina Brice shoots for the Giants. DAVID CROSLING

Vixens crash out of Super Netball finals

FROM minor premiers to straight sets exit.

The Melbourne Vixens' dreams of a fairytale finish to 2017 and a place in the inaugural Super Netball Grand Final were crushed after being steamrolled on their home turf by expansion team the Giants at Hisense Arena in Saturday's preliminary final.

Having entered the finals series as championship favourites after finishing the season on top of the ladder, the Vixens were sent packing from the finals race after their 65-57 loss, which followed last week's one-goal major semi-final loss to the Sunshine Coast Lightning.

The Giants, one of three new teams in the expanded and revamped national league, will now meet the Lighting in the Super Netball decider in Brisbane on Saturday night.

For the young Vixens, it was a season that started with little external expectation and developed into one with so much promise, but ultimately ended in crushing disappointment.

It was clear from the outset that the Vixens had a Giant challenge in front of them against the Sydney-based team, outplayed across the court as English goal attack Jo Harten starred to claim MVP honours for her 23 goals from 25 attempts.

Giants goal shooter Kristina Brice (42/44) was equally dominant, while the Vixens goalers Mwai Kumwenda (37/44) and Tegan Philip (20/26) struggled to make their usual impact.

Vixens captain Kate Moloney was philosophical about the loss after the game and warned the team would be back stronger next year.

"I could not be more proud of what we have done this season," Moloney said.

"Look out 2018, we'll be back bigger and better."

Dominant starters throughout the season, the Vixens had only lost one opening quarter this year, in their Round 12 loss to the Giants in Canberra.

Last week they drew their opening quarter in the major semi-final loss to the Lightning and the Giants again had the upper hand in a sharp and physical start to the penultimate final.

The signs were not good from the start, with the Vixens attacking pair of Tegan Philip and Mwai Kumwenda struggling to get on top in the goal circle against the Giants defensive pairing of Bec Bulley and Sam Poolman.

But the Vixens were also having to work overtime just to deliver the ball into the circle as the Giants' defensive pressure across the court strangled their flow into attack.

After playing her first full game at goal shooter in last week's minor semi-final win over the Magpies, Giants goal shooter Brice provided a dominant target under the ring as the team again started with their revamped attacking line, with Susan Pettitt moved out to wing attack.

The Giants had established a four-goal lead after just seven minutes in the opening quarter and took a three-goal buffer into the first change as the experienced Pettitt provided a headache for the Vixens with her brilliant delivery in the circle, nine feeds in the first quarter, setting up her team's attacking play.

Winning their match-ups across the court, the Giants lead had ballooned to eight goals midway through the second quarter and the Vixens attack, so impressive throughout the season, had their confidence bruised.

Trailing by eight goals at the main break, Vixens coach Simone McKinnis stuck with her favoured starting seven for the start of the second half, but when the margin stretched to 12 goals with three minutes to play, she seized a time-out opportunity to change up her midcourt.

Moloney was moved from centre to her former role at wing defence, replacing Chloe Watson, on the damaging Pettitt, Liz Watson was switched from wing attack into centre on the equally problematic Serena Guthrie, and Khao Watts was brought off the bench into wing attack.

A 13-goal margin greeted the Vixens at the final change, with McKinnis swapping Philip and Kumwenda for the start of the final term. They moved back to their normal roles midway through the quarter as the Giants lead blew out to 16 goals.

The Vixens rallied late in the quarter to reduce the final margin, but it was too late to stop the Giants charge into the decider.

News Corp Australia

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