Halifax clinch victory in epic final

Halifax 37 – 36 James
College Varsity qualifiers final

Images: Petroc Taylor

In what proved an electric fixture that brought proceedings in the Tent this weekend to a thrilling close, Halifax triumphed in a game of astonishing tempo and seemingly impossible comebacks.

With first blood instantly going to Halifax, the game was swift to establish itself as one that was to be pinned upon transitional dominance, as both teams employed similar tactics in moving the ball rapidly through the midfield and onto consistent shooting duos. Redwood led an inspired passage of play that soon gave James an equaliser, with Pullan putting away her first shot of the game.

Both teams were playing high-pressure netball, although Halifax seemed to have a slight edge over possession and control of the tempo, aided by the scintillating pace of WA Lo Jones, and wonderful shooting by Becky Gabbitas, a suitable rival for Pullan, whose shooting in James’ qualifying game was sublime.

Soon, the game was at 5-3 to Halifax, whose frequent interceptions prevented the Swans from playing in their characteristically flowing style, whilst enjoying such link ups themselves, with Jones, Woodings and Gabbitas producing a series of fantastic moves to bring them up to 10-6. The arrival of James’ black swan mascot seemed to inspire a slight retaliation, with Rebecca Pay-Savage’s beautiful interception setting up Hall to take the team’s seventh goal just before quarter time.

Halifax had certainly controlled the first quarter, but James came back revived, and the next period of play say wonderful shooting from opposing forces of Pullan and Hall, and Woodings and Gabbitas, leaving the score at 16-12 with a few minutes left on the clock for the half. Sheldon and Cheang were increasingly instrumental in James’ delivering the ball to the extraordinarily capable hands of Pullan, who was finding her stride, and – incredibly – worked with Hall to close in on the leaders, seeing James end the half on top leading 18-17.

Superb defensive pressure by Wilmink and Pay-Savage kept Halifax at bay, who – with this new reversal of dominance and mood – were now snapping at their opponents’ heels, and Hall’s shooting, as unflappable as ever, was brilliant. Even three goals on the trot by the fantastic pairing of Woodings and Gabbitas couldn’t stop the building of momentum and quality by James, who were playing wonderfully as a unit, constantly inventive and threatening, and urged on by a large and vocal group of supporters, and able to end the third quarter 31-23: surely too great a mountain for Halifax to climb.

An idea instantly refuted: Halifax came back with fantastic pace and flair, and a beleaguered James defence could only watch as their opponents brought the score line to 31-27, playing with a do or die attitude that suggested a real comeback was a possibility. As both teams tired, the game became a war of attrition, with turnarounds hinging on the slightest of errors, and the atmosphere in the Tent became utterly electric. Staggeringly, with three minutes left on the clock, Halifax had clawed the game back to 35-35, by which point every shot was greeted with gasps. In a phenomenal final couple of minutes, Halifax put away a crucial couple of goals and left a devastated James side one behind as the final whistle went. An astonishing comeback, fantastic netball, and a brilliant match.

James captain, Ellie Redwood, despite her disappointment, commented: “It was a really, really good game; it was really contested, but they deserved to win, so well done to them.”

An exhausted, but elated Sarah Moody, heading the victorious Halifax team, was euphoric at the result: “We’re just so happy, and did really well. We lost it a bit in the third quarter, but we had a little chat and we got our heads up – really pulled together as a team – and that’s why we won, I think, because we played as a team.”

James: Redwood (C), Pullan, Pay-Savage, Sheldon, Cheang, Hall, Wilmink

Halifax: Moody (C), Hyett, Tyson, Figgis, Jones, Griffiths, Woodings, Gabbitas

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