The Collingwood Magpies are desperately hoping to secure their first victory of the season in Round 4, after starting the season none from three for the first time.
It might only be the early stages of the competition, but there are already concerns for where the Magpies are headed.
The Pies are sitting on the bottom of the ladder, winning just four quarters and have been beaten by a total 32 points.
The false start is nothing new for the Magpies, who’ve began three of their past four Super Netball campaigns with two straight losses before joining the winner’s circle.
Unfortunately, that history shows they’re also unlikely to recover, after finishing towards the bottom of the ladder those years, in 2018 (seventh), 2020 (eighth) and 2021 (sixth).
In fact, in the five years of the club’s existence, the side have struggled to convince netball fans that they have a real chance at lifting the Super Netball trophy.
Even in the two seasons that they made the finals, back in 2017 and 2019, they’ve bowed out straight away.
During that time, they’ve signed some of the biggest names in world netball, had three different coaches and still haven’t been able to establish a winning culture.
In the off-season, the current team said they spent a lot of time soul searching and trying to figure out who it is that they want to be as a netball club. So far, there have been no signs to demonstrate that they’ve found any of the answers.
They lack leadership up front, the discipline to stick to a game plan and a full commitment from each player to execute their role in the team.
There’s also a lack of accountability in where the breakdown is happening on court.
On Sunday night, mid-courter Kelsey Browne bravely turned up for Fox Netball’s Pivot show, after the Magpies 75-64 loss to the NSW Swifts, hoping to shed some light on where things were going wrong.
Those that have seen the match would have found that to be a confusing assessment, when you consider Collingwood’s defence won the ball back 14 times from the Swifts.
With 23 general play turnovers and 16 of them coming from the front end of the court, the disconnect actually seems to be in attack, where the Magpies have shown an inability to convert important gains, treasure possession and score off their own centre pass.
Last year, the story was much the same, where Collingwood averaged more defensive rebounds and deflections with a gain per game than any other team.
On the flip side, they had the second worst average in the league for general play turnovers per game.
The majority of the players that occupy their mid-court and shooting positions have been with the club for at least three years.
That is, bar Sophie Garbin, who left the NSW Swifts to become Collingwood’s starting goal attack.
Will Sophie Garbin’s move pay off?
Collingwood pulled off the biggest coup of the signing period last year, when they lured two-time premiership winner Garbin away from the NSW Swifts.
After four years playing with the club as an impact player, the 25-year-old emerging Diamonds goal shooter was eager to find more court time and cement a starting position in a Super Netball side.
Although Garbin has ticked off one of those goals, starting every match for the Magpies in goal attack, she’s struggled to establish a solid connection with Jamaican goal shooter Shimona Nelson and instead found herself sitting back on the bench by the first or second quarter.
This has meant Garbin has spent a total of 59 minutes — almost the equivalent of a full match — watching the game from the sidelines since the move.
It’s a big ask to take on such a prominent role in a new position and in a new team, when Garbin was still learning how to play goal attack off the bench at the Swifts.
Remaining positive, Collingwood head coach Nicole Richardson told the ABC that Garbin was always signed to play goal attack for the club and simply needs time to find her feet.
She is adamant that they do have a great team, but have just suffered from lapses in concentration and need their first victory to build some confidence.
“We needed a tall, strong-bodied athlete who had the capacity to play both roles, so all our conversations with Sophie during the recruitment phase were around that and although she’s probably more comfortable in goal shooter, she’s growing her game at goal attack and just needs more court time.”
At the Swifts, there was less margin for error.
There, Garbin was being taught to feed Trinidad and Tobago star Sam Wallace, as her wrist work and ability to keep the ball out of reach from defenders makes her one of the best goal shooters in the league.
It’s a tougher tough task at the Magpies, where 23-year-old Nelson needs the ball put in a specific spot and has a tendency to become stagnant with less movement about her game.
The Swifts attack end is also stacked with experienced leaders that are ready to stand up and pull their team through tough patches, from co-captains Maddy Proud and Paige Hadley in the mid-court, to Wallace and English import Helen Housby in the circle.
At the minute, it feels like Sophie Garbin is very much the square peg, the Magpies are trying to fit into a round hole, without a goal attack that can really take the game by the scruff of the neck.
Can things be turned around?
Former Diamonds captain Sharni Norder says the club’s decisions around recruitment need further thought, believing their list isn’t strong enough to contest in the Super Netball league.
Norder was one of the foundation players at the Magpies back in 2017, retiring from the sport a year later to pursue Australian Football after falling out of love with the game.
In her book ‘No Apologies’ Norder goes into more detail about why she stopped enjoying netball at this stage of her career, explaining that one of the biggest problems that led to the breakdown in the relationship between Collingwood’s players, was their inability to put their self-interests aside and work together as a team.
The majority of those athletes have long moved on, as has the head coach, but Norder told the ABC it still feels like the issues around team culture are plaguing the current side.
“It’s not about soul searching, it’s about committing to a solid game plan built around your strongest playing personnel and for others to be willing to work around that designated player.”
The Magpies have signed all seven of their starting athletes on two-year deals, but beyond recruitment, Norder says they should be able to improve things with the squad that they’ve got.
It will just come down to a shift in mentality and how they approach each game.
“The backline is good, but it’s also stacked with first-ball intercept players, so they could continue to work on their set-up to create more ball for each other,” she said.
“In the mid-court, I would put Kelsey Browne in centre and have someone in the wing-attack position that is focused on working around her.”
On Wednesday night, the Magpies face the Sunshine Coast Lightning, who got their first win of the season against the Adelaide Thunderbirds on Sunday.
The Lightning are a younger side and might appear to be an easier target for Collingwood to finally register a victory against, but it is going to take a much better team performance to get over the line.