The Magpies halved the ledger on their trip to Traralgon, coming home with one win and one loss against the Queensland Firebirds and Adelaide Thunderbirds respectively.
Off the back of a successful series in Hobart, the pre-season matches provided further opportunity for the Magpies to test new combinations up against fresh opposition as the season proper quickly approaches.
The weekend kicked off on Friday night at the Gippsland Regional Indoor Sports Complex, with the Thunderbirds finding the edge over the Magpies by just 3 points (48–51).
The Thunderbirds were reunited with star defender Shamera Sterling, who took to the court for the first time for 2021, while South Africans Lenize Potgieter and Shadine Van Der Merwe are still to clear their quarantine period and are set to re-join the squad shortly.
However, the Thunderbirds weren’t left short in the shooting circle, with Samantha Gooden stepping up to the plate alongside rising star Georgie Horjus, with mainstays Maisie Nankivell and Hannah Petty leading the mid-court.
A fast start to the Thunderbirds saw the margin quickly out to five goals, with the Magpies taking the early stages to settle in to the physicality of the game and find their composure with ball in hand.
Gabby Sinclair didn't take long to find her range, while the battle in the air between Shimona Nelson and Sterling was enthralling to watch.
Collingwood clawed back the deficit off the back of the defensive brilliance of Jodi Ann Ward, converted by Sinclair at the opposite end to claim a 2-goal lead at the first break.
It was a goal-for-goal affair when play resumed in the second, before sharp shooting from Adelaide duo Gooden and Horjus closed the gap.
The Magpies defence rallied, led by Geva Mentor and ably supported by Jacqui Newton, but it was the Thunderbirds who capitalised in the Rebel Power 5 to claim the lead by a single goal at the major break.
Head Coach Nicole Richardson called upon a moving circle in the second half, with Kalifa McCollin joining Sinclair in the circle to provide a new look attack.
Both shooters were accurate from range but it was the decision-making from the Magpies which opened the door for the Thunderbirds, who took the pressure up a notch to hold a three-goal lead with one quarter to play.
The final quarter was one of shifting momentum, with no pace dropping from the match.
Melissa Bragg’s work rate and endurance was on full display, while Molly Jovic continued to find the circle’s edge as both continued to feed the shooting circle with precision.
The Thunderbirds were able to push the margin back out to five goals off the back of the defensive work of Sterling but at the other end of the court, Mentor and Ward only lifted to match her, ensuring the Magpies stayed within striking distance.
The final minutes were hard fought – a super shot to McCollin gave the Magpies a chance, but the Thunderbirds ultimately steadied to hold on by two goals.
The Magpies then turned the tables on Sunday morning, recording an impressive 11-point victory (67–56) over the Queensland Firebirds back at Gippsland Regional Indoor Sports Complex.
The Firebirds had full access to their playing roster for the first time this year – bar the return of Gretel Bueta – including the familiar face of former Magpie Kim Ravaillion.
The Queensland side got the jump early, out to a 5-goal lead despite the best efforts of Sinclair and Nelson in the shooting circle and manic pressure from Ward at wing defence.
However, it didn’t take long for the Magpies to close the gap at the resumption of play in the second quarter, with Lind finding Nelson under the post on multiple occasions to start to build momentum.
Mentor continued to command the defensive circle, her battle with Romelda Aiken a showcase of two seasoned professionals.
Sinclair came into her own in the Rebel Power 5 – her long-range shooting a highlight of the game – opening up a 4-goal lead at the major break.
Collingwood took the pressure up a notch in the second half, as the connection through the middle between Lind, Jovic and Bragg began to solidify.
Sinclair continued her near-perfect shooting record, while Nelson continually presented a powerful target under the post, assisting the Magpies to a 9-goal lead with a quarter to play.
There was no slowing down for the Magpies, who lost no intensity in the final term.
Bragg and Jovic were electric through the middle, while Sinclair never looked like missing no matter where she was positioned in the shooting circle.
The Firebirds made a last gasp effort but the Magpies found another gear to take the final margin to a comfortable 11 points.
For sharp-shooter Gabby Sinclair, the key was consistency.
“We’ve been working really hard on consistency – especially our centre pass conversion. I think that really improved this game and helped get us over the line.”
“I think [our confidence] is growing every week and every game we get out there.”
“We’ll keep working on our consistency and bringing out the brand of netball we want to play.”