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Give me the ball

She once struggled for confidence but if Caitlin Thwaites is in the position to take a game-winning shot in the final seconds of Sunday’s Super Netball grand final, she’ll won’t hesitate. The Melbourne Vixens goaler will play her 232nd and final national league match in Sunday’s Super Netball grand final against the West Coast Fever…

She once struggled for confidence but if Caitlin Thwaites is in the position to take a game-winning shot in the final seconds of Sunday’s Super Netball grand final, she’ll won’t hesitate.

The Melbourne Vixens goaler will play her 232nd and final national league match in Sunday’s Super Netball grand final against the West Coast Fever in Brisbane, hoping to cap a career that began with the Melbourne Kestrals in 2002 with a title.

Thwiates, who along with teammate Tegan Philip announced her retirement last month, wants the ball in her hands on Sunday if the game is on the line.

Last time the two teams met, Thwaites finished with 26 points on 22-of-24 shooting, including four-of-six from super shot range in a performance that almost single-handedly dragged the Vixens back from a 14-goal deficit midway through the third quarter to force a 63-63 draw.

A Thwaites super shot 15 seconds from full-time actually put the Vixens in the lead before the Fever levelled it up on the buzzer – and she wants the ball in her hands again on Sunday when the pressure’s on.

“You play out that scenario in your head as a child, as a teenager with a few seconds to go, double extra-time, there’s that many times that we practice and play out those scenarios,” she said.

“I feel that’s a responsibility you take on as a shooter – even in the dying moments of the game the last time we played the Fever, I turned to Lizzy (Watson) and said: ‘We’re going for the win we’re not going for the draw’.

“That’s the kind of mentality I’ve had all year this year, is that if somebody’s going to stand up it’s going to be me.

“I’m going to stick my hand up and I want to take that shot and I’m going to take the game on.”

That’s because it’s Thwaites’ role for the team though. The 33-year-old is adamant the focus should not be on her retirement on Sunday.

“I’ve just really tried to focus on the fact that we’ve got a grand final to win,” she said.

“We’ve had so many challenges and so many things that have been thrown at us this year and we’ve managed to overcome and set our sights on being there in the grand final, so that’s where my head is at.

“After the final whistle it’ll probably dawn on me. To a certain extent I’m just not wanting to put that pressure on myself and go into it with all of that emotion.”

The former Diamonds shooter has been in near career-best form this season and will be a target for the physical Fever defence given her accuracy from anywhere in the shooting circle.

A goal shooter throughout most of her decorated career, Thwaites has played mostly at goal attack for the Vixens this season in a shooting circle that also includes Malawian star Mwai Kumwenda and Philip.

Due to the difficulty of relocating to the Queensland hub from Victoria, Thwaites did not initially know whether she would play out the whole year.

Whether it’s the positional change, the extraordinary COVID-affected 2020 season, or the recent retirement decision though, Thwaites has been playing with a freedom and joy that has brought out her best.

“Because I didn’t know if I was going to be able to get through this season, I’ve actually really enjoyed and cherished every moment I’ve been out there,” she said.

“And I’ve had a bit of an epiphany. A lot of my career, I’ve been desperately wanting to prove myself to the coach because I’ve wanted the next year’s contract or I’ve been trying to get myself the starting spot in the Diamonds.

“All of those things I’ve been striving for across my career, this year I’ve really just realised and valued within myself what I can bring to the team.

“I’ve allowed myself to play with a bit more freedom and just get out there and really enjoy and have that gratitude for being able to get out there and play because this season so many people have not been able to get out and play.”

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