Move over super shot; this year rolling substitutions have had a bigger impact on the Super Netball league.
Although both rule innovations were inspired by basketball and implemented in the 2020 season, they have been received very differently.
From the beginning, the two-point shot was chastised, creating controversy and ongoing discussion between fans that love the sport in its traditional sense and those sick of seeing tall shooters dominate the game from close range.
But rolling subs have been a welcome addition from the get-go.
And what’s not to like?
Most importantly, the rule rids netballers of the need to double up as actresses — faking injuries in order to swap with a player on the bench during live play.
It creates more opportunity for players outside the starting seven to get court time and, in turn, helps teams build greater depth as they need to cover a greater range of positions.
It has also sped up the game, with fresh legs able to burst onto the court at any time and a higher fitness level required to keep up with the ongoing changes mid-play.
For all these reasons, last year the rule was already a hit with fans, who felt it was implemented pretty seamlessly without changing the main fundamentals of the game.
And in 2021, now that some of the commotion has died down around the super shot and teams have had a year to work out how best to use the new rules, rolling subs have taken on more of a starring role and even raised the profile of coaches as we watch their tactics unfold in real time.
Before the Super Netball era, the majority of a coach’s work would happen in the lead-up to a match.
They would prepare the team and nut out plans, then sit back on game day and hope it was enough; with only three chances to provide feedback at the quarter-time, half-time and three-quarter-time breaks.
But since the addition of the rolling subs rule last year and timeouts in 2017/18, coaches have been given tools to take control and become a lot more involved on the actual game day.
Through the rolling subs rule they can use their roster almost like chess pieces, injecting impact players where they see fit and channelling their creativity to switch up combinations and think on the spot.
While the timeout rule allows them to call up to two 90-second breaks in each half of the game, meaning they can stem the flow of another team’s momentum or hit the pause button to provide some crucial feedback.
At the same time, these rules have upped the pressure for coaches to make the right decision at the right time, highlighting their ability to sink or swim in the heat of the moment.
So, with the help of Deakin University Centre for Sport Research fellow Aaron Fox, we are going take a closer look at how each team has been using the rolling subs in the first half of the 2021 competition.
More changes are being made during the game than in breaks
Now that teams have the option to make changes during game play, coaches are less reluctant to wait until the end of each quarter to substitute players.
The data above compares the average number of changes each Super Netball team is making during a quarter, as opposed to the quarter-time, half-time and three-quarter-time breaks.
The only thing it does not show, is when teams are making changes in the timeout periods, where some coaches are taking the opportunity to make a three-way switch for greater impact, instead of using the rolling subs to rotate one player at a time in live play.
Which team is using them the most?
The Queensland Firebirds made their intentions to consistently use rolling subs as part of their game plan clear from round one this year.
Under new coach Megan Anderson, the side will typically rotate their shooters (GA/GS) and mid-court (WA/C/WD) as they have plenty of combinations in attack.
It will therefore probably come as no surprise to fans that the Firebirds are the team with the highest substitution count for the current season, using 153 total subs so far (120 during play) with an average of almost 22 per game.
The Adelaide Thunderbirds are another team that have been eager to make a lot of changes to their attacking line, and have the second-highest tally of 125 (101 during play), averaging 18 per game.
But both the Firebirds and Thunderbirds currently sit outside the top four, in sixth and seventh place, with just two wins to their name, showing that a lot of movement is not always a good thing.
In comparison, the teams in the top three – Sunshine Coast Lightning, West Coast Fever and Giants – seem to have the most balanced approach to rolling subs, using them less frequently and on a more consistent basis.
These three teams have also made fewest substitutions through the first half of the competition (Lightning 84, Fever 55 and Giants 58), but it is hard to define whether that could be classed as a reason for their success, or whether their success has meant they have needed to use them less.
So how is each team using them in game play?
Collating the data from the first seven rounds has helped to determine the trends around when each team likes to make their changes during live game play.
Here you can see a team like the Collingwood Magpies tend to make the majority of their substitutions heading into the last five minutes of each quarter for the super shot period; showcasing their desire to mix things up while two points are on offer.
One might assume that this is where the Magpies are bringing on a long-bomb shooter to try and hit those two-point, long-range shots; but a further breakdown of the types of positional changes they make shows movement is also happening in their midcourt around the same time.
On the other hand, their defensive end (GD/GK) is likely to have little change throughout an entire game.
Given the Firebirds have the highest number of total substitutions so far, it is worth taking a closer look at their positional changes too.
Again, most of their rolling subs movement tends to happen up front, but it is dominated by shooting changes.
While their defensive end also has little change, with the use of rolling subs picking up towards three-quarter-time and in the back end of a game.
This could likely be attributed to player fatigue or because the team is looking for answers to shut down their opposition, having lost five of their seven matches so far.
In fact, for all teams, the defensive end of the court actually has the least amount of rotation, but this is happening to varying degrees.
A team like the Lightning will rarely move their starting goal defence and goal keeper out of position all match.
While the NSW Swifts’ defensive changes peak in the middle of the third and fourth quarters, where they will often switch up both positions.
Interestingly, the Fever and Giants are the teams that have the most frequent rotation in the defensive end, almost mirroring what is happening in their midcourt.
Both of these teams play a physical style of game and have depth in defence.
While their success so far — the Fever undefeated and the Giants with four wins from seven games — indicates they have more or less got the balance right with these rolling subs.
So which players are being rotated the most?
With the Firebirds leading the count for total substitutions, it makes sense that their players are also at the top of the list for individual rotation.
Their game plan involves a lot of switching between Gretel Bueta and Tippah Dwan to freshen up the goal-attack position, meaning Bueta has come on and off the court a whopping 30 times this year and Dwan has followed her lead on 22.
Three more Firebirds players are also high on the list — Jemma Mi Mi (21), Tara Hinchliffe (18) and Lara Dunkley (17) — meaning the team makes up five of the top 10.
This also demonstrates their plans to share the wing attack bib between Mi Mi and Dunkley in a similar fashion.
And with other players like Swifts shooters Sophie Garbin (21) and Helen Housby (18) typically sharing goal attack, and the Thunderbirds’ Lenize Potgieter (18) and Sam Gooden (17) taking turns in goal shooter.
It cements the trend that some teams are using rolling subs to directly swap players between a specific position.