'More than a one-hit wonder': Dwyer's Giant rise to the Super Netball final

Sophie Dwyer of the Giants has gone from impact player to starting shooter this season Mark Kolbe/Getty Images

As the protégé to some of the world's best shooters, rising star Sophie Dwyer is determined to be more than a one-hit wonder come the end of this Super Netball season.

Crisis has blown open a window of opportunity twice in as many years for the Giants Netball shooter, who at 19 finds herself starting in the biggest match of the club's history.

The Giants are one-win away from claiming the 2021 Super Netball double and their maiden title. But standing in their way at Nissan Arena are seasoned state rivals, the NSW Swifts.

It's the first all-NSW final in national league history, which is an incredible feat considering what both teams have been forced to overcome in a COVID-19 disrupted season.

But in addition to those challenges, the Giants lost Diamonds shooter Kiera Austin in the second quarter of their opening game to an anterior cruciate ligament injury.

Left to fill Austin's shoes, Dwyer's role shifted from being an impact player to a starting goal attack partnering English shooter Jo Harten.

Dwyer has since established herself as one of Super Netball's rising stars and even caught the attention of national selectors, having been named in the Diamonds' development squad for 2021/2022.

"This season being a bit of a breakout for me - I've made a name for myself and a mark on the competition, but I want to keep building. I don't want this to be a one-hit wonder," Dwyer told ESPN.

"At the beginning of the season I didn't think it would turn out the way it has in terms of my game time, but with [Austin's] injury it opened the door for me.

"Now we're in finals I've had a bit of time to reflect, I'm pretty proud of myself because I'm so young that I've been able to step up and fill [Austin's] shoes. It's been a special season and one I definitely won't be forgetting."

Dwyer is a strong candidate to claim the league's Rising Star award for this season, having played 813 minutes in the regular rounds while also sitting second on the Super Shot charts with 49 goals. Only Harten sunk more with 51 shots from 108 attempts.

Indeed the Eastwood-Ryde junior has developed her game under the guidance of 32-year-old Harten, saying she's become "a more reliable and steady option on court" across the season.

"I remember watching [Harten] when I was younger so it's pretty special to have her in the shooting circle. I can't speak highly enough of how much she has helped my game this year," Dwyer said.

"I don't think anyone would know how much she is talking to me in the game unless you're on the court, for 60 minutes she's giving me lots of feedback and directions. She is a pretty phenomenal player to be playing with."

Austin has also been a mentor for Dwyer from the sidelines this season, having travelled with the Giants across the country while recovering from the ACL tear.

The Diamonds shooter has long been a netball idol for Dwyer as they both came from Eastwood-Ryde Netball Association, with Austin always a few steps ahead of her on the NSW pathway.

Dwyer remembers watching her Giants debut and said it was a special moment to become her teammate when she was called in to join the Super Netball hub in 2020 as a training partner.

"I think that season was quite beneficial for me because I did get a taste of what Super Netball is like," Dwyer said.

"It wasn't in a playing role but just being in the high-performance environment 24-7, I knew what to expect this year and I wasn't going into a complete unknown.

"I think if Super Netball [extended the squads to 12] it would be really exciting. We saw so many girls debut about my age last year, and a few of them now have starting roles in their team.

"I think we've shown if we do get an opportunity we can take it with both hands and provide something different at this level."

With an average age of 25, Fitzgerald's Giants have taken a massive stride this season as they claimed the minor premiership and broke a three-year finals drought.

They fell short in the semi-final by a goal to the Swifts, having mounted a massive comeback after a slow start saw them down by eight goals at quarter time.

But the ruthless Giants silenced the doubters the following week and beat the West Coast Fever 64-61 to stage an all-NSW decider.

"It was a bit disappointing losing the major semifinal by one but I think we gained a lot of confidence from that preliminary final win, which we'll definitely take into this weekend," Dwyer said.

"For a lot of us in the team it was our first finals experience at this level and there was a lot of nervous energy. I think that showed in the first quarter when we were down by quite a bit, but the fightback we showed is more the kind of netball we want to play and that does give us confidence.

"We know we can play a lot better than that and I think we produced that last weekend. So we're definitely looking to keep momentum and confidence levels high, and are excited for the weekend."

If the Giants are to lift the Super Netball trophy this year, it would be the brand's first title in either sporting codes.

Following the Super Netball final, Dwyer will set her sights on the Diamonds having been invited to the national team training camp in September.

Three Giants were selected for the 2021/2022 Australian team in Austin, Jamie-Lee Price and for the first time Amy Parmenter. Maddie Hay and Matilda McDonell have been named alongside Dwyer in the development squad, which will be coached by Fitzgerald.

"We were thrilled, we wanted to have our three Diamonds and three in the Australian development team. I think it shows the progress our young players have made," Fitzgerald said.

"I think there's very good evidence our young players have improved considerably and that's given us support off the bench that we've needed."