Cracks have appeared in the NSW Swifts’ Super Netball title defence despite the side’s 57-54 win over the Thunderbirds in Cairns on Saturday.

Assured of a finals berth, the Swifts should have put away the seventh-placed Adelaide team but instead gave coach Briony Akle some headaches ahead of next weekend’s closing round.

The Swifts lost four of their past five matches before the north Queensland road trip and had their confidence further dented by Adelaide, who found strength in a midcourt led by rising playmakers Maisie Nankivell and Georgie Horjus.

It took a final quarter surge from goal attack Helen Housby (22 goals) and brave milking of possession in the dying seconds to hold off the Thunderbirds.

Akle would have been proud of her team’s composure at the finish but concerned about a lack of urgency in the middle quarters and knocks to Housby and circle partner Sam Wallace.

“That was super tough. We always knew the Thunderbirds were going to come back,” Swifts centre Paige Hadley said.

“Leading into the finals we like matches like that to prepare us for tough games. More teams are going to come at us because we are the reigning champions. We need to develop the belief that we can do it again.”

The absence of captain Maddy Proud with a neck injury could have been a drama for the Swifts, but with Hadley in charge they started with a flurry.

Hadley set the standard for midcourt workrate with 13 goal assists, 16 feeds, an intercept and a pickup as the Swifts took command in the first quarter.

She was the shining light in the centre third, finishing with 24 assists and 42 feeds.

The Swifts’ early dominance did not last. Adelaide’s South African goal shooter Lenize Potgieter did not miss a shot in the first half and teammate Sam Gooden landing three Suncorp Super Shots to carve the difference to just two goals.

Adelaide crept out to a lead late in the third term and injected captain Chelsea Pitman off the bench in the final quarter.

Potgieter’s 33 goals at 97 per cent accuracy gave the Thunderbirds a chance but the Swifts were clinical when the game was on the line.

Score breakdown
Q1: Thunderbirds 12 v Swifts 19
Q2: Thunderbirds 16 v Swifts 11
Q3: Thunderbirds 15 v Swifts 12
Q4: Thunderbirds 11 v Swifts 15

Nissan Player of The Match – Paige Hadley (NSW Swifts)

Thunderbirds shooting statistics
Georgie Horjus: Total points 7 – G1 1/1 (100%) G2 3/4 (75%)
Lenize Potgieter: Total points 33 – G1 33/34 (97%) G2 0/0 (0%)
Samantha Gooden: Total points 14 – G1 6/9 (67%) G2 4/10 (40%)

Swifts shooting statistics
Sam Wallace: Total points – 27 G1 25/28 (89%) G2 1/3 (33%)
Sophie Garbin: Total points – 8 G1 8/9 (89%) G2 0/0 (0%)
Helen Housby: Total points – 22 G1 22/23 (96%) G2 0/1 (0%)

Thunderbirds starting seven: GS – Lenize Potgieter GA – Samantha Gooden WA – Georgie Horjus C – Maisie Nankivell WD – Shadine van der Merwe GD – Layla Guscoth GK – Shamera Sterling

Swifts starting seven: GS – Sam Wallace GA – Helen Housby WA – Natalie Haythornthwaite C – Paige Hadley WD – Lauren Moore GD – Maddy Turner GK – Sarah Klau