Sutherland reached the semi-finals in 2016, but after losing stars Lauren Nicholson and Taylor Mathers, it looked as if things might take a turn south for the Sharks in 2017. However, the return of Peta Kneen and Jane Scrivens, who both played in the 2015 grand final side, ensured that the team from the Shire would still be amongst the playoff hunt this season.
Sutherland were afforded one of the gentler early schedules, and took full advantage. The Sharks knocked off Hills, Illawarra, Comets, and a severely understrength Newcastle in their first six games, with their only losses coming in a 10 point defeat to Manly and a 2 point loss to Hornsby in a game that Sutherland perhaps should have won. The last two weeks have been perhaps slightly less promising for a Sharks side still in the top four but in danger of being swamped by the chasing pack. A nine point win over a rejuvenated Illawarra side pushed the Sharks to 5-2, but last weekend things came crashing down slightly. Bankstown rolled to a 65-42 win over Sutherland, moving to within half a game of the Sharks in the process.
Despite that loss, the Sharks have set themselves up for a chance at finals basketball. With five wins in their first eight games, another five in the last eight would most probably see the Sharks into a tiebreaker for fourth spot in a worst-case scenario. However, there is an issue with looking at things in such a simplistic manner. The Sharks face teams above them in the standings in four of those games, and still have to play the same Bankstown side that rolled them last week again. However, if the Sharks can put together performances of the same ilk of that which they produced against Hornsby, they could yet steal a couple of unexpected wins. Getting three wins from their three games against the teams below them is a must – these are wins that the Sharks can not afford to leave on the table if they are to find their way to a playoff berth.
The Sharks have some scoring efficiency on their side, with scoring leaders Peta Kneen and Lisa Watkins both shooting over 40% from the field. If that pairing can continue their solid shooting form, it will go a long way to helping Sutherland compete in the back end of the season. The Sharks have shown that they can compete with the top teams – the question now is: can they do so well enough and often enough to secure enough wins from a brutal run home to secure playoff basketball? The fight for fourth spot will be one of the most interesting subplots to the second half of the season, and the Sharks will be right at the centre of it.