By Ian Harkin
As we prepare for the Suncorp Super Netball grand final between West Coast Fever and Melbourne Vixens in Perth, we thought it would be good to look back at the season and see how these two teams progressed through to the big one. Firstly though, some stats to get you ready for the big game…
On the two occasions that Vixens beat Fever this year, they only had 15 general play turnovers on both occasions. By comparison, in the major semi where Vixens lost, they had 22 turnovers. No team has had more turnovers than Fever this year and managed to beat them.
The two times that Vixens defeated Fever, they had their highest-scoring opening quarters of the season with 23 goals. When they lost in the major semi-final, they had their equal lowest-scoring first quarter with just 10 goals. As pointed out by Aaron Fox, in all the matches this year where Vixens have had at least 10 possession gains, they have gone on to win. In the three matches where they had less than 10 gains, they lost.
Jhaniele Fowler has shot 871/902 at 96.6% for the season so far. She has only been restricted to under 50 goals on three occasions, and two of those times were by the Vixens in their wins in rounds 4 & 10. For Vixens, Mwai Kumwenda has shot 596/657 at 90.7%. Rahni Samason is the most accurate super shot shooter in the competition at 73%, but Sasha Glasgow is also impressive with 60% accuracy.
Courtney Bruce has the second-highest number of possession gains for the season with 99 at an average of 6.6 per game. She’s also had a league-leading 109 deflections and 41 defensive rebounds. For Vixens, Liz Watson has had the most goal assists in 2022 with 383, at an average of just under 24 per game.
FEVER & VIXENS – HOW THEY GOT HERE
Both teams started the season in winning form. Vixens came out on top in a tough battle in Brisbane in what was the first game in Vixens colours for both Olivia Lewis and Kiera Austin who was on the comeback trail from injury. Meanwhile, Rahni Samason graduated from replacement player to full team member and played a vital role. In the last game of the round, Fever jumped straight to the top of the ladder with a big win over Lightning, breaking the record for the highest score by an Australian national league team. It was a dominant team effort, highlighted by Jhaniele Fowler who was unstoppable at one end, and captain Courtney Bruce who racked up 11 possession gains at the other.
FIREBIRDS 65 v VIXENS 70
MVP: Mwai Kumwenda (43/48 & 5 rebounds, NNP 87.5)
FEVER 82 v LIGHTNING 63
MVP: Jhaniele Fowler (64/66, NNP 108)
Vixens had the better of a low-scoring encounter with Swifts in Sydney. Emily Mannix came up with nine possession gains including five intercepts, while co-captains Liz Watson and Kate Moloney combined well, and Rahni Samason impressed at goal attack. Meanwhile, Fever maintained top spot on the ladder with a dominant all-round performance in defeating Collingwood on their home court. The combination of Courtney Bruce and Sunday Aryang dominated at the back, and Sasha Glasgow provided great support for Fowler in the circle.
SWIFTS 48 v VIXENS 53
MVP: Liz Watson (24 assists, NNP 84)
MAGPIES 53 v FEVER 70
MVP: Courtney Bruce (7 gains, 12 deflections, NNP 109)
Vixens had a good win at home over GIANTS, highlighted by the defensive effort from the back three of Emily Mannix, Jo Weston, and Kate Eddy with 17 gains between them. We also saw an impressive 60-minute game from Kiera Austin, easing some concerns after she struggled somewhat in the first two rounds. After trailing at halftime, Fever had a strong second half to win in Brisbane. Chelsea Pitman was a Covid replacement for Alice Teague-Neeld, and helped turn things around in the third quarter. Courtney Bruce starred again, while Sasha Glasgow landed seven super shots and had 27 assists. The top-of-the-table clash of Vixens and Fever in round four was eagerly anticipated.
VIXENS 64 v GIANTS 52
MVP: Jo Weston (7 gains, NNP 83.5)
FIREBIRDS 69 v FEVER 77
MVP: Courtney Bruce (7 gains, NNP 77)
Vixens claimed top spot on the ladder with an impressive win at John Cain Arena. The home team jumped out to a six-goal lead at quarter time, and although headed for a period in the second quarter, they steadied and stretched their lead to as much as 16 goals in the last quarter. Liz Watson put on a dominant display at wing attack, while Kate Moloney also had a strong game with 19 assists. Kiera Austin continued on from where she left off in round three with another impressive showing. Olivia Lewis had a great impact when she came on in the second quarter, instrumental in restricting former teammate Jhaniele Fowler to under 50 goals. For Fever, Courtney Bruce was again their best.
Vixens’ stay on top of the ladder was a brief one. They came right back to earth with a thud, going down to the last-placed Lightning who put on a tremendous display on their home court. The visitors could only manage six possession gains for the game, their lowest total for the whole year, and they struggled for cohesion in attack. That result meant Fever could reclaim top spot with a win, and this they duly did with an emphatic 18-goal win over Swifts, highlighted by another dominant performance from captain Courtney Bruce. Sunday Aryang and Jess Anstiss also played well in defence, while Jhaniele Fowler was her usual imposing self, scoring 60/63 and taking five rebounds.
LIGHTNING 71 v VIXENS 58
MVP: Steph Wood (21/24, 20 assists, NNP 87)
FEVER 76 v SWIFTS 58
MVP: Courtney Bruce (12 gains, 5 intercepts, NNP 115)
Vixens reclaimed top spot after a scrappy six goal home win over the Thunderbirds. It was the defensive work which got them over the line thanks to Jo Weston, Emily Mannix, and Kiera Austin, who had a combined 17 gains for the match. The following day, we were treated to a classic as Fever went down by one goal to the GIANTS in Sydney. Sasha Glasgow and Jess Anstiss were out, which saw Alice Teague-Neeld play the full game at goal attack, and Chelsea Pitman played the second half at wing attack. A dominant third quarter saw Fever take the lead, but they couldn’t hold out the fast-finishing home team in a gripping final quarter, with Sophie Dwyer and Jo Harten taking control.
VIXENS 53 v THUNDERBIRDS 47
MVP: Kiera Austin (13/20, 13 assists, 4 gains, NNP 68)
GIANTS 74 v FEVER 73
MVP: Jo Harten (33/36, 12 assists, NNP 83.5)
The competition lead changed hands for the fourth straight week. Firstly, Fever defeated Thunderbirds in Adelaide. Alice Teague-Neeld and Stacey Francis-Bayman both had strong games, while Jhaniele Fowler had a great battle with countrywoman Shamera Sterling. On the Sunday, Vixens, minus Rahni Samason and Kate Eddy, put in a below par effort and were no match for rivals Collingwood Magpies. Liz Watson was Vixens’ best, but she was upstaged by her opposing wing attack in Kelsey Browne. At the halfway mark of the regular season, Fever was on top, ahead of Vixens on percentage. Both teams had five wins, one ahead of Firebirds and GIANTS who made up the top four.
THUNDERBIRDS 51 v FEVER 60
MVP: Jhaniele Fowler (50/51, NNP 80.5)
VIXENS 60 v MAGPIES 70
MVP: Kelsey Browne (25 assists, 3 gains, NNP 113)
This round saw both teams emerge victorious in absolute thrillers. Vixens, coached by Di Honey in the absence of Simone McKinnis, trailed by as much as eight goals in the second quarter against Firebirds before rallying strongly and snatching a two goal win at home. Mwai Kumwenda starred up front, while the versatility of the midcourt came to the fore. Hannah Mundy impressed and Kate Moloney’s move to wing defence was decisive. Jo Weston also had a strong game. Just like Vixens, Fever trailed for much of their game against a very impressive Magpies team, before a dramatic late surge saw the home team take the lead in the final minutes. Sasha Glasgow nailed three super shots as Fever clinched the match by five goals. Alice Teague-Neeld was outstanding at wing attack, while Jhaniele Fowler finished with 61/63.
VIXENS 66 v FIREBIRDS 64
MVP: Mwai Kumwenda (51/56, NNP 99)
FEVER 74 v MAGPIES 69
MVP: Alice Teague-Neeld (35 assists, NNP 91.5)
Fever maintained the competition lead with a comfortable win over Lightning. All the damage was done in the second quarter as they piled on 22 goals to 11. Once again, the bookends, Jhaniele Fowler and Courtney Bruce, were largely responsible for the win. The Vixens v GIANTS match in Sydney produced far more drama. Young shooter Matisse Letherbarrow entered the game in the second quarter to replace an unwell Jo Harten. And she threatened to take the game right away from Vixens, draining super shots galore, and ultimately sending the game to extra time. Vixens eventually withstood the pressure and took the match by three goals, with Mwai Kumwenda (50/50) and Liz Watson starring. Kate Moloney had an astonishing eight pickups, while the back three of Mannix, Weston and Eddy combined for 12 assists.
LIGHTNING 65 v FEVER 74
MVP: Jhaniele Fowler (66/67, NNP 120)
GIANTS 63 v VIXENS 66 (after E.T)
MVP: Liz Watson (28 assists, 36 centre pass receives, NNP 121)
Vixens defeated Fever on their home court, to once again take over top spot on the ladder. The match was quite similar to their round four encounter, with Vixens making a fast start and putting Fever on the back foot from the first quarter. The team selection for Vixens was noteworthy, with a revamped midcourt, and Olivia Lewis once again chosen to take on her former Fever teammate Jhaniele Fowler. Lewis was excellent, restricting Fowler to under 50 goals once again. Liz Watson proved she was more than just a wing attack with an outstanding game at centre, while Kiera Austin also starred in attack. Courtney Bruce was Fever’s best, while replacement player Chelsea Pitman also played well. With two losses to Vixens, it would be a case of back to the drawing board for Dan Ryan ahead of an expected finals match up.
After trailing by five goals at quarter time, Vixens fought back and recorded a six goal win over Swifts at John Cain Arena. The Vixens midcourt reverted to their regular positions; Kate Moloney had a tremendous game at centre, while Kate Eddy was in everything at wing defence. Liz Watson came up with 28 assists, but also seven turnovers. After a string of close matches between Fever and GIANTS, similar was expected again, but it wasn’t the case. Fever broke the scoring record for an Australian national league team with 86 goals. Jhaniele Fowler proved unstoppable, getting the highest Net Points score of the year. Courtney Bruce and Sasha Glasgow also played well.
VIXENS 59 v SWIFTS 53
MVP: Kate Moloney (7 assists, 5 pickups, NNP 109)
FEVER 86 v GIANTS 77
MVP: Jhaniele Fowler (67/69, 5 rebounds, NNP 138.5)
Fever suffered their fourth loss of the season, going down to Firebirds in Perth. Jhaniele Fowler shot 60/60, but it wasn’t enough. Gretel Bueta was just incredible for the Firebirds, while the competition’s two Indigenous players, Donnell Wallam and Jemma Mi Mi starred in an emotional win in Indigenous Round. Vixens turned around their shock loss to Lightning in round five, with a tight win. Lightning challenged strongly in the last quarter, but Vixens dug deep and held on for their tenth win of the year. The defensive pairing of Emily Mannix and Jo Weston had 14 gains and eight intercepts between them, while Kate Moloney and Liz Watson controlled the midcourt well.
FEVER 68 v FIREBIRDS 72
MVP: Gretel Bueta (40/41, 33 centre pass receives, NNP 135.5)
VIXENS 64 v LIGHTNING 60
MVP: Emily Mannix (7 gains, 4 intercepts, NNP 86.5)
On the eve of round 13, it was announced that the format of choosing the grand final host was changing. Perth had been awarded hosting rights for this year’s decider after the WA Government had won the bid. This was controversial to say the least, particularly with the announcement of the change coming so close to playoffs. On court, Vixens sealed the minor-premiership with a scratchy win in Adelaide. Trailing at three quarter time, they dug deep in the final 15 minutes as Thunderbirds sadly collapsed, scoring just five goals, an equal low for Super Netball. Kate Moloney and Mwai Kumwenda were the best of a somewhat underwhelming Vixens team. Meanwhile, in a higher quality contest, Fever prevailed in a heart-stopper against an in-form Swifts team. Helen Housby had two super shot attempts to win the game in the last 10 seconds, but both rimmed out. Jhaniele Fowler, Alice Teague-Neeld, and Courtney Bruce all had superb games for the visitors.
THUNDERBIRDS 47 v VIXENS 51
MVP: Kate Moloney (14 assists, 3 gains, NNP 67)
SWIFTS 72 v FEVER 73
MVP: Courtney Bruce (9 gains, 14 deflections, NNP 114.5)
With neither team’s position on the ladder able to be changed, the last round of the regular season was just an exercise in fine-tuning. Firstly, Fever had a comfortable win over Thunderbirds. Jhaniele Fowler had a real battle against Shamera Sterling, so this was an opportunity for Sasha Glasgow to step up and take on more of the shooting load. She also landed six super shots. Courtney Bruce once again had a big game with six gains and 11 deflections. The Melbourne derby was the last game of the regular season, and Vixens scraped home against a Covid-depleted Magpies team, although the final margin of two was enough to see Magpies qualify for the finals. Liz Watson was a standout performer once again for Vixens. So, everything was now set for the playoffs, and the Major Semi-Final match up in Melbourne.
FEVER 68 v THUNDERBIRDS 57
MVP: Sasha Glasgow (18/25, 16 assists, NNP 52)
MAGPIES 54 v VIXENS 56
MVP: Liz Watson (29 assists, NNP 77)
This match could not have been much more different to the previous two clashes between these teams. From 9-9 midway through the first quarter, Fever suddenly went on a run of nine straight goals against a mistake-riddled Vixens line up. And that set the tone for the rest of the match. Dan Ryan had his team working to perfection, and they dominated the play. The defence had Vixens flustered, with Courtney Bruce and Sunday Aryang combining beautifully. Jess Anstiss, who didn’t play in the round ten clash, was back and she made life very difficult for Liz Watson. In attack, Jhaniele Fowler shot 67/69, but Vixens had no real answer to the playmaking of Sasha Glasgow and Alice Teague-Neeld. Kate Moloney was Vixens’ best player, but the final score wasn’t a true indication of the disparity in this match. A succession of Rahni Samason super shots in the second half merely put respectability into the home team’s score. Fever was off to the grand final, and after the controversy over awarding hosting rights to Perth, Fever had put in a performance well and truly deserving of that home court advantage.
What a game this was. At three quarter time, the prospect of Vixens reaching the big one, looked remote. After a slow start in the game, GIANTS, using the super shot to great effect, dominated the second and third quarters, and established a lead of nine goals. At this stage, Vixens didn’t look like a team that was going to be in the grand final. They simply weren’t playing well enough. But the next fifteen minutes showed their fighting spirit. The defence end lifted and forced GIANTS into error with seven turnovers in that last quarter. Roared on by the noisy home crowd, slowly but surely, Vixens narrowed the gap. It eventually came down to a tense goal-for-goal battle and Mwai Kumwenda scored what would prove to be the winning goal with just eight seconds left. Sophie Dwyer then landed what would have been a spectacular winning super shot, but no, she was too late. Time was up, and Vixens were through. And they did it without regular stating goal attack Kiera Austin, who sat out the game through Covid protocols. Her replacement Ruby Barkmeyer had a nine minute cameo in the last quarter and played an important role in helping Vixens claw their way back. So, Vixens had done it the hard way, but they were through to the big one.
VIXENS 55 v GIANTS 54
MVP: Jo Weston (4 gains, 2 pickups, NNP 42.5)