Social media has been in a frenzy after several exchanges between players following the West Coast Fever and Collingwood Magpies game in Perth on Saturday night.
Onlookers said that defender Stacey Francis was left visibly distressed post-match, with a discussion between Nat Medhurst and Sharni Layton also taking place.
In the wake of the matter, Collingwood issued a statement that clarified little.
“After speaking with some Fever players this morning, we both agreed that there was nothing unusual or untoward in our processes at the end of the game.”
This morning Fever captain Courtney Bruce confirmed that Collingwood’s skipper, Madi Robinson, had addressed the matter.
“Collingwood issued a statement last night, so we had contact from Madi Robinson, to Stacey, myself and Nat, just apologising for their behaviours, but we know here at Fever that we want to play a strong brand of netball. We went out there and played that way and walked away with a win. So we’re happy with what we did.”
“We accept the apology. We don’t comment on other people’s behaviours and what they do, we just play our brand of netball and that’s all we worry about here at Fever.”
It’s thought that the controversy developed after Collingwood team members were unhappy with the physical nature of the game.
While Francis starred, taking three intercepts and five deflections, several of those led to heavy clashes. Holding front position for her takes, Francis’ landing space was occasionally taken away by her opponents which contributed to the debate.
Commentators did make mention of one late challenge in the fourth quarter, which was poorly timed, but other than that, Francis played a fair but uncompromising brand of netball.
It was a similar situation at the opposite end of the court, with Fever shooters experiencing repeated knocks from their opponents Sharni Layton and April Brandley. However, Bruce believed that there was nothing untoward about the contest at either end.
“I don’t think we were any more physical than we normally are. We play an attacking style of defence, that’s what we want to do, we want to go out there and win ball. Nothing was malicious, we didn’t go out there to hit anyone, but I think sometimes bodies are on the line.”
“That’s what Suncorp and the netball world wants and that what we provided. We had a few more penalties than normal but that’s what happens in a physical game, especially a game against Collingwood.”
“We are loving the style of defensive play at the moment, and we are winning a lot of ball from it, so we won’t be changing anything.”
Bruce is of the firm opinion that the matter should now be put to rest.
“It’s a heated game of netball and we do go out there to play and to win, and I guess what happens on the court stays on the court. We’re just going out there to play our brand of netball and we’re excited to head into (the match against Sunshine Coast) Lightning now.”
“We’re a strong team here and we protect each other and look out for each other out there (on court). Netball’s heated, what you say on the court and what’s done is left there and it means nothing more.”
Controversies aside, it’s been a remarkable start to the season for Fever, who after two rounds have as many wins as they collected in the entire 2017 season. The long, nine-month preseason gave them an opportunity to address their strengths and weaknesses.
“There was a lot of time to work on individual people and what they needed. We went back to basics in pre-season, so a real stripping it back, working on our attacking game and our defensive game.” Bruce said.
“There’s just a greater connection between us as a whole team. So, knowing someone has your back if you’re going to go hard on a ball and if you’re not there’s someone else is coming. There’s that constant movement and constant reinforcement that you’re doing the right thing out there.”
While Jhaniele Fowler has proved to be an imposing target at the front of the court, much of Fever’s improvement has come through strong unit connections and a midcourt that is functioning fluently.
Verity Charles, Ingrid Colyer, Jess Anstiss and Shannon Eagland should take great confidence from outplaying the Australia Diamonds-laden Pies midcourt on the weekend.
Medhurst was near-flawless in setting up play with Fowler in the goal third, while Francis and Bruce were formidable in defence. They restricted the normally accurate Collingwood shooters to just 78%, with Erin Bell particularly inconsistent across four quarters.
Team culture has also been a significant focus, according to Bruce, with the group now adhering to three core words: selfless, united and disciplined.
“They’re our three words we internally go by and what we strive to do each week is play that way. We want to be the most selfless, the most united and the most disciplined team and we take on any club. So we attack hard, we defend hard, and we show no mercy when we’re out there.”
Although the season has barely started, the Fever has quickly zoomed into title contention amongst the pundits. It’s a tag that doesn’t faze the team as they take on the 2017 premiers this weekend.
“We’ve moved on from last season. We’re ready to take it to them this week and we’ve started fresh as a club and as a culture and what we want to achieve, so excited to head over there.”
“If people want to chase us down they can go for that. We’re happy sitting up there on the top of the ladder and doing what we’re doing. We know we’ve still got room to grow, but we’re excited people are backing us in.”
Images: Steve McLeod