There’s a sense of excitement brewing in Western Australia.
This year West Coast Fever have won two games from the first two rounds, a stark contrast from 2017 where they had the same number of wins from the entire season.
With a defence capable of turning ball over, a finely tuned midcourt, and a potent shooting circle, the Fever are playing an enthralling brand of netball. They outmatched Collingwood, a team loaded with superstars, winning the clash 68-57.
Fever coach Stacey Marinkovich explained that the foundation for the win was established months ago.
“(We’ve had) more time together as a unit, and I think the longer preseason we were able to really hone in on them (players) individually, to give them a lot of confidence in the skill sets they needed. We did that without Jhaniele (Fowler) here. They’ve got the system and the way we want to play, the way we want to move the ball. That was created before she got here, and then that tops it off having a target at the back.”
The confidence Marinkovich speaks of was highly visible on court, with Fever playing as a slick unit. Goal attack Nat Medhurst led the way, taking 19 centre passes and providing 42 circle feeds. By working smoothly with midcourters Verity Charles and Ingrid Colyer, she was able to get greater depth on her positioning to feed Jhaniele Fowler in the circle.
The interplay between Medhurst and Fowler, despite their short association together, was impressive. Split-second, rapid passing from Medhurst, and incredible athleticism from Fowler, gave the Collingwood defenders little opportunity to pick off loose balls.
Charles overcame a nasty looking ankle injury sustained last week to take the court, and she and Colyer had perhaps their best games in the green and black. Colyer had little trouble in taking the majority of first phase off centre pass (24 centre pass receives), and her run and stretch onto the ball at speed kept opposing wing defence Ash Brazill relatively quiet.
Charles started the game with several errant passes, then settled into a controlled display of how to effectively link both ends of the court. She was confident putting the ball up to Fowler and finished with 32 feeds.
The Pies midcourt was steady rather than spectacular, remaining in play more than last week’s higher penalty count allowed. In Kim Ravaillion’s half game, she gave up just one contact compared to last week’s 15 for the entire game. Madi Robinson was the best performed for the Magpies, receiving 36 centre passes and providing 33 feeds.
Much of the interest was around each shooting end. Fowler once again proved to be unstoppable, hitting 62 of her 67 attempts, all at close range. Sharni Layton contested well in the air against her but didn’t have the reach to do much damage. She came out of the circle for two flying intercepts, but generally the speed of Fever’s ball movement gave her little opportunity to gain possession.
While April Brandley also picked off two intercepts, she struggled to contain the Medhurst brilliance, and was replaced in the fourth quarter by debutant Matilda Garrett.
Sterling work from the Fever midcourt slowed the Collingwood attack and pushed it wide. It allowed defenders Stacey Francis and Courtney Bruce to hunt intercepts, particularly those thrown towards the pockets.
Their physical presence played into both shooters’ minds, with Erin Bell particularly inconsistent. After shooting just 4/7 in the first quarter, she was benched in the second, had a huge third quarter of 10/13, but subsided again in the last, hitting just 3/7.
In total, the Magpies put up the same number of shots as their opponents, but with a team accuracy of 77% compared to the Fever’s 92%. While Caitlin Thwaites reached 39 goals, just shy of her season average of last year, she will need more support if Collingwood are to make inroads on the competition. Hopefully Bell will be the answer, but their combination remains a work in progress.
While there were some heavy collisions in the circle, the Fever defenders generally held front position and were able to come up with some valuable turnovers.
Stacey Francis (3 intercepts, 4 deflections) continued with her terrific form of last season. She’s added to her attacking game and was a freely available ball carrier down court. It had a flow on effect with neither the midcourters nor Medhurst having to play too high out of position.
Fever dominated the scoring, winning three quarters, and going down in the third by just two. Their ability to remain composed when Collingwood had a short run and narrowed the gap, to come well out of time outs, and extend their lead across the game, was impressive.
Team unity was obvious: they looked to be enjoying their netball and supporting each other throughout the match.
Disappointingly for Collingwood, they’ve played well in both games but remain winless after the second round. Their four bonus points, for winning quarters across the last two matches, could prove crucial at season’s end.
West Coast Fever def Collingwood Magpies 68-57
(15-14, 34-26, 51-45, 68-57)
Crowd: 5386 at Perth Arena
West Coast Fever
Jhaniele Fowler 62/67 93%
Nat Medhurst 6/7 86%
Caitlin Thwaites 39/45 87%
Erin Bell 17/27 63%
Shae Brown 1/2 50%
West Coast Fever
GS Jhaniele Fowler
GA Nat Medhurst
WA Ingrid Colyer
C Verity Charles
WD Jess Anstiss
GD Stacey Francis
GK Courtney Bruce.
Changes: Q4 WD Eagland
GS Caitlin Thwaites
GA Erin Bell
WA Madi Robinson
C Kim Ravaillion
WD Ash Brazill
GD April Brandley
GK Sharni Layton.
Changes: Q2 GA Brown, Q3 GA Bell, C Brown, Q4 GD Garrett.
What they said
Natalie Medhurst, Fever
The team look like you’re enjoying playing together?
“When you play well that helps, but we’ve really worked on, since the back end of last season, is our culture and our behaviours, really getting around each other irrespective of what’s happening on the score board. We hope that gives us momentum. We’re celebrating the small wins, it doesn’t have to be the flying intercepts, all the little details that build up to that.”
“It goes right down to our trademark behaviours on court, defensive and attacking behaviours, but also off court. The way in which we go about our business. We’re more accountable, spreading the load and can play more freely.”
How is your combination with Jhaniele going?
“In some ways it’s a work in progress, but in other ways we’ve been able to pick each other’s games up nicely, complimenting each other. The work that Vez (Charles) and Inga (Colyer) have been able to produce in the last two games has been phenomenal. The amount of work they’ve done, and the type of netball they’re playing is a huge credit to them and how they’ve gone about their business. Jhaniele is an awesome target, but we were smart with the ball today as well.”
“Everyone is doing their job. Inga is playing with so much confidence, she loves celebrating, she gives you the big gee-ups and you just love her. Her enthusiasm is infectious.”
Stacey Marinkovich, Fever coach
Your thoughts on the game today?
“We knew it was going to be more physical, the pace of the game was faster. We had to lock into the way we wanted to play, and our defensive pressure across the whole court really gave Stacey (Francis) and Courts (Bruce) great opportunity to hunt some ball, and they really played their role. Stacey did a great job on her one-on-one d (defence) and pulled in some awesome ball.”
“Stacey was consistent and now has the balance of defending hard but attacking down the court. I think her penalty count has dropped significantly from last year, and with that drive that gives us huge momentum, particularly when we’ve got speed through the midcourt.”
“We are setting a standard as to how we’re wanting to play, and I think that speaks volumes in that we’ve been able to back up from the first week. It is about consistency, and when you’ve got seven points it means you’ve done a pretty good job for three quarters of the game, and we only dropped one quarter by two. The girls are really switching on that when the opposition gets a run they’ve been able to adapt and continue to push themselves.”
On Verity Charles
“She had some great speed and movement, and she turned her first quarter around with her turnovers. So for her to be able to adapt like that is a huge improvement for her as well.”
Kristy Keppich-Birrell, Collingwood coach
Thoughts on your game today?
“There’s lots of parts of our game that I’m really proud of – the discipline of our players is something that we’ve been really striving towards in our off season. To see our penalty count down below the other team was a really big improvement from us.”
Tell us about the introduction of Shae Brown for Kim Ravaillion?
“Shae has something different to what Rav puts out there, so we’ve got the luxury of having another centre, or another goal attack. So that’s a real mind set for our players, we’re a real team of ten, and we’re on and off and contribute to the team plan.”
“We got lots of tips off her (Fowler), probably more than we saw happen last week. We’re really impressed with what we can do out the front, but we have to do it more consistently and capitalise more consistently on the opportunities that we get.”
Matilda Garrett made her Super Netball debut
“She’s come through the Netball Victoria pathways, so to see another Victorian out there on court is really exciting. She was a little bit star struck I think, but the beauty of Matilda is that she’s quite naïve about the whole league, so she just goes out there and plays and enjoys it. So it’s just really heart-warming to see the team get around her and celebrate that.”
The addition of Rob Wright to your coaching team
“I’m really happy to have Rob, and Cathy (Fellow) on my other side. He’s our defensive coach through court, so that’s something quite new in netball that we have. We split the court in two ways rather than in units. We have good banter, we really challenge each other and we just love having him on board.”
Images: Steve McLeod