The Magpies must have hoped to augment their home game advantage by dragging the Fever out to the chilly town of Bendigo for Round 5, but not many of the anticipated advantages came to pass. The newly refurbished Bendigo Stadium could attract only 1200 enthusiasts to the audience for this match, with local sports commitments on a Saturday afternoon the likely culprit. Far from being fatigued by the extra road trip, Fever started the game with purposeful poise, bolstered by the return of their captain Courtney Bruce from a three-week injury to her left arm.
It was a tight contest early in the first quarter, with the teams trading only one broken centre pass each in the first eight minutes. Bruce announced her complete recovery with two early deflections against goal shooter Shimona Nelson, who was having to work hard to connect with her feeders. During the first timeout of the match, Fever coach Stacey Marinkovich instructed her players to stay closer to their opponents, and the increased hands-over-ball pressure immediately paid dividends. The Magpies gave up turnovers on three of their next seven centre passes, with each error coming in the goal circle. Fever went to the quarter time break with the bonus point and a lead of four goals.
A quarter time rev-up improved the Magpies’ approach to the game. Their focused zone defence enabled them to win three turnovers from Fever’s first four centre passes. They raced to a 7-2 lead in the first six minutes of the second quarter, and were ahead on the scoreboard 20-19. It wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows however: three times in the same passage of play Bruce won defensive gains, only one of which the Fever were able to convert. Fever quickly settled themselves following a timeout, re-asserted a one goal lead by the nine-minute mark, and were never behind again for the rest of the game, despite losing the second quarter 17-15.
All over the court there was a series of interesting battles, with individual players able to gain ascendancy for only short periods. Bruce rewarded close attention by displaying undiminished footwork and timing, and she worked well across the circle with Stacey Francis. The pair had seven defensive gains between them for the first half. But while Bruce kept Magpies GS Shimona Nelson to eight goals at 100% in the first quarter, the young shooter received the ball more easily from Kelsey Browne’s eight goal assists in the second, scoring 13 from 15 to bring the Magpies back into the game.
Down the other end, Ash Brazill restricted Fever WA Ingrid Colyer brilliantly in the first quarter to only 2 goal assists, which forced GA Kaylia Stanton to impose herself more on the game, contributing 10 goal assists in the first quarter and seven in the second. Jhaniele Fowler was having her usual imposing gain at GS, yet when the Magpies were able in the second quarter to defend the goal third as an integrated unit, Geva Mentor picked up three defensive gains and restricted her quarter score to 11.
Magpies coach Rob Wright introduced newly-fit GD Matilda Garrett in the second half, in an effort to blunt the mobile Stanton’s game. The Fever attack end was able to adjust nicely, bringing Verity Charles more into attacking and feeding play. Bruce disrupted the Magpies’ attack on three of the first six centre passes, two of which were converted by Fever. Regrouping after an early timeout, the Magpies converted four defensive gains on six of Fever’s next centre passes, including an inspirational Brazill intercept. But the game was proving a battle of the defence ends: at the same time, Fever converted defensive gains on two of the Magpies’ centre passes. At three-quarter time, the quarter score was locked at 16-16, and Fever had a slender two-goal lead.
It was the Fever who proved the most sanguine of the two teams in the final quarter, having learned a little from their draw against the Vixens the previous week. They gave up turnovers three times on their centre pass, but managed to win back two of them to hang onto their lead to the end of the game. Overall, there were two factors contributing to Fever’s first victory of the season: immaculate shooting by Fowler and Stanton who missed only three shots between them, two of which Fowler rebounded; and co-operative defence by Bruce and Francis, who together had 13 defensive gains.
After the match, Magpies coach Rob Wright reflected on his team’s struggle to win enough ball. “Full credit to them,” he said, “I thought they were able to hold possession really quite well. In patches we were very good, like at the start of the second quarter, but we need to do that for longer. Every team in the competition is too good for us to have lapses.
There were some bright spots in the game, including the increasing understanding between Nelson and Natalie Medhurst, playing her first game against the club that let her go following the 2018 grand final. “That’s nearly our highest score, apart from 65 last week. Medhurst is getting closer to her twenty-goal target, and that’s important for us.”
Taking on Fever involves calculating where the goals are going to come from. “Sixty goals is probably a target for most teams,” says Wright, “except against Fever. They are very hard to stop and they score a lot of goals. They did that well again today. The games they’ve lost I reckon they’ve scored sixty goals in every one of them. It’s about limiting Jhaniele Fowler, who is a tough target. Kaylia Stanton shot terrifically all day. We put some pressure on her to have to shoot those, and she was good enough to do it. Full credit to both of them.”
Wright was pleased to be able to introduce Matilda Garrett into the game, playing for the first time this year since an ankle injury. “To have her back for her first game was really cool, and she’s only going to get better. It was good to be able to give her a run.”
“Overall,” he says, “it was not one of our better performances and we have lots to improve upon. Fever have scored a lot of goals in all their games. They scored sixty-six against the Swifts, who scored eighty to beat them. Courtney Bruce coming back in was always going to make a difference, and she had a pretty good game. They were a much-improved side. They’re always dangerous because they can score so quickly, which makes life hard.
“We need to find more ways to stop the ball earlier. At times they were able to get the ball to the circle too easily.
“I say it every week, but the thing that is hurting us is that we cough up too much ball. If you turn over anything, it’s probably two goals against you. That’s something that we need to solve, and it’s up to me to work with our coaching team to find ways to improve. We’re making ground, but we’d like to do it a little bit quicker.”
With national selectors out and about at various games this round, it was a chance for many players to prove their credentials for the World Championships in July. One play on the fringe of selection is Magpies C Kim Ravaillion. “We’ve seen real improvement in the last couple of weeks for her,” says Wright. “Today was not her best, but she’s certainly not alone in that. What I was really pleased about was that we’ve been trying to get her to drive to the ball more and be more involved in the game. When she did that and paced it on, she gets to the circle edge and she was terrific. I just want to see that more and more. We’re starting to see that return again so I’m really thrilled about that and I just want to see some consistency.”
The team enjoyed the trip to Bendigo, and Wright hopes that they will return in the 2020 season, although, “I’d like the stadium to be full,” he says. “I reckon a Saturday night or a Sunday fixture would work. The people of Bendigo were fantastic in pre-season and today, and I’d just like the place to be full because they’re so good for us. It’s a great stadium – it’s a real cauldron.”
West Coast Fever def Collingwood Magpies 63-61
Player of the match: Jhaniele Fowler (Fever)
GS Shimona Nelson
GA Natalie Medhurst
WA Kelsey Browne
C Kim Ravaillion
WD Ash Brazill
GD April Brandley
GK Geva Mentor
Q3: GD Matilda Garrett
Q4: GD April Brandley
GS Jhaniele Fowler
GA Kaylia Stanton
WA Ingrid Colyer
C Verity Charles
WD Jess Anstiss
GD Stacey Francis
GK Courtney Bruce
Fowler 51 / 52 98%
Stanton 12/14 86%
West Coast Fever 63/66 96%
Nelson 44 / 51 86%
Medhurst 17 / 21 81%
Collingwood Magpies 61/72 85%
Fever 24: Stanton 6, Charles 6
Magpies 22: Medhurst 5, Ravaillion 5
Fever: Bruce 8, Francis 5
Magpies: Mentor 4, Brandley 2, Brazill 2
Stanton 28, Charles 17
Browne 18, Medhurst 17