Netball Scoop – Suncorp Super Netball – Preliminary final, 2020
West Coast Fever 73 defeated Sunshine Coast Lightning 59 (21-12, 18-11, 20-18, 14-18)
Verity Charles received an accidental knock in the head, and while she was slow to get to her feet, played out the game.
Laura Langman left the game late in the fourth quarter winded after a late challenge from Stacey Francis.
Lightning’s goal keeper, Phumza Maweni, played her 100th national league game.
Fever midcourter Courtney Kruta made her debut in Super Netball at the end of the final quarter. Congratulations, Courtney!
Jacqui Russell played her last elite netball match this week, retiring from the Sunshine Coast Lightning squad.
Sasha Glasgow has chosen to not take up the option of the 2021 year of her contract with the Adelaide Thunderbirds. She is now free to commence negotiations with other clubs.
Roselee Jencke has parted ways with the Queensland Firebirds, after 11 years at the helm.
Caitlin Bassett made the tough decision to relocate to New Zealand next season to play for the Splice Construction Magic. To learn what influenced that decision, please see our exclusive interview.
ROOKIE OF THE ROUND
Young Fever wing attack Emma Cosh walked away with MVP after an impressive performance for the Fever. Playing in her first season and first finals series, Cosh had the ball on a string to both Jhaniele Fowler and Alice Teague-Neeld. She finished the game on 28 goal assists, 23 centre pass receives and a gain, losing possession only three times.
PLAY OF THE ROUND
Awarded a penalty under the post in the power five, Peace Proscovia looked to pass backwards to Steph Wood to have a 2-point attempt. Phenomenally, Stacey Francis read the play and took a delicious intercept right at the edge of the circle.
TEAM OF THE ROUND
Fever entered this clash with massive recent victories over Lightning. They played their usual brand of netball, fast feet in defence, long outlet balls, safe hands and transition to attack, and sizzling accurate feeds from any player at any distance to their towering shooter.
Peace Proscovia came on after five minutes of the third quarter of the preliminary final against West Coast – her team were 21 goals behind, but from then on, her team won the next 25 minutes by eight points. Her match up of strength against Courtney Bruce, her hold, and reduced reliance on baseline drive, was a key difference.
Fever are not only slick on attack, they are passionate in defence and experts at backing up. They had 14 deflections with six subsequent gains, compared to Sunshine Coast’s 20 deflections resulting in only three gains. This is also reflected in the outstanding pickup differential – 19 to Fever, a mere six to Lightning.
TALKING POINT OF THE ROUND
To date, no minor premier of the Suncorp Super Netball league has gone on to win the grand final, suggesting that the two week break doesn’t always benefit. However, in the Vixens’ case, they should welcome the extra time to rest some niggling injuries. The Vixens have used less player rotations than any other team, and were showing some wear and tear towards the end of the season. Kate Eddy sat out the semi-final with her foot in a moon boot, although her replacement, rookie Allie Smith, did a fine job of replacing her.
However, this year the Vixens have generally looked a class above most of the opposition. They’re not only a group that have been together for five or six years, but have a deeper bench than most opponents. Every player has shown they’re capable of rotating onto court with immediate impact. They will go into the grand final as undoubted and well-deserved favourites.
While the Fever have improved markedly towards the end of the season, they lost two games earlier in the year when star goal keeper, Courtney Bruce, was out of action with a back injury. If Bruce had been in the side, their win/loss ratio may have been closer to the Vixens.
Fever have also had to contend with the mid-season loss of Ingrid Colyer with an ACL rupture. Her replacement is training partner Emma Cosh, who generally plays at goal attack. It took Cosh a little while to gain match fitness and learn the subtleties of a new position, but she’s risen to the task.
There could be two key determinants for the result – the battle of the rookies (Cosh and Smith) and the showdown between coaches Simone McKinnis and Stacey Marinkovich. That the former was overlooked for the latter as the new Diamonds’ head coach adds spice to the encounter.
TWEET OF THE WEEK
STAND OUT STATISTICS
Jhaniele Fowler (Fever) – 112.5
Courtney Bruce (Fever) – 98
Emma Cosh (Fever) – 27
Alice Teague-Neeld (Fever) – 25
Steph Wood (Lightning) – 8/12 (67%)
Alice Teague-Neeld (Fever) 3/4 (75%)
Courtney Bruce (Fever) – 10 (4 intercepts, 3 deflections with gain, 3 rebounds)
Stacey Francis (Fever) – 5 (3 intercepts, 1 deflection with gain, 1 rebound)
Karla Pretorius (Lightning) – 5 (2 intercepts, 2 deflections with gain, 1 rebound)
Centre Pass Receives
Steph Wood (Lightning) – 26
Emma Cosh (Fever) – 23
Courtney Bruce (Fever) – 12
Verity Charles (Fever) – 11
Fever dominated all the major stats against Lightning
Fever accuracy 88% to 83%
Fever turnovers 16 to 28
Fever intercepts 10 to 3
Fever pickups 17 to 6
Fever gains 20 to 7
Fever penalties 46 to 31
West Coast Fever 73 defeated Sunshine Coast Lightning 59
By Andrew Kennedy
After losing the major semi-final last week, Lightning would have been filled with dread – they were to face the Fever, to whom they hadn’t been closer than 20 goals this year. It was a lopsided matchup, where Sunshine Coast’s normally razor sharp defensive structure hadn’t shown adequate adaptation to super fast feeds to a tall, smart, experienced, athletic shooter. There was a promising opening, goal for goal, and then suddenly Fever were leading by six. The game was already lost in the first quarter, but West Coast continued to put Lightning to the sword, with a huge advantage in gains, intercepts, and pickups, and very secure through-court play. The home court advantage made little difference as the Sunshine Coast missed the grand final for the first time, bulldozing by the Fever to the tune of 14 points.
The whole Fever team has been incredibly reliable since round seven, and today it was captain Courtney Bruce who was their best. She had the most gains (9), intercepts (3), and rebounds (4). She is certainly the fastest goal keeper in the league, with amazing footwork and intensity that doesn’t wane. Bruce can anticipate dodges and moves to the backspace better than any other, and not only takes her feet to the ball, her strength across shoulders and arms pushes her opponent away just by reputation. In this final, she took control of the whole goal third in both attack and defence. Since she came back from injury, missing rounds two and three and playing partial games in the next two matches, Fever have won six of nine matches as well as a draw against the minor premiers, Vixens. Bruce benefits greatly from the strength and speed of Francis and Anstiss out the front.
You also can’t deny the exquisite form of Jhaniele Fowler. She has shot at least 54 goals per match since round seven, with 60/61 in this preliminary final. Her output continued to improve with a variety of simple but effective moves, and even more so after the tragic knee injury to Ingrid Colyer in round nine which allowed Emma Cosh to take a starting spot at wing attack and provide much safer transition to attack and delivery to the shooters.
Snaps to Verity Charles once again, with an amazing SEVEN pickups and two intercepts, giving away possession only four times.
Every Fever player fulfilled their role for the whole game. As Charles was slowed down somewhat by Laura Langman in attack, Cosh and Alice Teague-Neeld took up the responsibility in feeding. Teague-Neeld particularly dominated, with 25 goal assists from 30 feeds.
The Fever’s transition from defence to attack was exceptional, with Lightning unable to trouble them through the midcourt on more than a few occasions. Anstiss and Francis sit in the midcourt nice and wide, ready to cross the ball high to each other with no errors, and watching for the rotation in the middle channel of the three feeders, or a short play along the sideline. They had height and strength on their side compared to Wood and Scherian.
The tactic of Bruce coming out of the circle to hunt from the very beginning caused chaos. She was hard to get past or even see around, and the few times that a shooter was left exposed at the post were far compensated for by her reading of the play throughout the whole goal third.
Finally, the Western Australians have outstanding fitness and awareness – the back four are able to track leads, stick like glue, muscle up and deliberately hold or push, but still get back three feet over the pass. They aim to cover the middle corridor and frustrate the opposition.
Lightning had few highlights, but Peace Proscovia’s entry to the match helped, matching Bruce’s body type and eliminating some of her strengths. The Ugandan hit 16/18 in 25 minutes, compared to starting shooter Koenen’s 14/14 in 35 minutes. From when Proscovia came on, Lightning won the rest of the match by eight points.
WHAT needs improvement?
Thinking firstly about the grand final, Fever and Vixens are both peaking at the right time. From rounds 8 to 14, Fever lost one game by one goal, and drew with Vixens in round 10. Bruce, Cosh, Francis, and Fowler are growing in form, and the rest of the team are strong and reliable. They will need to reverse the Vixens’ ability to dictate space and intimidate, by playing a full 60 minutes of confident, fast flowing netball. Bruce has the hardest job, adjusting to the radically different styles of Kumwenda and Thwaites – she is the form defender of the league and more than up to the challenge.
The West Coast feeders also need to learn lessons from their past hitouts against Melbourne and also the Swifts, who have similar defence lines that have a smart, tall keeper, a tagging goal defence, and the ability to play offline circle defensive structure, which makes the pass appear open but sets up an intercept.
WHERE was it won?
It was a complete performance for Fever, with each athlete playing their natural game and also able to identify the strengths and habits of their teammates. The feeders in particular found a totally open path with no 3-foot defence over them, and thus flung every ball with accuracy to their target shooter, who scored at 97%. Fowler cleverly mixed up her play in three main simple ways – short leads to edge of circle if all feeders were down court and wide, holding backspace if the ball was far off the circle, or holding front if the ball was closer.
WHERE was it lost?
Lightning’s starting seven had no answers. The shooters couldn’t get free, they could not stop the transition of Fever from defence to attack, the midcourt defence did not get hands over the feeders, and nobody could intimidate the shot of the towering Jamaican-Fever goal shooter. It was a strange choice from the coach to start with the same personnel that had lost so heavily in their two previous encounters this season, and to make changes so late when victory was impossible.
This is the first time that Sunshine Coast Lightning have not made it to the grand final of Suncorp Super Netball.
WHEN was the game won and lost?
After keeping competitive at five-all in the first four minutes, Lightning were suddenly six goals behind, and could not arrest the flow of speedy feeds from Fever for the rest of the match. The Sunshine Coast veterans Pretorius, Wood, and Langman, were visibly and audibly ruffled, glaring at and talking back to the umpires. It wasn’t possible to reel in the lead with negativity clouding their gameplay.
HOW did she do that?!
All season the Fever have been the queens of the strong shoulder outlet pass. Anstiss, and in particular Bruce, picked up their players in the dead zones of midcourt defence almost a dozen times, routing the Queenslanders and preventing them from threatening any kind of transition defence.
MVP Emma Cosh (Fever)
SEASON IN REVIEW
NSW Swifts – finished 4th in 2020
By Kate Cornish
It was the season the Swifts were looking to go back-to-back with their title defence, and while we saw glimpses of the form that won them the premiership in convincing fashion in 2019, they were unable to replicate the pressure across the season and struggled to play consistently for 60 minutes.
Their usual error free style of netball deserted them during games as they trialled different combinations through court and while there were some stand-out performances across the season from players like Sam Wallace, Lauren Moore and Paige Hadley, we never saw the Swifts hit their full stride.
Ironically, their best performance this year was the game that ultimately sent them home and ended their season. In the semi-final against West Coast Fever, for at least 45 minutes the Swifts looked like they had finally found their combination and rhythm; but in an all too familiar story of their season, they were unable to maintain momentum and keep up the intensity.
Their squad of 12 worked well together and combinations settled quickly when changes were made. Coach Briony Akle was not afraid to tinker with their line up and showed faith in her players. The Swifts mid-court were incredibly strong and versatile with co-captains Maddy Proud and Paige Hadley playing starring roles with Nat Haythornthwaite and Tayla Fraser strong options when change was needed.
Sarah Klau and Maddy Turner, while never quite reaching their devastating best, worked themselves well into the season and Lauren Moore has more than proved her worth with a strong start to the year. Sophie Craig who was elevated into the squad after being a training partner walked a fine line between being an impact player and someone that can run out a full 60 minutes for her team. The area in which she needs to improve is her decision making on court regarding which balls she should contest. Craig is usually heavily penalised and a wing defence who spends too much time out of play is costly as they offer no support for their goal defence or their goalkeeper. However, in the last two rounds Craig played a much more calculated role and reined in her penalty count.
The shooting combination of Sam Wallace and Helen Housby (with an injection of Sophie Garbin) had some fine moments, but ultimately Wallace carried the attacking end and was the saviour in many of the Swifts matches with her calm head and ability to sink the two-point shot when on offer. Housby, who usually loves the big occasions, went missing in some games and did not look comfortable all season, missing some games with niggling injury and health issues.
As far as we know the Swifts will maintain their roster in 2021, with the team culling back to a squad of 10. This means we will probably see Kelly Singleton (who was the only player on the team to not get much court time) drop out of the squad, as well as Tayla Fraser, depending on the potential repatriation of Natalie Haythornthwaite back to England. This is disappointing, as Fraser has injected life into the mid-court with her speed and defensive pressure.
While they will be disappointed with an overall position of fourth in 2020, there are positives to take away from this season and (if they can stick together) they have a roster that we know is capable of winning and a new outlook in 2021 could see that winning form return.
Sunshine Coast Lightning – Placed 3rd in 2020
By Jenny Sinclair
Lightning have contested the past three grand finals and cemented themselves as a powerhouse of the competition. However they’ve looked tired at times this year, and looking at their squad, we can understand why. Over the past few seasons there has been somewhat limited development of bench players, while the Lightning are also overburdened in two on court positions. This has stymied their ability to rotate key players, forcing them to play out most of the games.
While Lightning has three bona fide stars in Steph Wood, Laura Langman and Karla Pretorius, it’s been some less heralded names that have stepped up this year. Cara Koenen has managed to wrest the goal shooter bib from Ugandan captain Peace Proscovia, revealing herself as one of the future stars of Australian netball. Koenen’s baseline moves are slick, while she’s also mastered the cheeky little pop out for balls from the front of the circle. This season she was the fourth highest goal scorer in the competition, and has shown that she’s a formidable rebounder as well, ranked third only behind the two Jamaicans.
Phumza Maweni has also come into her own this year, becoming a formidable presence in goal keeper. While she can be heavily penalised at times, she’s sitting fourth on the leaderboard for deflections, and can also be relied on to pull in some critical rebounds in games. Her combination with South African teammate, Pretorius, continues to grow, which augurs well for the Proteas.
At their best, Lightning are magnificent to watch in action. A strong target at the front, with the silky smooth moves of Wood at goal attack, a midcourt that thrives on rapid and safe ball movement, and an incredible defensive capacity. They are also known for their exceptionally clean game, giving away far less penalties than any other team in the league. Their ability to stay in play allows them to pile on the defensive pressure, often forcing the opposition into mistakes.
After a number of years together, the Lightning have their attacking game down pat. Laura Scherian takes the majority of centre passes (ranked first in the competition), while circle feeding duties are shared between Langman (fifth in the competition) and Wood. The link between Langman and Wood in particular is strong, with the duo having an instinctive understanding of where each other will run.
At the opposite end of the court, Pretorius tends to an offline defensive game, reading the play and snaffling intercepts, for which she was ranked first in the league. The hands over pressure by wing defences Maddy McAuliffe and Jacqui Russell also did much to slow the ball up, giving Pretorius and Maweni more time to look at the flight of the ball.
Kudos also goes to Kylee Byrne, in her first year as head coach. The transition between Noeline Taurua and herself has been seamless; she’s provided clear instructions along with a great sense of humour.
What can be Improved?
Lightning are overloaded in two positions, with two specialist wing defences and two specialist goal keepers. It limited their ability to rotate players when needed, piling extra playing minutes onto Scherian and Langman.
When Scherian was overshadowed by her opponent, Lightning were forced to swing Wood out of the circle, or introduce Binnian Hunt, primarily a goal attack/shooter, to the game.
Lightning have had two wing defence specialists for a couple of seasons now, in Maddy McAuliffe and Jacqui Russell. While they could both be moved into centre, neither provided cover for Scherian.
Having two goal keepers – Maweni and Annika Lee-Jones – also reduced the options to give Karla Pretorius a rest.
While Koenen has been a revelation this season, she showed her inexperience in the finals series. Against the Vixens she shot just 24 goals, and against the Fever was kept to 14 goals in the first half. However, this is the first season that the 24 year old has seen much game time, and she will undoubtedly improve from here.
The teams that excelled against the Lightning also recognised that Wood likes to hold space on the perimeter of the circle, turning outwards for a rapid fire pass from her feeders. Smart defenders were able to jam Wood between themselves and the midcourters, reducing her ability to take the pass. While Wood’s timing is generally impeccable in the goal third, she needs to add a little more variety to her circle entries, to confuse the defenders.
Where to for 2021?
There are two key work-ons for Lightning if they are return to premiership contenders. Firstly, in the recruiting period they will need to replace the retiring Russell, preferably with someone who can provide wing attack/centre cover. In addition, with Maweni preferred at goal keeper, they might consider signing a swing goal defence/goal keeper in place of Lee-Jones.
Some development of their bench players is also essential, in order to give them more options if Plan A isn’t working.
The biggest question mark however, is over Langman. Having retired internationally, there is a giant question mark over whether she will continue on next year domestically. Should she step down, it will be impossible to replace one of netball’s all time greats, but the Lightning scouts would undoubtedly look far and wide for another centre courter.
Melbourne Vixens vs West Coast Fever
Sunday 18th October, at 1pm AEDT (12 noon Qld time), Nissan Arena, Brisbane.
Televised on Channel 9 and the Telstra Live app.
NETBALL SCOOP PODCAST
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