West Coast Fever and Adelaide Thunderbirds were two of the first teams to play an unofficial Indigenous round, so it was fitting that they should meet each other in what is now a regular fixture on the Suncorp Super Netball calendar. West Coast Fever were also celebrating the Shooting Stars programme, which uses netball as a way to engage Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander girls in education, promoting health, and building pathways to employment.
After a moving Welcome to Country by Nyoongah elder, Dr Richard Walley, the sixth and seventh placed teams took to the court. West Coast Fever started the match with the line-up that forced a draw against the Giants last week, while the Adelaide Thunderbirds starting seven was unchanged. The opening passage of play signalled the pattern of the game, an entertaining match with plenty of turnovers and gains, resulting from a mixture of brilliant play and sloppy errors.
Fever’s attacking unit looked disjointed at times, lacking a hard driving playmaker. Combined with a number of errors and some brilliant touches by the Thunderbirds goal keeper, Shamera Sterling, the Fever soon found themselves down 11 – 3.
Kaylia Stanton had struggled at goal attack last week, and after shooting just one goal from three attempts in the early minutes of this match, was replaced. It was Alice Teague-Neeld’s first court time since round two, and she played a significant role in the game. While her shot still looked shaky at times – Teague-Neeld had three held balls in the early stages of the match – the substitution was effective.
While Teague-Neeld coughed up seven turnovers during the match, she also crafted together some beautiful passages of play and far more accurate feeds into her goal shooter Jhaniele Fowler. The towering Jamaican has looked frustrated in recent weeks, but seemed far more comfortable when fed by Teague-Neeld’s instinctive turn-and-release style of play.
At the opposite end of the court the Thunderbirds shooters were in fine touch. At goal shooter, Sasha Glasgow’s clever repositioning allowed her to variably protect the pocket space and the goal post, preventing goal keeper Courtney Bruce from disrupting play. With Bruce busy, goal attack Maria Folau was effectively able to sweep the front of the circle, producing a highly accurate long range shooting game.
Thunderbirds wing attack Chelsea Pitman had the ball on a string. Despite physical attention from her opponent Stacey Francis, Pitman’s dominance was crucial in the Thunderbirds strong opening term. She drove hard in attack, hitting the circle edge with relative ease. From that point she easily found the space held by Glasgow, or the roaming Folau, to put the Thunderbirds up by nine goals at quarter time.
When play resumed in the second quarter, Fever swapped Ingrid Colyer into wing attack. They went on a goal scoring spree, with Colyer’s work ethic pivotal to their success. The pint-sized attacker was readily available on the centre pass, freeing up Teague-Neeld to quickly feed the circle. The Fever also stepped up their trade-mark through court defence, picking off four intercepts and forcing the Thunderbirds into twelve turnovers for the term. Centre Jess Anstiss was forced off under the blood rule, but was seamlessly replaced by Verity Charles. When the half time siren sounded, Fever had managed to reduce the deficit to just two goals.
Playing heavily defensive games, both teams went goal for goal in the third quarter. The Thunderbirds’ Sterling and goal defence Layla Gusgoth double-teamed Fowler, daring Teague-Neeld to go to the post. To her credit she did, shooting on 10 occasions for a 50% return. Her accuracy could be improved if Teague-Neeld balanced herself when taking the shot, rather than perching on one leg. During the term an awkward landing by Fowler left her looking uncomfortable, and after a break for treatment, she returned with a heavily strapped knee.
The Thunderbirds defence were working more effectively in combination, settling into life without injured wing defence Beth Cobden. Her replacement, Shadine van der Merwe, was costly at times with seven turnovers, but continues to improve each week as she adjusts to a differing style of play. Unfortunately Sterling, who’d gained a number of valuable touches, was forced from the court after sustaining a heavy bump, making way for a brief cameo by Kate Shimmin.
The Thunderbirds held a narrow lead for much of the fourth quarter, but defended it rather than pushing out the margin. Their play tightened up, using far too many lateral passes rather than moving forwards in attack. Fever’s defence tightened the screws, with captain Courtney Bruce locking down Glasgow to her lowest scoring quarter for the match. Shannon Eagland played out the game at goal defence and was among Fever’s best, coming up with four valuable intercepts. It was one of those turnovers that allowed the Fever to creep out to a narrow one goal margin.
There’d been controversy last week with a discrepancy between the umpires clock and the stadium clock, and it was also slightly out of sync this week. Fortunately it was corrected in the dying minutes of the game, Fever clung onto their lead, and recorded their second win for the season.
Final score: West Coast Fever defeated Adelaide Thunderbirds 53 – 52 (7-16, 18-11, 14-14, 14-11)
MVP: Jhaniele Fowler
West Coast Fever: 53/61 (87%)
Jhaniele Fowler 47/48 (98%), Alice Teague-Neeld 5/10 (50%), Kaylia Stanton 1/3 (33%)
Adelaide Thunderbirds: 52/60 (87%)
Sasha Glasgow 19/22 (86%), Maria Folau 33/38 (87%)
West Coast Fever: GS Jhaniele Fowler, GA Kaylia Stanton, WA Verity Charles, C Jess Anstiss, WD Stacey Francis, GD Shannon Eagland, GK Courtney Bruce.
Bench: Olivia Lewis, Ingrid Colyer, Alice Teague-Neeld
Q1: Alice Teague-Neeld to GA
Q2: WA Ingrid Colyer, then Verity Charles to C (Anstiss off, blood)
Q4: Jess Anstiss to C.
Adelaide Thunderbirds: GS Sasha Glasgow, GA Maria Folau, WA Chelsea Pitman, C Hannah Petty, WD Shadine van der Merwe, GD Layla Guscoth, GK Shamera Sterling.
Bench: Kelly Altmann, Charlee Hodges, Kate Shimmin
Q2: C Kelly Altmann
Q3: Kate Shimmin to GK (Sterling off, injury time)
Q4: GK Shamera Sterling
Centre pass receives: Alice Teague-Neeld 26, Chelsea Pitman 19
Intercepts: Shannon Eagland 4, Ingrid Colyer 3, Shamera Sterling 3
Gains: Courtney Bruce 8, Shamera Sterling 6, Shannon Eagland 4.
Just how important is down court transition?
Huge – it wins games. Today’s match was a case in point. The Adelaide Thunderbirds defenders managed to throw seven passes straight to the opposition (Shadine van der Merwe 4, Shamera Sterling 3), most of which were relatively close to the Fever’s shooting circle which made conversion a relatively easy task.
The Thunderbirds were also able to make ten gains – largely through intercepts or deflections, but were only able to score from two of them at the below par rate of 20%. The remaining eight gains were lost in transition through court.
In contrast, the Fever were able to score from ten of their eighteen gains, at a vastly superior rate of 55%.
While the term is somewhat overused, the statistics above demonstrate that teams that treasure possession, win games.
It’s been a stuttering start to the season for Alice Teague-Neeld, shooting just 5/15 (33%) in rounds one and two, along with a number of held balls. Given the criticism that she attracts, Teague-Neeld must have nerves of steel, as she continues – even if uncomfortably at times – going to the post. In this game her return of 5/10 was still below what is needed from a goal attack, but Teague-Neeld’s other attributes were on display.
Her court craft and timing were beautiful, and she looks a more natural fit with goal shooter Jhaniele Fowler. In this game, Teague-Neeld’s feeds into the circle were quick and accurate, putting Fowler under less pressure than she has been at times. The Jamaican is regularly double-teamed, but Teague-Neeld’s quick release allows the defenders less time to set up on her body.
Explaining how she is building her confidence out on court, Teague-Neeld said, “It’s about the connections with the people around me, particularly the wing attack and goal shooter. Making sure I’ve got talk around me, and I’m talking, the high fives and bum taps when something goes right, acknowledging it. And when things don’t go right, don’t focus on it at the time, but move on.”
Looking ahead to next week
Round 9 will be an incredibly tough challenge for both the teams. Fever have the longest road trip of all, travelling to Sippy Downs to take on a rampant Sunshine Coast Lightning. The two-time premiers have been in mixed form in recent weeks, before putting it together this round to give the Magpies a 23 goal belting and remain second placed on the ladder.
While the Thunderbirds are at home, they come up against the in-form Swifts who currently top the ladder. Despite losing a number of personnel to injury, the Swifts have been ruthless this season, and finished round 8 by running over the top of the Giants in the final minutes of their game.
It’s hard to see either the Fever or the Thunderbirds finishing round 9 with a win, but going into a four week break for the World Cup, they will throw everything at their opponents in the hope of an upset.
What they said after the game
Tania Obst (coach, Thunderbirds)
“We came out very well at the start of the first quarter and played the netball we want to be known for, but then it became that grind for the rest of the game. We’ll kick ourselves for some of the errors that we made, we gained the ball eight times in the second quarter and to only score off one of those is being really wasteful with the ball, so then to lose that quarter by seven, that’s going to hurt you.”
“I think we got a little panicked at times, I’m pretty sure the options were there, but it was the ability to take that extra half second, that’s what needed, to see your options and make those good choices.”
“Our start was fantastic, and previously, apart from last week, that hasn’t been. It’s the ability when we are in front to keep pushing ahead (that is letting us down).”
Shadine van der Merwe (wing defence, Adelaide Thunderbirds)
“We tried to focus every week to improve our performance, but tonight was only a 55 minute performance. We just need to get that 60 minute performance, turning over ball, executing, getting it into goal.”
“Sometimes I think we have lack of focus, and that’s when we start losing it. We need to get back up. Having a solid start, we need to keep gaining on that. When we have that gap we tend to lose a bit of focus and go into mellow mode, and that’s not good for us, so we need to get our minds right on that.”
Stacey Marinkovich (coach, West Coast Fever)
On leaving Jess Anstiss off the court for half the game. “The moves that came went with momentum. Jess at one point had blood so had to come off, and we got onto a roll, so it wasn’t that she was playing poorly. Sometimes as a coach you have to read the game, read the situation. As I said to her, ‘I have every confidence in getting you back out there.’”
Alice Teague-Neeld (goal attack, West Coast Fever)
“It was great to get out on court and build my confidence. Taking the shots is an area I can improve on. I really enjoyed being out there, and that is massive for my confidence, not putting too much pressure on myself when I’m playing.”
What it’s like to come on with a big deficit in the score. “It gives you extra fire in the belly to get up and about, try and make a difference and bring that margin back. It gives you more to play for. It is hard work to draw a margin like that back, so we came off in that half time break absolutely buggered, took a few deep breaths, and out we went again.”