With the Collingwood Magpies adrift of the top four by six points, they were desperately in need of a strong win over a West Coast Fever outfit fighting to improve on their current seventh placing. An arm wrestle followed, with the lead changing ten times, and the scores levelled a further 11 times. An inspired third quarter and a strong team effort saw the Pies record a five point victory over their cross-continent foes.
On a chilly night in Perth, a strong crowd of 5240 turned out to watch the match. Fever went into the game with their regular line, while Collingwood continued the experiment of Ash Brazill in centre and Kim Ravaillion at wing defence. Gabi Sinclair again started the game at goal attack, confining Nat Medhurst to the bench.
Assistant coach Kate Upton explained, “Gabby just brings a different pace, she has a different style of play. Hers is really making sure she’s in there and present as two options. Gabby is a great long bomb shooter. We’ve got really viable options and we don’t have to work the ball around as much. We wanted to start with that and see how that panned out. Really happy we drew that quarter then brought the creative side of Nat in.”
With Fever guilty of a few overcooked passes in the early stages of the match, Collingwood nudged out to a narrow lead for much of the first quarter. Unfortunately they weren’t able to capitalise on Fever’s turnovers, with the new look forward line lacking connection. Brazill and Sinclair were running into each other’s space, limiting options available in attack, and while Sinclair was sinking her goals from any point of the circle, she also gave up three turnovers in the term.
At the opposite end of the court, Ingrid Colyer was particularly damaging for the Fever, playing a particularly strong hand at wing attack. She shaded Ravaillion, and linked well with Verity Charles, who fed shooter Jhaniele Fowler with aplomb.
With the scores level at quarter time, Collingwood brought Medhurst on at goal attack, and she had an immediate impact. Her ability to open up the court, her vision into the circle using the fake and quick release, left Courtney Bruce with little option but to sit under the post on goal shooter Shimona Nelson. Collingwood were particularly fond of passing a ball into their right pocket on attack, but such was the speed of the passing that there was little Fever defenders could do to combat it.
On two of the infrequent occasions that Bruce ventured out of the circle, she was burnt by passes that sailed over her head and into the waiting hands of Nelson. Things got particularly ugly when Medhurst was coathangered by an errant Bruce elbow, with umpire James Matthews quick to hand out a caution with player safety in mind.
Fever held a one goal lead at half time, but during the course of the third quarter Collingwood broke free of their shackles and built a seven goal lead. It came on the back of some strong defensive work by the entire team. Brazill, April Brandley and Mentor all got their hands to some ball, while Ravaillion kept Colyer in closer check.
Medhurst took the game into her hands and was simply brilliant. She was a crucial link between her midcourt and the ever-improving Nelson, as well as putting in seven goals of her own. Colyer and Stacey Francis double teamed her down court, but the elusive goal attack had little problem in slipping the net when she needed.
Matters continued to get physical, with Browne copping two heavy facial bumps in quick succession. While both of them were missed at the time, for the most part the umpires acted quickly to take control of the game, and Fever’s penalty count more than doubled for the quarter, with 18 transgressions compared to 8 each in the first and the second.
Coach Stacey Marinkovich produced a mild spray at three quarter time, telling her group that she wanted stronger defence through the midcourt to halt the flow of the ball. Shannon Eagland was brought onto court in an attempt to stem Medhurst, and when that didn’t work, Bruce was shifted onto her former teammate. It made little difference defensively, but the Fever rallied in attack.
Alice Teague-Neeld, busy throughout the night, lifted her workrate and dominated both centre passes and goal assists for the quarter. Her connection with the prolific Fowler continues to evolve, and she set the goal shooter up for her strongest quarter of the match. Fowler and Geva Mentor had had a titanic struggle, and while Mentor made some critical gains that helped her side to victory, the Jamaican superstar put on seventeen goals in the final term to help Fever snatch their second bonus point for the game.
In winning by six goals, it was perhaps Collingwood’s most consistent match of the regular season, with Brazill a worthy MVP. While she was critical of the defensive aspect of her game, Brazill looked comfortable in attack and didn’t make a single passing error in attack. In fact her vision into the circle was far better than we’ve seen in the past, and the experiment proved to be a success.
Final score: Collingwood Magpies defeated West Coast Fever 63 – 57 (14-14, 13-14, 19-11, 17-18)
MVP: Ash Brazill
West Coast Fever: Jhaniele Fowler 54/60 (90%), Alice Teague-Neeld 3/8 (37%)
Collingwood Magpies: Shimona Nelson 43/50 (86%), Nat Medhurst 14/17 (82%), Gabrielle Sinclair 6/7 (86%)
West Coast Fever: GS Jhaniele Fowler, GA Alice Teague-Neeld, WA Ingrid Colyer, C Verity Charles , WD Jess Anstiss, GD Stacey Francis, GK Courtney Bruce.
Bench: Olivia Lewis, Shannon Eagland, Beryl Friday
Q4: GD Shannon Eagland, Stacey Francis to WD.
GK Olivia Lewis, Courtney Bruce to GD, Jess Anstiss to C.
Collingwood Magpies GS Shimona Nelson, GA Gabrielle Sinclair, WA Kelsey Browne, C Ash Brazill, WD Kim Ravaillion, GD April Brandley, GK Geva Mentor.
Bench: Nat Medhurst, Kimiora Poi, Matilda Garrett.
Q2: GA Nat Medhurst
Gains: Courtney Bruce 7, Geva Mentor 4
Goal Assists: Kelsey Browne 23, Alice Teage-Neeld 21, Ash Brazill 16
Centre pass receives: Kelsey Browne 27, Alice Teague-Neeld 27
Fixtures: Netball Scoop has said it before, but in the interests of player welfare and team equity, fixtures need closer consideration.
Earlier this season, the Fever travelled to Bendigo and Brisbane in successive weeks, while in rounds 12 and 13 Collingwood travelled to Perth and then Launceston with just a four day turn around. With the Pies’ finals’ hopes on the line, it’s a tough ask for weary bodies.
On top of the furore created by Netball World Cup fixturing, it’s clear that there’s work to be done in this space.
The Browne factor:
Collingwood have been roundly condemned for their inconsistent season, but many critics seem to have forgotten that they lost their captain and star centre courter on the eve of the season. Madi Browne’s instinctive role as a play maker and leader was instrumental in helping them to win the preseason Team Girls Cup, and it’s only been since her loss that the side has faltered.
You only have to look at other sides to see what a difference one player can make. Firebirds contested finals in 2018, and yet haven’t won a game this year. While injury has bitten hard, even before that point they were feeling the loss of Laura Geitz, their only change from last year.
Likewise for Fever, who have gone from second to seventh in 2019, with the ousting of Nat Medhurst their only change this season.
While Collingwood might have finally found a winning formula with the swapping of Brazill and Ravaillion, it might be too little, too late this year. However, if Browne can recover from her ACL and find her way back into good form, they should be a force to be reckoned with next year.
Long court conversion
One of the most crucial aspects of netball is a team’s ability to score from their gains (a positive statistic such as an intercept, defensive rebound or pick up) or the opposition’s turnovers (such as a bad pass or dropped ball).
In this match the Magpies were simply outstanding, scoring off 100% of their gains (7/7) and 86% of the Fever’s turnovers (12/14).
In contrast Fever scored off 63% of their gains (5/8) and just 47% of the Magpies turnovers (9/19).
Kate Upton said, “That’s something that we’ve been focusing on. Our long court conversion has always been better than our centre court conversions, so really pleasing that that didn’t drop even though our centre pass conversion came up.”
Looking ahead to next week
The Fever remain at home to face a winless Firebirds next weekend. Despite their inability to hit the scoreboard, the Firebirds are a physical outfit and will be keen to record their first victory of the season. Their defensive end will probably struggle to contain Jhaniele Fowler.
The Magpies have just a four day turnaround before flying to Launceston to face the Swifts, who still remain on top of the ladder. It’s a critical game for the Pies if they are to have any hope of sneaking into the top four. However, with matches against the Swifts and Vixens – who sit third on the ladder – they face a far tougher run home than the Giants, who take on the sixth and seventh placed teams.
What they said after the game
Kate Upton (assistant coach, Collingwood Magpies)
Positives for the game: “Our main aim was to make sure that we maintained possession of the ball more than they did, and I think that in the past we’ve had those little lapses. When we’ve been put under pressure we’ve just wanted to let the ball go. We wanted to make sure that we had viable options and that these girls executed on that, and that was the most pleasing thing.”
On Medhurst’s return to the west: “Nat had a really good work rate. When she drops back and starts playing out of the circle that’s when we really struggle to work the ball into Shimmy (Nelson). We need to have two viable options in the circle and that’s what she produced tonight.
Nat Medhurst (Collingwood)
Why they won tonight: “The biggest thing tonight was our patience. We’ve spoken a lot over previous weeks about making the right decisions, and that really came to fruition today.”
“We want to make sure that we give critical feedback when we need to, but we really get around each other. That real positivity, that energy, everyone is able to feed off that. Kate and Richo really had to take control of the game today, and I think all three coaches work incredibly well. They work off each other’s strengths, balance each other nicely.”
On the loss: “We didn’t execute well and then we found it hard to get ball off them in that last quarter.”
“It’s that five minute block that gives opposition that chance. For us we have to recognise those critical moments and take confidence to execute it. Once we get that going then we’ll be getting better results.”
“We had a couple or turnovers but then they steamrolled down court, we didn’t actually get into our long court transition. They were very good at bringing ball down the court when they gained it. We have to make sure we get into our transition a hell of a lot quicker.”
On the tactical change that seen Fever’s through court defence become less effective this season: “A lot of teams once they figure out when you apply a lot of pressure, they change the way they play, and teams are playing a lot more possession and slowing the play down or chipping the ball around more than what they used to. I think if you look at the top four teams in the league they are extremely good at doing that this season.”