NS EXCLUSIVE: Suncorp Super Netball Grand Final preview
By the Netball Scoop team
In weighing up how to present the Grand Final preview, Netball Scoop decided that we could do no better than to share the opinions of our very own in-house experts. We look at the each sector of the court, Vixens’ and Fever’s strengths and weaknesses, and throw a few wildcards into the mix.
Sunday 18th October at 12pm AEST (1pm AEDT)
Nissan Arena, Brisbane
Channel 9/Netball Live Official App – (check starting times in TV guide for pre-game content)
Vixens most likely starting line up
GS Mwai Kumwenda
GA Caitlin Thwaites
WA Liz Watson
C Kate Moloney
WD Kate Eddy
GD Jo Weston
GK Em Mannix
Most likely Bench: Tegan Phillip, Kadie-Ann Dehaney, Allie Smith, Tayla Honey, Elle McDonald
Fever most likely starting line up
GS Jhaniele Fowler
GA Alice Teague-Neeld
WA Emma Cosh
C Verity Charles
WD Jess Anstiss
GD Stacey Francis
GK Courtney Bruce
Bench: Kaylia Stanton, Courtney Kruta, Sunday Aryang, Olivia Lewis, Shannon Eagland
Umpires: Georgina Sulley-Beales, Nathan Begley,
Reserve: Bronwyn Adams
Fever attack end vs Vixens defence end
By Jenny Sinclair
Jhaniele Fowler has proved to be almost unstoppable this season, shooting over 300 goals more than her closest rival. She’s not only strong in the air, pulling in even the most wayward of balls, but has added movement to her game. Em Mannix excels at moving shooters out of position, and pouncing on any loose passes, so Fowler will need to hold strongly near the post, just changing angles as needed.
The teams that have been most successful against Fowler have varied their defence, double teaming her at times to sandwich her against the baseline, or using an offline defence to attack the high ball. Expect the Vixens to mix up their defence in order to confuse the feed into Fowler.
Alice Teague-Neeld has come into her own this season as a crucial playmaker, maintaining a high volume of work through court and in feeding the circle. Given too much room to run, she can dominate proceedings.
However, in their Round 5 win, Vixens put enormous pressure on the Fever’s goal attack. Jo Weston had the better of three different opponents, using both her tagging ability and hands-over pressure to shut down the link to Fowler.
Weston doesn’t mind giving away obstruction penalties early if it gets in the head of her opponent, and her pressure in both matches this season saw Alice Teague-Neeld struggle with volume and accuracy. Kaylia Stanton could be introduced to the court if needed, but lacks the drive and vision that Teague-Neeld provides.
Fever’s preference is to plug away at one point shots, building a lead by creating turnovers rather than relying on the two point shot. On the occasion when Teague-Neeld shoots long, Fowler needs to make sure that she maintains good rebounding position, as she can be caught out of position at times .
The battle between Weston and Teague-Neeld will be the defining match up of the game.
Fever midcourt vs Vixens midcourt
By Katrina Nissen
When comparing the midcourt strength of these two squads, the Vixens come up trumps. They boast the world’s best wing attack in Liz Watson, a strong defensive engine-room in Kate Moloney and a versatile bench who can take the court at any moment and not disrupt the flow.
Watson saw limited game time in the later stages of the competition due to a niggling ankle injury. Her side will be hoping the extra week’s rest sees her return to full fitness as they will need her pinpoint goal assists to get past Diamond’s goal keeper, Courtney Bruce. Watson’s opponent will likely be Jess Anstiss who plays hard on-body defence. While she hasn’t produced much by way of intercepts or deflections this season, Anstiss does have the ability to wear a player down.
Kate Moloney has played 805 of a possible 840 minutes during the regular season. Her work rate can often go unnoticed as she doesn’t regularly produce spectacular intercepts. But what she does offer is a vitally safe pair of hands which link the two ends of the court. For a player who touches the ball so often, her turnover rate is remarkably low, which is largely why she is second on the ladder for Nissan Net Points (behind Fever’s Jhaniele Fowler).
Controlling the midcourt show for the Fever is Verity Charles who is having the best season for her career. Charles is producing well in all areas of her game this year and is a second on the ladder for goal assists. However, when these sides last met, Charles sprayed the ball over the sidelines 5 times. She can rush the pass at times, and will need to control her timing in this match.
The Fever’s midcourt strength lies in their ability to scramble for loose balls. In their previous two match-ups Fever’s Anstiss and Charles topped the court for pickups.
When faced with a team, like the Vixens, who don’t turnover ball a lot, Fever may opt to bolster their midcourt defensive strength. So, expect see Stacey Francis moved into the wing defence position and Anstiss and Charles moved forward. This creates enticing battles between internationals Watson and Francis and hard on-body defenders Moloney and Anstiss. Both Francis and Anstiss play pesky marking styles of defence which may cause rushed passes and turnover opportunities.
There is still a question mark over whether Kate Eddy will be match fit in time to play in Sunday’s clash. Exciting rookie Allie Smith, who impressed in her most recent outings, could be used in her place. When these two teams last met, Smith took two intercepts and three deflections in 30 minutes of play.
With Ingrid Colyer sidelined following an ACL injury in round 9, training partner Emma Cosh was introduced in her place. More commonly a goal attack, Cosh has adapted her game, improved with every outing and found has gotten better and better with every outing and found her radar into Jhaniele Fowler. It was Cosh’s first full game the last time these two teams met, and she will be a far stronger proposition in the grand final match.
Once Cosh gets onto circle edge, or anywhere in the goal third for that matter, her feeds will be hard to stop. Smith/Eddy can combat this by playing on the body and disrupting Cosh’s access to the circle edge, and, of course, applying as much pressure as possible to the pass.
Fever defence vs Vixens shooters
By Andrew Kennedy
In shooting, Melbourne have the best rotational options of any team in the competition. Mwai Kumwenda continues to improve an already top level game, and her variety of weapons include the awesome connection with feeder Liz Watson, a wonderful split, the ability to move feet fast and still jump into the backspace, totally out-leaping two defenders right under the post, and sheer spontaneity and unpredictability. Caitlin Thwaites also has impressed mightily with her new goal attack game – she balances the court well, chooses the right pass at the right time, cuts the front space, sets screens for Kumwenda, is deadly accurate from range, and can do a positional switch to goal shooter in a blink.
Tegan Philip, retiring with Thwaites after this match, is a guru at feeding the shooter way off the circle, cutting the front or the baseline, and practically eliminating the goal defence with a screen to allow a one-on-one at the post for her partner. That, and all three of them are super shot threats at any time.
However, Fever are not slouches in their defensive circle by any means. Courtney Bruce is the most athletic goal keeper in the world, capable of dominating every corner of goal third with her incredible footwork, speed, and anticipation. She is intimidating on the lean over the shot, can deflect from behind over almost any shooter, takes intercepts at will, has a brilliant shoulder outlet pass, and is a leading rebounder.
Stacey Francis is also phenomenally fast and committed to the ball, tracks her player well, and anticipates the space the shooter wants. Her one weakness is that she doesn’t read the play fast enough and therefore takes off the mark a bit too slow to get many intercepts.
They have a wildcard backup in rookie Sunday Aryang, who has burst onto the scene with some top shelf matches at goal defence. In contrast to Francis, she is not so fast or strong, but she certainly is uncanny in her reading of the game, taking up to four intercepts in half a game. If those three aren’t enough in the final, Olivia Lewis is a very fine keeper who has similar slick footwork at Bruce, and the captain could play some time at goal defence.
Tactically, the starting line-ups should be Kumwenda/Thwaites versus Bruce/Francis. It seems likely that Aryang will take the court at some point to replace Francis, to take a few possessions once the English import has worn down the opposing goal attack. The switching of the Fever defenders is exceptional, and that will be combated by the Vixens’ cluey use of screens, baseline dodges, and baulks from the feeders.
Every player is vital, but the most entertaining and key showdown here is bound to be Bruce on Kumwenda. Fever’s goal keeper is the only match in the league for the Malawian Queen star – she truly can challenge her on the backspace, and in the air. Bruce also is far more physically intimidating, and she will strive to undermine the flow and confidence of Kumwenda from the first whistle.
They are so evenly matched that it is likely that one will have the upper hand for only short periods, alternating with the other. However, it is a total team game, and Bruce will desperately need the front defenders to constantly squeeze the space away from Vixens as they did so successfully in the first half of their round ten clash. West Coast were able to completely dictate the movements of the Melbourne attacking line for 30-40 minutes, gaining a 14-goal lead and nearly pulling off a win. Whichever team can force their opponent out of their normal movement patterns will win.
Why Vixens can win the game
By Kate Cornish
It’s hard to pin-point just one area on court where the Vixens win the game, as their strength this season has been in the depth of their squad and their ability to run out a game with their top seven. However, if I had to choose the two words that come to mind are ‘Liz Watson’. She has been the bench mark for exceptional game play all season. A powerful player who drives straight for the circle edge, she also has some of the saftest hands in the business. If Liz Watson is even firing at 90 percent on Sunday, she is still better than most who run at near perfect. Unless Fever can keep her off the circle and out of feeding range, she will be the reason the Vixens lift the trophy in 2020 and cement her name as the best wing attack in the world.
As if the dangling carrot of this clubs’ first ever Super Netball premiership was not enticing enough, the Vixens are riding an emotional wave that will peak on Sunday. They will of course want to send club stalwart Teagan Philip and fan favourite Caitlin Thwaites off with the fairy-tale ending that all athletes dream of. The shooting duo announced their retirements before the final’s series and their team-mates will be desperate to give them a memorable end to their decorated netball careers.
Their coach, Simone McKinnis was recently over-looked by Netball Australia for the role of Diamonds head coach, despite being the crowd favourite for the position; and in an intriguing twist of fate, Mckinnis will face off for the Super Netball title against the very candidate that beat her to the role, the coach of West Coast Fever, Stacey Marinkovich.
The Vixens have also been staunch in their support for their fans back home and they have come out to say that they will be playing for the people of Victoria when they step out on court on the weekend. They left Melbourne just as lock down and restrictions and Covid-19 cases hit its peak, and they have been living in hub life ever since. They have added the Victorian Fury ‘V’ to their dress as an acknowledgement to Fury teammates who did not get to play this year, and they have also said it is ‘A sign of hope for Victorians, as we wanted to have you by our side as we hit the court on Sunday.’
The Vixens are the team to beat on Sunday. They have, by far, been the most consistent in their approach on court, their attitude has been unwavering and there has been a gap in between the standard of the game the minor premiers have been able to produce and the rest of the competition.
After demolishing Lightning in clinical fashion during the major semi-final, their confidence will be sky-high and it is hard to bet against them for the win.
Why Fever can win the game
By Ian Harkin
There are two big factors weighing in Fever’s favour for the grand final. The most obvious one is the dominant form of star shooter and Netball Scoop’s 2020 MVP, Jhaniele Fowler. She is far more than just a tall holding shooter. There are more strings to her bow; greater movement, athleticism, and unerring accuracy, which makes her so hard to stop. Coming into the grand final, she is rightly considered the major threat to Vixens’ chances.
While Fowler has always been a prolific shooter, the difference this year has been the low error count of those around her. It will be the task of Alice Teague-Neeld, Emma Cosh and Verity Charles to keep up a low turnover rate again this week, under the pressure of a grand final and opposing the best defensive team in the league. Fever have the highest centre pass to goal conversion rate of any team, sitting at an incredibly efficient 74% this season, while both Charles and Teague-Neeld are in the top five for goal assists. If they can continue with that form, Fowler will do the rest, and Fever will be well on the way to victory.
The other thing in Fever’s favour is simply their irresistible current form. After six rounds this year, the season appeared to be headed nowhere at two wins and four losses. After being downed by the Firebirds, the team re-evaluated themselves and from that time on, Fever has played with far more confidence and far more composure. Their last ten matches have produced eight wins, a draw, and a one goal loss.
That draw of course was against Vixens in round 10. Fever dominated much of that game. They led by up to 14 goals at one point, before Vixens produced a stirring comeback. Fever will no doubt be trying to put themselves in a similar situation in the grand final, but hopefully this time, they can go on with it.
Where Vixens have a potential weakness
By Jane Edwards
In all but one position on court this season, the Vixens have taken care to play and establish at least two players as match-winning substitutes, with one glaring exception. Kate Moloney has played virtually every Vixens match at centre, barring one quarter in Round 2 and one quarter in Round 4, for an astonishing 860 minutes out of a total of 900. This has embedded her performance as the engine of the team, but does leave the Vixens somewhat vulnerable in replacing her should that be necessary.
In contrast Verity Charles has been Fever’s most commonly used centre, racking up 694 of a possible 960 minutes. This includes her stellar effort in the Preliminary Final last week, when she mercilessly tagged Laura Langman into giving up 6 turnovers. If Charles is able to blanket Moloney in the same fashion, the Vixens have limited match-tested alternatives, as no other player has pulled on the Centre bib for a significant period since Liz Watson had a quarter in Round 4. By contrast, Fever has played Jess Anstiss at Centre for two halves in the past four games.
While it’s a lesser concern, the Vixens have used far less rotations than any other team this season, and some niggling injuries have developed as a result. Mannix, Eddy and Watson have all missed court time in recent weeks, while there is enough strapping on other players to stock a pharmacy. It’s been two weeks since their last match, but will it be enough for some of the team to recover?
Where Fever have a potential weakness
By Ian Harkin
It’s the elephant in the room. The super shot. Fever has undoubtedly been the team hardest hit by the new rule. In their magical run to the grand final, they drew with Vixens in round 10 and lost to Thunderbirds in round 14. Statistically, Fever actually had the better of both of these matches, except for that one single aspect; the super shot. It threatens to derail their title hopes.
So far this season, Fever has for the most part been either unwilling or unable to score regularly from super shot range. Meanwhile, they’ve also been largely ineffective at stopping their opponents scoring from the same distance. Both situations may have to change this week.
In their two clashes this year, Fever has actually landed more shots than Vixens (118-112), but the Melbourne team has completely dominated from super shot range (19-4), leading to their overall 131-122 head to head advantage. It’s not just the volume, but the accuracy that creates the problem. In those matches, Vixens’ shooters shot at 61.3% from super shot range compared to Fever’s 23.5%.
Vixens’ three shooters are all proficient long range shooters, but if the Fever defence can work together to shut them down and limit their chances in the super shot zone, or even just to place them under greater shooting pressure, that could be enough for the team from the west to claim their first premiership.
By Jane Edwards and Jenny Sinclair
Both teams are far from home, and will be unwilling to give up the premiership after so fundamentally sacrificing their personal lives this season. They’ve endured months of hub life, and two games per week, away from family, friends, jobs, studies and the comfort of their own bed. Those sacrifices will undoubtedly sit in the back of team’s minds on Sunday, spurring them on when they feel like there’s nothing left to give.
In some respects, the hub may have levelled the playing field for Fever. They have an extraordinary travel burden compared to other teams, racking up frequent flyer points at the expense of valuable training and recovery days each week. The thought of Fowler trying to squish her 198cm frame into economy airline seats is excruciating, so the lack of air travel is one small positive for the team from the west.
The Vixens are currently riding a wave of emotion. From the momentous farewell of Phillip and Thwaites, the Big V on their dresses, to the #DoingItForVic campaign, there have been plenty of heartfelt moments shared on social media. While it’s undoubtedly given them additional reasons to play for, it could potentially bite them too. Hot favourites for the win, Vixens will need to remain composed if they are to prevail.
While they’ve flown under the radar in comparison, the Fever also have strong personal reasons for wanting the win. Don’t underestimate the steely ambition resulting from seeing club favourite Ingrid Colyer’s season ending knee injury, personal tragedies in the Charles’ and Francis’ families, and Fowler’s distance from her family in Jamaica. She hasn’t since her daughter since February, and Fowler will not be willing to pack her bag without nestling the trophy among her smalls.
GOOD LUCK TO BOTH TEAMS