The Adelaide Thunderbirds have broken a 27-game losing streak, defeating 2018 Grand Finalists West Coast Fever by one goal on Sunday.
In a tight game, where the greatest lead for either team was just four goals, the Thunderbirds held their nerve thanks to a strong shooting display from Sasha Glasgow and an outstanding Suncorp Super Netball debut from Shamera Sterling.
The one-goal victory could have a devastating impact on the Fever’s season, with starting seven players Courtney Bruce and Jhaniele Fowler sustaining injuries during the match.
Nervous errors from the Thunderbirds in the early minutes allowed the Fever to skip out to an early 0-4 lead. Both teams were cautious on the feed as they adjusted to their new look goal circle combinations. The Fever midcourt were not utilising their trump card – the lob pass into Fowler – partly due to the work Sterling was doing off the ball to distract the space. The Thunderbirds, in comparison, were often forced to go back to the transverse line and start again.
As the players settled in, Fever began to find their attacking rhythm and set the high ball up for Fowler. Despite Sterling’s persistence, Fowler got her hands on every ball. The Thunderbirds’ approach to goal looked slower in comparison, but it began to prove effective in its patience, as Maria Folau and Glasgow worked around the ring and scored from long range.
When Sterling plucked her first intercept of the afternoon, the momentum shift was evident. Backed up by Glasgow and Folau’s consistency at the ring, the Thunderbirds pulled out to a two-goal advantage at the first break. Bruce spoiled their attempt to make it a margin of three goals, but it came at a cost as she sustained a wrist injury which would go on to hamper her performance.
The second quarter followed a similar theme to the first, with tight contested netball and neither team willing to yield their centre pass. A missed shot by Folau gave the Fever an early chance to even the scores, but a deflection to Beth Cobden was backed up by debutant Kelly Altmann.
At the halfway point of the quarter, the Thunderbirds capitalised on a Fever turnover and briefly pulled out to a four-goal buffer. This prompted the Fever to call a time out, and it proved successful. Bruce deflected the ball, and Fowler made it count. Minutes later, the Thunderbirds called their own time out, and this decision once again seemed to favour the Fever, as Jess Anstiss snatched an intercept to bring the scores level at half time.
Glasgow was the Thunderbirds’ early standout, using her mobility around the circle and long-range accuracy to score 19 goals from 22 attempts, while Layla Guscoth (2 intercepts, 2 gains) and Sterling (2 intercepts, 3 gains) were making their mark in defence. Fowler was, as always, an accurate and dependable target in the ring, carrying the bulk of the Fever’s scoring load without a miss.
A dropped ball by Folau was gathered by Shannon Eagland early in the third quarter to put the Fever in the lead, and initiated chase mode for the Thunderbirds. Adelaide had chances to equalise the scores, such as a deflection to Cobden which was wasted by an out of court pass in the attacking pocket, and an intercept to Glasgow which she was unable to finish off at the post. The Fever were able to withstand each challenge.
After an intercept to Guscoth briefly levelled the scores, the Thunderbirds chose to call another time out and bring Hannah Petty into the Centre position. The Fever took the chance to make their own substitutions; Bruce came off the court, replaced by young West Australian debutant Olivia Lewis, while Stacey Francis returned to the court in Wing Defence.
Once again, the time out worked against the Thunderbirds, as a replay call against Chelsea Pitman gave Fever the lead back. The Adelaide crowd were riding every decision, taking particular dislike to a held ball call in the Thunderbirds’ attacking end. At three-quarter time, the Thunderbirds were certainly not out of the contest, but the three-goal task seemed very tricky with Fowler in the opposition goal circle.
The Fever injected Anstiss back into the match at Wing Attack to start the final quarter. A held ball call against Alice Teague-Neeld brought the margin back to one, but a missed feed into the circle from Pitman halted the Thunderbirds’ chance to steal the lead. The fourth quarter tension was allowing errors to creep into the match, such as missed shots, throwaway passes and a footwork call against Sterling moments after she had won the ball.
But in a cruel twist to the match, Fowler landed awkwardly and had to be helped from the court. A miss by Teague-Neeld gave the Thunderbirds defenders a chance to capitalise, and when the ball came back down the Fever attacking end, Sterling intercepted it, much to the crowd’s delight. After two years, they could sense the long-awaited win was in reach.
Guscoth deflected the ball to allow Glasgow to even the scores with five minutes remaining, and then take the lead. Francis got an intercept with just over a minute on the clock to give the Fever one last chance to steal victory, but another rebound to Sterling ate up enough time and sealed the match for the Thunderbirds.
The win was savoured by an Adelaide crowd who have been starved for success in recent years, and they raised the roof off Priceline Stadium accordingly.
Next week, the Thunderbirds fly to Sydney to face the NSW Swifts, who are coming off a strong win in the NSW derby. Unlike the Thunderbirds, the Swifts’ line up remains relatively unchanged from last season, and therefore Adelaide will need to prepare for their established connections and exciting playing style.
The Fever, meanwhile, will be sweating on the fitness of their bookends in Fowler and Bruce as they prepare for a Grand Final rematch against the Sunshine Coast Lightning in Perth.
FINAL SCORE: ADELAIDE THUNDERBIRDS 61 def. WEST COAST FEVER 60
(16-14, 17-19, 14-17, 14-10)
Player of the Match: Jhaniele Fowler (West Coast Fever)
SASHA GLASGOW 37/47 79%
MARIA FOLAU 24/31 77%
West Coast Fever
JHANIELE FOWLER 51/51 100%
ALICE TEAGUE-NEELD 5/10 50%
KAYLIA STANTON 4/6 67%
Chelsea Pitman (Thunderbirds) 22
Alice Teague-Neeld (Fever) 21
Verity Charles (Fever) 15
Ingrid Colyer (Fever) 11
Shamera Sterling (Thunderbirds) 5
Layla Guscoth (Thunderbirds) 3
Sasha Glasgow (Thunderbirds) 2
Kelly Altmann (Thunderbirds) 2
Shamera Sterling (Thunderbirds) 10
Layla Guscoth (Thunderbirds) 5
Shannon Eagland (Fever) 3
Sasha Glasgow (Thunderbirds) 7
Shamera Sterling (Thunderbirds) 3
Shannon Eagland (Fever) 3
Starting Line Ups
GS Sasha Glasgow
GA Maria Folau
WA Chelsea Pitman
C Kelly Altmann
WD Beth Cobden
GD Layla Guscoth
GK Shamera Sterling
Changes Q3 C Hannah Petty
Q4 WD Layla Guscoth, GD Kate Shimmin
West Coast Fever
GS Jhaniele Fowler
GA Kaylia Stanton
WA Ingrid Colyer
C Verity Charles
WD Jess Anstiss
GD Stacey Francis
GK Courtney Bruce
Changes: Q1 GK Olivia Lewis
Q2 GK Courtney Bruce, GD Shannon Eagland, GA Alice Teague-Neeld
Q3 WD Stacey Francis, GK Olivia Lewis
Q4 WA Jess Anstiss, GS Kaylia Stanton, GK Courtney Bruce
What they said
Tania Obst (Adelaide Thunderbirds Coach)
On the start to the season
“It’s a good start. It’s a win, it is encouraging. There’s some really good game plan execution that we did, and there was some stuff that we probably need to tidy up, but it’s the long journey that we’re on and we want to be better every week. So we’ll go back and have a look at that, and see where we can get better.”
On Sasha Glasgow
“She’s been great the last two weeks in particular at training. She had a 100% game during the week at our practice match … and she’s really in her infancy on what she can do so, yeah, really solid game from her.”
On the impact of Jhaniele Fowler leaving the court
“Look, I thought we’ve kept them to sixty goals, and I think that’s a pretty solid effort … to keep them to there, I think defensively we did a pretty good job. Jhaniele was only really (off) the last six minutes or so, so I would have been confident. It would have been interesting if she was still out there, but I think that we went ahead. We just sort of let them get back in at the end.”
On the decision to start rookie Kelly Altmann in the Centre position
“Kel’s been carving it up – absolutely carving it up – and earned her spot on the training track … Hannah (Petty)’s been at training also more in that wing attack position as well, if Chelsea wasn’t there, but you know I’m confident to swing that around. We’ve got ten players who I’m confident that we can put out there …”
On whether the decision to take Beth Cobden off court in the fourth quarter was planned
“No, it wasn’t actually. She just started to cramp up a little bit there, and we’re not going to take any risks with her. I thought she probably could’ve come back on in the last quarter, but I thought we were probably in control across that transverse line, so there was no need to put her back on.”