The Giants claimed an unconvincing victory against West Coast Fever on Sunday, denying them the chance to celebrate captain Nat Medhurst’s 200th domestic league game in style. While moving to outright second on the ladder, the loss of Kim Green from the midcourt is proving to be a difficult puzzle for the Giants to solve. The Fever had their opportunities to win in a see-sawing final quarter, but lack of clutch experience proved costly, with coach Stacy Marinkovich explaining, “It’s not often we’re playing games down to the wire…You have to continue to challenge and walk towards the pressure, and I thought we did that a lot better tonight than we did any other week.”

Photo: Steve McLeod

Starting line ups:
West Coast Fever: GS Kaylia Stanton, GA Natalie Medhurst, WA Ingrid Colyer, C Verity Charles, WD Jessica Anstiss, GD Stacey Francis, GK Courtney Bruce
Bench: Kate Beveridge, Jessica Eales, Annika Lee-Jones

Giants: GS Jo Harten, GA Susan Pettitt, WA Sarah Wall, C Serena Guthrie, WD Jamie-Lee Price, GD Bec Bulley, GK Sam Poolman
Bench: Kristina Brice, Taylah Davies, Toni Anderson

Umpires: Rachel Ayre, Kate Wright, Justin Barnes

The first term was conducted on relatively equal terms by both sides; neither able to establish an ascendancy over the other. Kaylia Stanton was uncomfortable from the outset, missing four early goals and fumbling a pass and rebound. Realising their opportunity, Bec Bulley and Sam Poolman mixed up their defence, double-teaming her at times, which further rattled the young shooter. She took seven minutes to score her first goal, but continued to work hard outside the circle, setting up open space for her captain to drive into. Nat Medhurst relished the space to roam, and completely controlled play for the first half of the match with a variety of baseline drives, authoritative cut and drives, and a clinical display of long range shooting.

The Giants showed good patience in attack early, as they were frequently held up in the midcourt by a smothering Fever defensive effort. The home team contested every ball within reach, with Giant’s goal attack Susan Pettitt wearing the floor on a number of occasions, and a heavy collision between Verity Charles and Jess Anstiss indicative of their desire to be first to the crumbs. The Fever have lagged in pickups in a number of games this season, but clearly improved in this game, winning the statistic 12 to 6. At the end of the first term, the Giants held a narrow lead, 11-10.

The NSW team exploded into the second quarter, jumping out to a five goal lead before the Fever called a tactical time out. With Stanton continuing to look tentative, the experienced Kate Beveridge was introduced at goal shooter for the Fever. While her shooting accuracy wasn’t much better than Stanton’s, her combination with Medhurst was an improvement, the duo working better in tandem. Beveridge’s hold and drop proved to be easier to find for her midcourt, perhaps more used to dealing with this style of play than the aerial movement of Stanton.

Photo: Steve McLeod

The Fever midcourt had one of their most polished performances to date. Charles has come into her own in the centre role, and is doing an excellent job of controlling the top of the circle, from where she feeds her shooters well. Ingrid Colyer is gaining confidence in the wing attack role, taking most passes on the stretch, which limits her opponent’s ability to intercept a pass. A work on for her is to provide more deception on her pass, as some of the intercepts picked off around the circle followed a telegraphed play.

Jess Anstiss continues her strong maiden season, finishing this match with four intercepts to be one of Fever’s best. Against her the Giants had a revolving door in their wing attack role, with Sarah Wall, Taylah Davies and Serena Guthrie rotating through the position. Wall struggled with injury, but it continues to be an area of concern for the Giants. Each of the players used there floated too high in the midcourt before driving into a pocket, their moves closely shadowed by Anstiss who did a fine job in shutting them down as a feeding option. Few players have the ability of injured captain Kim Green to punch onto the top of the circle, and the loss of that ability was noticeable in this game. At half time the Giants maintained their narrow lead, 25-24.

While goal shooter Jo Harten had been shooting well and providing good movement in the circle, Giants’ coach Julie Fitzgerald opted to replace her with the towering Kristina Brice at the start of the third quarter, giving her midcourt more of a target to find. While a work in progress, Brice is looking more confident with her movement in the circle rather than being stationary under the post, and is started to develop her shooting from range. However, with their lack of circle edge positioning the Giants midcourters lacked confidence in putting the ball up to Brice, particularly after her opponent Courtney Bruce tipped several passes away.

Photo: Steve McLeod

Experienced campaigner Pettitt took the opportunity to fill the breach, commanding some good positions around the circle and shooting seven goals for the quarter as Brice settled into the game. Pettitt was tireless in her work rate around the court, returning 13 centre pass received, 11 goal assists and 18 feeds. However, it wasn’t an easy night for her with her opponent Stacey Francis wearing her closely throughout the match. Bruce picked up some valuable tips for the home team, but was penalised on 21 occasions in this match. Some of the transgressions resulted from a lack of discipline, particularly obstruction calls and contact on the ball while shooting. It is an area Bruce must tidy up on if she wants to be reselected in the Diamonds. Umpiring interpretation varies, and with shooters more protected in some matches, the national team need their defenders to remain against their player rather than beside them.

The Giants had established a four goal margin at three quarter time, but this was quickly whittled away as the teams level pegged for most of the final term. The Giants mixed up their defence to regain ascendancy, confusing space in the circle. Sam Poolman (two intercepts, seven deflections) continued to make life difficult for the Fever shooters, forcing Beveridge into a few errors in the final crucial stages of the match. Coach Julie Fitzgerald applauded her efforts saying, “Sam is playing very, very well, and perhaps without as much support out front of her tonight as she needed.”

Photo: Steve McLeod

Bulley was a strong outlet down court, but battled against the nimble footwork of Medhurst, who returned game high figures of 18 centre pass receives, 24 feeds and 10 goal assists, for 13 goals. Opposition coach Julie Fitzgerald paid tribute to the 200 gamer, saying “Nat Medhurst was superb (in the second quarter). It was one of the best quarters I’ve seen her play in a long time, and it worried us.”

In the final frantic minutes of the match there were some big moments that could have turned the game in either direction: another intercept by Anstiss, a crucial rebound by Pettitt, an air ball by Beveridge, an interesting umpiring call. The vocal crowd tried to will their team home, but a crucial intercept by Guthrie, followed by a Giants goal sealed their victory. The final thirty seconds descended into farcical territory with Brice and Bruce shirtfronting each other, while confusion over the final whistle was an anticlimactic end to the game.

Giants 48 def West Coast Fever 45
Player of the Match: Susan Pettit (Giants)

Harten 16/19 84%
Pettitt 21/24 88%
Brice 11/12 92%
48/55 87%

West Coast Fever
Stanton 7/10 70%
Medhurst 13/16 81%
Beveridge 25/33 76%
45/59 76%$

What they said after the game:

Sam Poolman, Giants

On forcing the change at GS
“I think it goes down to a unit defence, and it goes down to what the girls do around me.”

On Kim Green travelling with the team
“Kim is a crucial part of our team. She lets us do our business, but is experienced in what she sees with us as well. I’m sure you could hear her on the bench!”

On the midcourt changes
“Sarah and Taylah offer a different style and different options. It is something we are still working on. We had a lot of change in our defence end as well, so whoever comes on needs to do their job and we need to adapt quite quickly.”
Julie Fitzgerald, Giants coach

Tonight’s game
“What pleased me was the resilience. It was a tight game and so difficult to get any sort of lead that we were able to hold.”

The physicality of the game
“You’ve got two teams out there who were very, very hungry for the ball, and that we will do whatever we are allowed to do. Both teams were very keen to get a win today, both teams were fighting very hard, and that’s hard it resolved.”

Change in goal shooter
“Kris was a good option for us. She would give us a few options for the ball and change things up a little bit for us. Kris is a very good shooter and deserves the opportunities when they are there.”

Midcourt combinations
“It’s definitely taking it’s time. There is no doubt Kim is a massive loss for us, and it’s taking us a little time to work out what our best option is without her, and each combination gives us something different. The thing I am pleased with is that we were able to change so often and quite seamlessly. It didn’t worry them at all when the changes happened.”

Stacey Marinkovich

On the game
“We stayed in the contest regardless of what was happening around us. We put them under a lot of pressure, and it’s those couple of critical moments, it was spread across the court, and we’ve got to learn from that.

In the first half of the game the defenders kept us in the contest. There were a few shaky shots. We needed to make sure that we were starting to convert. I think our long court (conversion) for the first time was really good in that first half. So that ball that we were getting put us back in the game.”

On Courtney Bruce’s penalty count
“‘There are processes that we go through and we do refer to the umpires, and send clips in so we can get some clarity, because it seems a bit different on different games. She is somebody that does get penalised, but if you look at the top defenders, as in a Sharni, they all get penalised heavily. So, you have to be in it, to actually wear a player down. It’s the little things, the calling of the arms, that we want those out of the game and the silly obstruction calls, but other than that I think she is contesting really well.”

On benching Kaylia Stanton
“Kaylia still provides us with a lot of good movement, which is good for our play in that we get the ball down there quite quickly, it’s just the finishing off. She will take a lot of learning from that game, what was it that actually distracted her from her shot. She will bounce back quickly.”

Learning from the game
“For us it’s still adjusting to the umpires, being in that front position, being able to contest. It’s being able to keep that movement. When we had the two options we were able to fake it to someone and give it to someone else, or release the ball, so I think the last couple of plays we just hesitated and tried to play safe to make sure it got there, and we allowed them to get some tips. It’s being able to let the ball go when it’s really critical.”

Photo: Steve McLeod

Nat Medhurst

Biggest learning over her 200 games
“The biggest thing is having a really strong support network around you, particularly as the sport goes from strength to strength and that increasing professionalism. And with people moving, you need good people around you. If you make changes to move, anything can happen, there’s injuries, lapses in form, and I’m very fortunate to have good people around me.”

On today’s match
“We were able to deliver consistency. Yes, there were momentum swings, but that happens in netball, it happens in every sport, but our ability to fight back, not let that lead get out. We just stuck at it. I said to the girls, when those moments come we need to make the most of them, because that’s what great teams do, and that’s the type of team we want to be. We need to execute, and we didn’t do that in those last few minutes.”

On Jess Anstiss

“She gets about her business, nothing phases her, she’s got an incredible head on her shoulders, she doesn’t get overawed by anyone or anything, or if she does she certainly doesn’t show it. You just hope you can bottle that and things don’t change over the years to come, because she will certainly be a star of the future.”

Final word from the bench

With this loss the Fever have again slipped to seventh on the ladder. They travel to Sydney next weekend, and will hope to have a maiden away victory against another team that’s had its struggles this year. The Swifts two most experienced players, Abby McCulloch and Paige Hadley, were rested in this round with injury, and will be influential should they return. The winner of the match will move into sixth on the ladder.

The Giants, second placed on the ladder, should account for the bottom ranked Thunderbirds, despite being on the road for the second week running. However, with finals looming, it will be a crucial match to try and settle their midcourt, an area of vulnerability for the team.

Photo: Steve McLeod