With the inaugural season of Suncorp Super Netball done and dusted, there are perhaps more questions than answers surrounding West Coast Fever and the Collingwood Magpies as they look towards 2018. Netball Scoop checked out their pre-season matches on December 12th and 13th, hoping to fill in some gaps.

Squads
West Coast Fever
: Annika Lee-Jones, Courtney Bruce, Ingrid Colyer, Jessica Anstiss, Kaylia Stanton, Nat Medhurst, Stacey Francis, Jessica Eales, Jessica Penny, Emma Cosh, Brittany Turnbull, Courtney Kruta.
Collingwood Magpies: Erin Bell, April Brandley, Ash Brazill, Shae Brown, Matilda Garrett, Sharni Layton, Kim Ravaillion, Madi Robinson, Alice Teague-Neeld, Caitlin Thwaites, Mary Livesey

Absent from court:
West Coast Fever
: Janielle Fowler (leave), Jess Anstiss (game 1 – pneumonia), Verity Charles (rehab), Shannon Eagland (rehab)
Collingwood Magpies: Sharni Layton (rehab)

 

WHAT HAPPENED ON COURT?

Game 1: Collingwood Magpies 51 def West Coast Fever 43

Missing four of their team, Fever used the opportunity to give a number of Western Sting players a run. Jess Penny (goal defence) and Jess Eales (centre) were particularly impressive in their cameos. Kaylia Stanton shot 36/44, and continues to grow in confidence on the back of more court time and gains in her strength and conditioning. The back line of Annika Lee-Jones, Courtney Bruce and Stacey Francis was a strong unit, particularly across the transverse line, and should see shared court time during the 2018 season.

Shae Brown was as energetic as ever for Collingwood, moving seamlessly between wing attack, centre and wing defence, forcing a number of turnovers. Erin Bell and Matilda Garrett both slotted seamlessly into the line, although Bell overplayed her hand at times, pushing Caitlin Thwaites into more of a supporting role at goal shooter.

Overall, a scratchy game from both teams for their first hit out of the new season.

Game 2: West Coast Fever 51 def Collingwood Magpies 44

A far more cohesive game from the Fever saw them control most of the match. Both teams started with moving circles, and Annika Lee-Jones at goal keeper did a great job – for such a tall player – of tracking the nippy Erin Bell. Nat Medhurst shot beautifully for the Fever, finishing with 22/25, many of them her trademark long bombs. Jess Anstiss had limited court time as she recovers from pneumonia, but was impressive playing in all three mid court positions.

For Collingwood, Ash Brazill picked up a number of clean intercepts, while April Brandley was a standout. She rotated between all three defensive positions, harrying her opponent and creating a number of turnovers.

 

WHAT DID WE LEARN?

1. She’s back – almost! Sharni Layton has been absent from the public eye since the end of the 2017 SSN season, suffering from exhaustion. She missed the Diamonds’ subsequent international season, but has been selected in their 2018 Quad series team to take on New Zealand, South Africa and England, subject to passing a medical. Layton missed both of these games, reportedly experiencing a few niggles. With such an extended pre-season, Collingwood were in no mood to risk their star and instead gave opportunities to two of Australia’s stars of the future – Matilda Garrett and Mary Livesey.

2. Is Erin Bell the answer at GA for Collingwood? The coaching staff rotated Thwaites, Bell, Brown and Teague-Neeld, experimenting with a more traditional line and a moving circle. Bell looks equally at home in both GS and GA, and combined well with her midcourters. She may prove to be Collingwood’s missing link, although needs to allow her goal shooter to feature more.

3. What impact will Jhanielle Fowler have on the Fever?
Fowler arrives at the Fever in mid-January, and is currently at home sitting exams and spending Christmas with her family. Coach Stacey Marinkovich believes that the Fever need to consolidate their play both with and without Fowler, so that they don’t become overly reliant on her. Never the less, she will prove to be a formidable target at goal shooter, and should help the Fever to take down more highly fancied opponents.

4. Both teams have new defensive coaches – what kind of impact will they have?
Rob Wright takes on a full-time position with Collingwood, while Sue Gaudion moves into a specialist role with Fever. With impressive talent to work with, both coaches will have pivotal roles to play in 2018.

Rob said of his role, “I think everyone would suggest that individually the Collingwood defenders were outstanding in 2017, but they probably weren’t outstanding as a group. So it’s about getting good connections and combinations, and building their individual brilliance into something more than that.”

According to Courtney Bruce, Sue Gaudion will bring some tough love to her role. “She tells you straight, a spade is a spade. She challenges me to think differently. She is trying to create us to be the drivers of our own play rather than rely on her, so she is trying to teach us to be free thinking defenders which is exciting. I’m doing a lot of one on one work with her, working on my footwork, positioning and angles, and I hope that translates to all the positions that I’m playing.”

5. Has Nat Medhurst has recovered from her hand injury?
Absolutely! While she shot just 7/9 in the first game, Medhurst stepped it up in the second, potting 22/25. She spent half of the second game at goal shooter, and her confidence in going to the post bodes well for 2018.

6. Can Madi Robinson regain her best form and a berth in the Commonwealth Games team?
Although she’s been omitted from the Diamonds’ team that will take part in the January 2018 Quad series, Robinson will attend training camp as part of their wider squad. She looked particularly sharp in these games, combining flawlessly with team mates, and feeding her shooters in her inimitable style. Her long, back-handed, bounce passes create beautiful triangular play around the circle. Hopefully Robinson will be given an opportunity to shine in combination with Pettitt and Wood, who showed good form in the recent Constellation Cup.

7. How will Shannon Eagland come back from her ACL reconstruction?
Shannon Eagland is still some time away from taking part in a match, but Marinkovich believes that she is fitter and stronger than ever before. She will add versatility and options to ever-improving defensive and midcourt combinations.

8. How is her dual code role impacting Ash Brazill?
With two or three training sessions per day and one day off per week, Brazill’s work load is being closely monitored by Collingwood staff. Keppich-Birrell said, “We have someone who is case managing her load, and her commitments, and there were negotiations in creating that opportunity for her. What would one programme allow her to miss, and what would the other programme allow her to miss. That was a pretty robust discussion from both parts, but we got to a good end point where she is missing minimal from both. Both teams had to be happy with it, not just the coaches. We think we’ve found a good balance.”

“She is just so happy. What a great opportunity for the club to make one of her dreams come true. She will have a six week break between football finishing and before the start of the netball season.”

9. Collingwood – will a team of champions gel into a champion team in 2018?
Their key focus for this preseason training block is team building. During both games there was a lot of mutual support, both on court and from the side lines. If the Magpies can nail their personnel dynamics, they should have a stronger season in 2018.

10. Can Bruce hold down her place in the Diamonds, with the possibility of Layton and/or Geitz returning?
After being heavily penalised in the Quad series, Courtney Bruce cleaned up her act and shone during the following Constellation Cup. She’s added strength, fitness and finesse to her game, and is rapidly becoming a real presence on court. Playing at goal defence and wing defence respectively over several quarters, Bruce and Stacey Francis were a formidable presence, restricting easy access into Collingwood’s attacking third.”

 

WHAT DID THEY SAY?

Kristy Keppich-Birrell

What was the focus for these two games?
“We had some clear things we wanted to get out of our game today, which centres around our team cohesion and gelling our group. It was great to see our players get around each other today, when things were tough or when we celebrated the good things.”

How has Madi responded to her disappointment on missing the Constellation Cup?
“Madi’s focus is on being the best player she can be, no matter what dress she is wearing, so her ability to go and have a break and refresh is great. I know it’s a disappointment for her, but she is refocused, energised and we saw some great things in her game today.”

On Collingwood’s defenders
“What an amazing talent young Matilda Garrett is. Every time she steps up to a new level and that is rare in a young athlete. She is a beautiful clean defender, exciting and to block a shot in her first game at this level.”

“April’s leadership has really developed over the last six months, particularly that Diamonds opportunity where I don’t know how many caps she had but she was the most experienced defender on court. For us to see that personal growth was significant.”

Rob Wright

“What I particularly wanted was the opportunity to get back to more on court coaching, so I am loving that aspect of my role at Collingwood. I am their defence coach, so I look after defence for the whole team and then particularly the back four players.”

“I’ve coached all the back four players – three of them are NSW youngsters who I coached in their earlier days and I had Sharni at the Swifts. I’ve had less to do with Tilly, but she is exciting, has lots of questions and challenges me.”

Where can April take her game to?
“She was looking to do more first ball contest in this game and that is where I think she can take her game to. She is a fantastic athlete, but I don’t think she always gets her hands to enough ball. And then, she can do some more work outside the circle, because there is that fine line between going after the ball but also denying people, because in the land of the giant shooters, keeping them away from the circle is a big thing.”

“With all defenders I’m really big on clean, disciplined defenders. I don’t like defenders being out of play a lot. All the defenders could be a bit tidier, and if we keep them in play, we have a better chance of stopping the ball.”

Adding versatility
“This was a perfect opportunity to see what works, what doesn’t, who fits where. It was a good experience, and particularly with Sharni out at the moment it gives others a chance to build their confidence and combinations.”

Madi Robinson

On the long pre-season
“It’s great to take the court early – it gives us a baseline, a bench mark. We can celebrate the little things we are doing well, but there are heaps of room to grow. So it’s not about the scoreboard. And this period leading up to Christmas is about team cohesion, so this has been a good start. Nice to get on court, see where we are at, and where we can move forward.”

“You can get bogged down in the little things that go wrong, and it can be a grind at times, but its okay to acknowledge that and then you move on. It’s nice to be out on court and remind yourself that you play netball because you love the game.”

On missing Constellation Cup selection for the Diamonds
“You want to play at your absolute best for your country, so it was disappointing. But I’m still in the squad, so it’s been great to have a break, refresh and I think I’m coming back into preseason with a clear mind, feeling energised and knowing what I’m focused on. I’m in Magpie land at the moment and all my energy is there. I go to camp in Jan which is awesome and what will be, will be.”

“You do go through the highs and lows in sport, so it was important for me to step back, have a holiday, and then get back to training, and I was really ready to get back. I think that has made me a better team person and player moving forward into 2018.”

Her new tattoo
“It’s a rose, which I got in the preseason. It’s a reminder of things that I love, that I’m good at and a few little family memories in there. My Dad rang me, and said, ‘I’ve just seen on Instagram there is something on your arm. You can take the girl out of Collingwood, but you can’t take Collingwood out of the girl now.’ That hurt him, because he is a Geelong supporter, but I’m a Pie now, through and through.”

 

Courtney Bruce

“I love playing goal defence – I enjoyed having the run. Stacey (WD) and I (at GD) were really trying to work on being that strong presence across the transverse line. We both have the height and the body to do it, so if we could apply the pressure out the front of the circle we could perhaps cause a break, a held ball or force it deep and a turnover.”

Stacey Marinkovich

“Our play was smoother today (Wednesday). I think sometimes our players are eager to be in the play, but they need to keep that width and depth which gives you options, which in turn means better decision making.”

On clean play as a focus
“We’ve got a tonne of athleticism in the group, and players that can really read the ball, so we need to be in the play to be in the contest. That is something we’ve worked heavily on, we’ve had the umpires around training. We want to make sure we can apply pressure and build it the whole way down court because we’ve got some lethal weapons at the back that really like to have a go. It is about being in the play, and I think the girls have really adjusted and taken on board, and are getting their angles, so we are able to apply pressure better.”

Courtney is playing a cleaner game. What is the difference?
“I think it comes down to her application. We sat down in the off season, consulted our umpires, looked at a lot of footage. She also did a lot of work through the Diamonds series. She was heavily penalised in the first series, did a lot of work in the break, and cleaned that right up in the second series. She’s really evolved her footwork. She’s fit, she’s strong, and because she’s in that condition she can get around the body a lot easier. It’s been a progression of body, mind and adjusting to umpires’ calls.”

Stacey Francis continues to improve
She has worked a huge amount in the off season. Her fitness, her strength and power – it’s hard to keep her sitting still. So she’s really got that balance at that moment. She is loving being back, she loves Perth and she is embracing every opportunity. She has been playing more at goal defence (for us) but internationally she plays at wing defence, so to have that versatility, and her and Courts across that transverse line was pretty exciting.

 

Cover image: Steve McLeod

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