While Saturday’s hitout between West Coast Fever and Queensland Firebirds was a valuable pre-season exercise, the 1000 strong crowd was enthralled by a couple of subplots.

At a national level, Australia hasn’t played Jamaica since the 2015 World Cup, and in this game the Diamonds’ two goal keepers and the Sunshine Girls’ two goal shooters took to the court. The spotlight was also on Laura Geitz in her first public game since returning from maternity leave; her last match was coincidentally also in Perth during the 2015 Constellation Cup.

Fever took the first game by 11 goals, but to the coaches the result was less important than the process of team building.

Photo: Steve McLeod

Starting line ups

West Coast Fever
GS Jhaniele Fowler, GA Nat Medhurst, WA Jess Anstiss, C Ingrid Colyer, WD Stacey Francis, GD Courtney Bruce, GK Annika Lee-Jones
Changes: Q3 GA Stanton, WD Eales, GD Franics, GK Bruce, Q4 GS Stanton, GA Medhurst, WA Colyer, C Anstiss

Queensland Firebirds
GS Romelda Aiken, GA Gretel Tippett, WA Jemma Mi Mi, C Mahalia Cassidy, WD Gabi Simpson, GD Tara Hinchliffe, GK Laura Geitz
Changes: Q2 WA Nevins, Q3 GA Somerville GA, WA Mi Mi, C Nevins, WD M Hinchliffe WD, GD Jenner, GK Clemesha, Q4 GS Somerville, GA Tippett

Umpires: James Matthews, Andrea Booth, Nathan Cera

With a mixture of exciting young players and more experienced campaigners, Fever and Firebirds produced a physical but skilful encounter. First glimpses of the partnership between Jhaniele Fowler and Nat Medhurst were encouraging. Fowler was a powerful presence under the post, while Medhurst weaved her usual magic. She showed no hesitation in going to the post from range, making her too dangerous for opponents to double-team Fowler.

Kaylia Stanton entered the game during the second half and combined smoothly with each player, showing her versatility in playing goal shooter in a moving circle and goal attack in a stationary circle.

Photo: Steve McLeod

Fever’s shooters were marked by Laura Geitz and Tara Hinchliffe in the first half and Laura Clemesha and Kim Jenner in the second half. Clemesha was particularly dogged pulling in some miscued aerial balls.

Geitz, in just her first public game back since taking maternity leave in 2015, battled against the height and reach of Fowler, but shut down space well in the circle. Her timing to take a flying intercept wasn’t quite at former levels, but improved across her two quarters.

Romelda Aiken showcased the movement that she’s added to her game, popping out of the circle and allowing Gretel Tippett clear space to lead into. Annika Lee-Jones demonstrated her continual improvement at goal keeper, while Courtney Bruce at goal defence alternated between marking her direct opponent and dropping back into the circle to double team Aiken.

Tippett shot accurately but errors crept into her game as time progressed – both footwork and contact as she tried to outmuscle her opponents.

Photo: Steve McLeod

In the midcourt, the most entertaining battle was between Gabi Simpson and Jess Anstiss during the first half. Anstiss’ strength onto the ball, and ability to hit the circle edge at speed, was a feature of the game and served her shooters well. Ingrid Colyer was busy at centre, while Stacey Francis provided energy and enthusiasm at wing defence and goal defence.

Mahalia Cassidy played the first half of the match at centre for the Firebirds and is gradually increasing her court time after suffering an ACL rupture last year. She has great composure, while her high release passes are a feature of her game and difficult to defend.

In the second quarter, Caitlyn Nevins replaced Jemma Mi Mi at wing attack and was immediately influential, smoothing transition in and around the goal circle.

Photo: Steve McLeod

The Fever were at their best in the first and third quarters, although the third proved to be a shoot out between Fowler and Aiken at their respective ends of the court.

The Firebirds best term was their second, aided by the impact of Nevins coming onto court and a tighter defensive effort. Perhaps too much respect was afforded to Geitz during this term, with the Fever midcourt reluctant to place balls over her head to Fowler.

In the second match of the weekend, the teams headed to Mandurah with Fever taking that match 65-60 after leading by seven goals at quarter time.

West Coast Fever 62 def Queensland Firebirds 51
(19-12, 29-27, 47-39, 62-51)

West Coast Fever
Fowler 36/40 90%
Medhurst 14/16 88%
Stanton 12/15 80%
62/71 87%

Queensland Firebirds
Aiken 23/26 88%
Tippett 20/23 87%
Somerville 7/8 88%
51/58 88%

 

Photo: Steve McLeod

What they said after the game:

Lisa Alexander, Australian coach

Tell us about your trip to Perth
“I’m here primarily to watch Fever and watch Courtney do her thing. I will give some feedback to Stacey (Marinkovich) about the development of the athletes in her group and keep an eye on the Commonwealth Games athletes. I watched the Firebirds last week, but didn’t get to see Laura on court, so that was of interest too.”

How did you see Laura’s game?
“I thought it was a nice start, especially coming out on Jhaniele (Fowler) and starting to sort out the things she needs to work on. Already after the match she was processing her learnings from it and I think it will give her great confidence.”

Who caught your eye today?
“I was really happy to see Kaylia Stanton in such great shape – she’s worked really hard on that. Nat (Medhurst) was her usual creative best, it was lovely to see her playing so well out there. Obviously Jhaniele will make a big difference to the Fever side. Annie (Lee-Jones) behind Courtney was a great combination – she is another one who has worked hard over the off season. And a very strong overall performance from Jess Anstiss. Gabi and Jess had an entertaining battle; the thing about Jess is that you never underestimate her and her strength onto the ball. I expect her to have a great season and start pushing for the Diamonds squad.”

Laura Geitz, Queensland Firebirds

How did it feel to be back on court?
“It’s good to be there, to be with the girls and get that match play under my belt. You can train, but it’s not the same so great to be back.”

Is there a difference between you as a player pre and post maternity leave?
“It is a different feeling for me having that time away from the court. You prepare differently and the time away has really freshened me up. I feel I have got back that real passion for the game that I perhaps didn’t have in the last couple of seasons. The time away has been nice for me to realise that I do want to be back playing.”

You are the only Diamond defender with regular experience against the Jamaican shooters. How important is it to play them ahead of the Commonwealth Games?
“Jhaniele is such a powerhouse and Romelda is the same. It’s been really great for us to have that game time against them and then obviously Courtney (Bruce) and I train against them back in our home states. We know their game, and vice versa. It is important heading into the next few weeks and we will play against Jhaniele again when the Diamonds play the Fever in camp.”

Rosalie Jencke, Queensland Firebirds coach

What do you take from these matches against the Fever?
“It’s great to be able to play for a second week in a row against a SSN team and come up against a good opposition. We can still improve on capitalising on our turnovers.”

“The match tomorrow (Sunday) will be more experimenting. For us it’s not about the win or loss, it’s about fundamentally improving our game structure, our connections, being able to get good energy, (that) the warm up is okay, that everything goes well back of house. That’s what I’m expecting from our girls. Fever provide that intensity that we need.”

Stacey Marinkovich, West Coast Fever coach

What have you been working on since you played Collingwood late last year?
“We’ve been working hard on the Fever way that we want to portray out on court in attack and defence and it’s the ability to go out there and play against players you don’t see regularly and do it under pressure. Consistency is a key to build on and we’ve taken another step forward since our last match in December.”

How has Jhaniele settled in?
“Jhaniele is settling in well. She’s a team player, the girls have welcomed her and her personality is great. She has some really strong playing attributes, but her culture fits our team as well. In our selections we want to make sure we have the right people in the group. It’s great to have Nat and Kaylia playing and you can see the variations we have among them.”

Has having Jhaniele here had an impact on Courtney’s game?
“Not at the moment. Courtney has a great ability to read and contest ball that is coming in at all sorts of angles. She is continuing to build on her footwork. With Jhaniele here she is being challenged to compete more in the air, but her main work on is with her foot work and getting around the body. The more her feet are moving, the more she is in the contest and the more pressure we can apply.”

How are Verity (Charles) and Shannon (Eagland) going in rehab?
“They both had match play with ANL this morning and will start back with us in the coming weeks. That is the progression in their rehabilitation and they are good, but we didn’t want them to contest at this level for their first hit out. They are both jumping at the bit and trying to convince us all that they are ready.”

That will add real flexibility to the team.
“I’ve got variations galore at the moment and they’re making it difficult because they are all stepping up. I’ve also got Nat who can come into the midcourt and I’ve got variations on a moving or holding circle. Then in the defence end Annie (Lee-Jones) has had a huge preseason and development and I thought she competed really well against Romelda. She’s someone who’s come out of her shell since Jhaniele joined the group, because it’s a player that suits her style of game. She’s getting that mix and changing it up at training.”

Courtney Bruce, West Coast Fever

What’s it like playing against Jhaniele at training?
“Having J in the green for her first up match was exciting, she is such a target. It’s tough training against her – you think you’ve got a ball and then she just pulls it in from nowhere. It’s great practice playing against her ahead of the Commonwealth Games, because we will come up against her or Romelda in pool play.

Congratulations on your Commonwealth Games selection. How are you feeling?
“I’m more believing that I’m going now – I was struggling trying to fathom it for a while. I’m over the moon and doing a lot of individual work preparing for it. Nat (Medhurst) and Stace (Francis) have both experienced it before. They’ve been hugely supportive and fabulous talking about how to handle some of the distractions around Commonwealth Games.”

 

Final word from the bench

The Firebirds’ young players, including Cassidy, Mi Mi, Kimberley Jenner, Amy Somerville and the Hinchliffe twins, Tara and Maddi, all look at home at this level of netball. While they need another year or two of experience, their presence should help the Firebirds re-emerge as one of the powerhouses of Australian netball.

The Fever mixed up their game skilfully, using depth and breadth of the court at speed, combined with precision around the goal circle. With another year together and the presence of Fowler as a spear head, fans can expect them to finish higher up the ladder this season.

 

 

Cover image: Steve McLeod

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