The top of the table clash between West Coast Fever and the Giants was one of the best games that Suncorp Super Netball has produced to date.

Ferocious contests, sublime passing, tightly controlled umpiring and a dash of controversy had the crowd enthralled across the sixty minutes. In the dying moments of the game the Fever were more composed, winning 63-61.

Courtney Bruce (Fever). Photo: Steve McLeod

The game opened with Susan Pettitt and Jo Harten at goal shooter and goal attack respectively, a reversal of their usual positions. It left wing attack Kim Green to shoulder the bulk of the centre passes, making her less available on the circle’s edge. Despite this she was in blistering form throughout the match, setting up superb triangular play and threading the ball under the post.

Superb throughout court pressure from the Giants made Fever’s passage to goal more challenging. In response, Fever didn’t allow their opponents to settle into defensive patterns of play. They mixed up a patient approach to shooter Jhaniele Fowler, feeding her from the circle’s edge, with some spectacular long range passing.

Jhaniele Fowler (Fever) and Sam Poolman (Giants). Photo: Steve McLeod

In turn, Fowler is showing greater movement around the circle, shooting from longer range, and venturing outside the perimeter in support of her teammates. Opponent Sam Poolman, constantly repositioned herself and picked off several wayward passes, and she was as effective as any keeper has been against Fowler this season.

While the Fever broke away to a six goal lead, it was whittled away by the constant midcourt pressure of the Giants, who created some valuable turnovers. Despite this, Fever were able to convert 93% of their centre passes and went into the quarter time break leading by three goals.

Giants goal defence Bec Bulley was as tireless as ever in shadowing her opponent Nat Medhurst, but Fever’s goal attack was sublime. Constantly available on the pass, she was able to turn and feed Fowler from anywhere.

Nat Medhurst (Fever). Photo: Steve McLeod

Medhurst finished with 33 goal assists, 17 centre pass receives, three rebounds, 11 goals (at 91% accuracy), but to not give away a single turnover under immense pressure was perhaps her most vital statistic.

Fever coach Stacey Marinkovich said, “Nat Medhurst loves those moments, you could see her just frothing at just getting the ball when it’s so tight. It’s great to see your experienced players want it and demand the ball and then really take control.”

Fever skipped out to a seven goal lead during the second quarter, at which point the Giants called a timeout. Resuming play, Harten and Pettitt swapped roles with immediate impact. Pettitt started taking the majority of the centre passes, leaving Green free to position and reposition herself around the edge of the circle, from where she is peerless in providing ball to her shooters.

Jo Harten (Giants). Photo: Steve McLeod

Unfortunately for the Giants, there were crucial errors of communication in the forward line, with the ball turned over on too many occasions.

At wing attack for the Fever, Player of the Match Ingrid Colyer had a much improved outing than the previous week. Strong and confident onto the ball, she had the better of opponent Jamie-Lee Price for much of the night.

Verity Charles earned the crowd’s admiration with her cameo against the world’s best centre, Serena Guthrie. Charles hadn’t trained all week, suffering from an illness that had swept through the Fever camp. Despite this, she matched it with Guthrie for the first half of the match before retiring to the bench.

Unusually for Guthrie, she didn’t come away with any clean intercepts, but her four deflections were crucial in creating opportunities for the Giants. At half time, the Fever maintained their narrow three goal lead, 33-30.

Serena Guthrie (Giants). Photo: Steve McLeod

Goal shooter Kristina Brice entered the game at half time for the Giants, with immediate impact. They score more heavily with her on court, but as a holding shooter, her teammates have to increase their work load outside the circle.

It’s a fine balancing act for coach Julie Fitzgerald, giving three world class shooters opportunities across each game. Brice continues to improve and it begs the question of how long she – and the Australian selectors – will be content to see her receive limited court time.

Charles retired to the bench shortly after the third quarter started, with Jess Anstiss shuffling forwards to centre and Shannon Eagland taking the court at wing defence. It is testament to Anstiss’ growing stature in the game that she went from the frying pan (opposing Green) to the fire (opposing Guthrie), remained composed and came away with four deflections and two gains. However, the Giants had the better of the play, and levelled scores by three quarter time.

The fourth quarter saw tensions rise, with the Giants losing composure in crucial moments. Kim Green was halted by her second stepping call, correctly adjudicated by the umpire. Play had been stopped to caution Colyer; on resumption Green unthinkingly went for a stroll with the ball, taking three to four steps. While the call was late, it was the right one.

Giants, and the bib fiasco. Photo: Steve McLeod

Shortly afterwards, Guthrie was forced from the court by the blood rule, with Kiera Austin entering at wing attack for a brief cameo. A period of confusion followed. Guthrie chose to roll her bloody sock down rather than replace it, and when Austin called time for Guthrie to re-enter the game, the umpire refused to allow it, telling her to replace her sock instead.

The Giants were forced to resume with just six players, and while it didn’t alter the scoring, their confusion caused some hesitation. Once again it was a tough – but correct – call from the umpire. The blood rule is for the safety of all players, without exception.

Courtney Bruce and Stacey Francis had been dogged in defence throughout the game, reducing their penalties and coming up with key tips after a quieter game against the Firebirds last week. While Francis coughed up the ball three times in the last quarter, she also came away with two intercepts and three gains, which allowed the Fever to sneak out to a two goal lead.

Stacey Francis (Fever). Photo: Steve McLeod

With Medhurst continuing to fire the ball into Fowler from anywhere, the home side didn’t falter and came away with their most admirable victory of the season to date. It was their first win against the Giants since the competition’s inception and showcased their newfound ability to play a sixty minute game.

 

West Coast Fever 63 def Giants 61
(18-15, 33-30, 47-47, 63-61)

Player of the match: Ingrid Colyer (Fever)

 

West Coast Fever
Fowler 53/56 95%
Medhurst 10/11 91%
63/67 94%

Giants
Pettitt 26/29 90%
Harten 15/16 94%
Brice 20/23 87%
61/68 90%

 

Starting line ups

West Coast Fever
GS Jhaniele Fowler
GA Nat Medhurst
WA Ingrid Colyer
C Verity Charles
WD Jess Anstiss
GD Stacey Francis
GK Courtney Bruce
Bench: Shannon Eagland, Annika Lee-Jones, Kaylia Stanton
Changes: Q3 WD Eagland, C Anstiss.

Giants
GS Susan Pettitt
GA Jo Harten
WA Kim Green
C Serena Guthrie
WD Jamie-Lee Price
GD Bec Bulley
GK Sam Poolman
Bench: Kristina Brice, Kiera Austin, Kristiana Manu’a
Changes: Q2 GS Harten, GA Pettitt, Q3 GS Brice, Q4 WA Austin, C Green, Guthrie to bench (blood rule), WA Guthrie

Umpires: Michelle Phippard and Marc Henning.

 

Key Statistics

Goal assists
Nat Medhurst (Fever) 33
Kim Green (Giants) 25

Centre pass receives
Nat Medhurst (Fever) 27
Kim Green (Giants) 20
Susan Pettitt (Giants) 19

Intercepts
Stacey Francis (Fever) 4
Courtney Bruce (Fever) 3

Gains
Stacey Francis (Fever) 6
Courtney Bruce (Fever) 5
Rebecca Bulley (Giants) 4

Turnovers
Stacey Francis (Fever) 6
Serena Guthrie (Giants) 5
Ingrid Colyer (Fever) 5

 

A look at…

Turnovers
It’s fascinating to see where each team committed their turnovers.

Shooters are usually the main offenders, and in this game the Giants’ shooters produced nine out of a total 25 turnovers as a result of pressure from the Fever defence. In contrast the Fever shooters were incredibly tidy, Nat Medhurst a standout with not a single error to her name.

Turnovers by shooters are particularly costly, as it transforms an almost certain goal into an opportunity for the opposition to score. In this game the Fever struggled to capitalise; converting just 30% of the Giants’ errors.

However, the nine turnovers from the Giants’ shooters had to travel the length of the court to the Fever attacking circle, with the far greater possibility of being lost in transition.

The Giants defence didn’t cough up any turnovers, while the Fever defenders proved costly with nine. With the ball already in the Giants scoring end, they were able to capitalise with just one or two passes. In total they transformed 14 turnovers into goals, at a 56% conversion rate.

It’s an area both teams – Fever defenders and Giants shooters – will need to address across the season.

No. of turnovers Fever (23) Giants (25)
Shooters 2 9
Midcourt 12 12
Defence 9 0

 

Game plan

West Coast Fever
From their centre pass, wing attack Ingrid Colyer takes more of the play across the line, with the ball progressing to Nat Medhurst as the main feeding route into Jhaniele Fowler. In Fever’s loss against the Firebirds, it was the work of wing defence Gabi Simpson in shutting down her opponent that was instrumental in forcing the Fever into a less cohesive structure and a far more difficult route to goal.

Giants
In contrast, Susan Pettitt at goal attack takes more of the first phase play, with Kim Green being the preferred feeder from the circle edge. In this match Pettitt started at goal shooter, which changed the Giants’ attacking structure.
Before half time Green took 15 centre passes to Harten/Pettitt’s eight. After half time, Green took just five centre passes to Pettitt’s 17. It is no coincidence that the second half was the Giants best.

 

 

What they said

Jhaniele Fowler, West Coast Fever

What did the game feel like tonight?
“It was very intense. I’m really pleased to be part of such a wonderful team that when we go out there we put it all out on court.”

Your connection in the circle with Medhurst looks good
“We’ve clicked really well early on, so that makes it easier to put it out in a game.”

 

Stacey Marinkovich, West Coast Fever coach

The pressure the Giants put on you
“We haven’t played sixty minutes yet. I said if we can only push through because they did have opportunities. They’re one of the best defensive transition sides, so yes, they might give the ball up at some point, but they are very good at defending to get it back again.

“It was hard to put pressure on them on the scoreboard because they’re collectively so strong. But the way that our defenders then lifted, adapted to the umpires and still got themselves in the contest still enabled us to get ball at the end.”

“This win was massive for us. You don’t want to hype it up but I did want to see how our girls responded (to last week’s loss). The big question mark over the group was that we went over to Queensland and we got towelled up on the day. We wanted to show that one, we learned something, but then can we go out and execute and apply it through training, and put it back into a game against quality opposition, and I think we did that.”

Jess Anstiss had a great game
“She is so good across three positions. You give her a job to do, you give her a challenge and she rises to the occasion. We talked about the role of the centre, because Vezzy (Charles) has been sick, hasn’t trained all week, and for her to give us what she did in the first half was just what we needed. Then Jess could finish out.”

How much did you need this tight game?
“For us to be able to do this, and against the Sunshine Coast, shows that we can cope under pressure.”

You tidied up your penalties. Was that a focus?
“Yes, our penalty count was too high last week, and we weren’t able to accumulate pressure. That was a big goal for us against Giants, it wasn’t going to be won in one quarter and we had to be able to do it. We’ve been good generally at finishing out games, so it was making sure we were staying in the play to be able to do that in this game.”

Ingrid had a much better game than last week when she was overshadowed by Gabi Simpson
“The girls really do look at themselves honestly, but it was all about the learnings. Once they see the footage they realise they weren’t far off the mark, just a couple of things we needed to change in angles and work rate off the ball.”

“For Ing (Colyer) it (coming up against a name like Gabi Simpson) it doesn’t play much of a role. The first day she stepped out on court was against Rene Hallinan and she didn’t know who she was. Not because she didn’t know the stature of the player, but she’s not one of those people who does a big study of game. She knows her role and what she has to do, and she certainly has gained more knowledge against other players and she is a competitor and not intimidated.”

 

Julie Fitzgerald, Giants coach

“I think it was a great game and everything was contested from the start to the finish. I think we had opportunities when we could have gone on with it and we let them back into it, then they would get a lead and we would come back into it as well. It was one of those games.”

Did the end unsettle you?
“I think it’s just a bit of inexperience on our bench, and Serena being desperate to get back out there. But that’s certainly something that we’ll be explaining and making sure it doesn’t happen again.”

How do you rate Fever?
“The fact that they can contest every ball down court for sixty minutes, they’ve got such a focus at the end of the court. They’re a very good team.”

Tell us about the change at half time?
“I thought Pratley (Susan Pettitt) did a really great job in there as a shooter, but it was getting a bit difficult to get the ball in, whereas when Kristina (Brice) came on it opened things up a little bit more.”

What pleased you about tonight?
“I think the fact that they managed to stay in the game all the way through. There was a lot of pressure out there, it’s so hard to play over here, it’s such an awesome stadium and a great crowd. They managed to stay in it all the way and we just needed a couple of things to go our way.”

There were a lot of turnovers tonight?
“There is so much contest out there it will lead to turnovers.”

 

Kim Green, Giants

Your thoughts on tonight’s game?
“I was really pleased with the fight, I think we kept fighting back. Our composure on certain parts, but then our composure when we really needed it in the end needed to be better. I think a little bit of the stuff up of people going off and on and the blood rule and things like that, it did distract us slightly and we need to be better than that. We’ll learn from that. But it was such a great game, so intense, both teams had such fantastic play defensively and in attack.”

How difficult is it to maintain composure in tight games?
“It takes practice. When they talk about having experience, that’s what it’s about, playing those big games. We need to be able to play those big games to win a premiership. We’ve played two of those games this year and haven’t come away with a win so we need to work on that composure in the last quarter, particularly the last five minutes of the game.”

Your stunning form since your return from knee reconstruction?
“I worked super hard to get back out there. It was a tough rehab for me, being an older body, I had to work on not just the knee but a few other parts as well.”

“I guess I put it down to Simone our trainer, whose been absolutely fantastic, she’s been our physio, my psychologist, my massage therapist. I put it down to their hard work, me putting in some hard work, and the girls really embracing me being back.”

“For them to lose me last year and have to adapt they did that really well, so to be able to fit me back into the team has been really nice and they’ve been so supportive.”

 

 

Cover image: Steve McLeod