On paper, this round three match up was mouth-watering. The NSW Swifts have started their season with two wins and West Coast Fever, who were certainly not playing with the same flare that saw them make the 2018 Grand Final, were desperate for their first win.

There were also milestones for the West Coast Fever. Pocket rocket Ingrid Colyer notched up her 50th national league game, and shooting power house Jhaniele Fowler passed the 1000 goal mark in just her second season of the Suncorp Super Netball.

Both teams had injuries to contend with, Natalie Haythornwaite from the Swifts is still out with a hamstring injury and Fever captain, Courtney Bruce was unable to pass her fitness test to be cleared to play round three.

Kaylia Stanton (Fever) looking for options over the defence of Maddy Turner (Swifts). Image: Danny Dalton

If the Swifts could manage a win today, those top four whispers would go a long way to be cemented as trustworthy facts; but for the Fever, leaving with anything less than a win and a handful of bonus points would see them on a ladder position that would be very hard to climb out of.

In the first ten minutes of the first quarter both teams were happy to feel each other out, find their rhythm and play a safe style of netball. They ran goal for goal for the majority of the quarter, and neither team really dominated.

Kaylia Stanton started at goal attack and the connection with Fowler looked to be flowing early in the contest. Though she only shot 2/4 (50%) in the first quarter, she was the link to Fowler that had been missing in their game last week and in the first quarter she was responsible for seven goal assists and nine circle feeds.

Helen Housby was playing a similar role for the Swifts, and with Stacey Francis wearing her like a glove, she managed only four goals, but was helpful with four goal assists and five circle feeds into Sam Wallace, who was once again looking like she was happy to be the main target for the Swifts feeders.

Sam Wallace (Swifts) and Olivia Lewis (Fever). Image: Danny Dalton

A few fast and uncharacteristic turn overs buy the Swifts gifted the Fever a four-goal lead going into the first break.

Coach Briony Akle was not scared to play with her line up and put Kate Eddy into goal defence, Maddy Turner to wing defence and switched midcourters, Paige Hadley and Maddy Proud. These changes were aimed at slowing down the Fever’s momentum.

During the second quarter the Swifts were in real danger of having the wheels fall off their game plan. Early on they found themselves down by seven, and the passionate Sydney home crowd were growing concerned. Fever sensed the occasion and were making the most of the turnovers being offered to them. However, the tone of the game soon started to change.

Maddy Proud (Swifts) takes the ball in the air. Image: Danny Dalton

The remaining ten minutes of the second quarter showed the rest of the Suncorp Super Netball competition what the Swifts intentions are for the 2019 season. Inspired by some gritty performances in defence and a never say die attitude, they clawed their way back into the game with some spirited performances all over the court.

Once again, Paige Hadley was instrumental in the leadership and the hunger she showed. Her form is so outstanding at the moment she surely has to be on the radar of Australia Diamonds coach, Lisa Alexander and on the short list to Liverpool. With 28 goal assists and a massive 43 circle feeds, Jess Anstiss and then Verity Charles simply had no answers for Hadley’s speed and vision through court.

Sophie Halpin (Swifts). Image: Danny Dalton

The changes made by Akle at quarter time were starting to gel and the final move of Maddy Turner to the bench and the introduction of Sophie Halpin at wing defence was the final piece of the puzzle.

While Fever tried valiantly to hold on to the control of the game, and the work rate and accuracy of Stanton had lifted, Fowler was restricted to only 10 goals in the second quarter, showing the defensive pressure being applied by the Swifts out the front of Sarah Klau.

With eight seconds on the clock, and with beautiful vision, captain Maddy Proud found Sam Wallace under the post to level the score at 37 all going into the half time break.

A Tale of Two Halves

Both teams came out of the half time break with a new intensity, and that was when the game really came to life. Fever had to find a way to gain ascendancy again and the Swifts were battling hard to keep their noses in front.

The physical presence of every player on the court had ramped up to a new level and the umpires had their work cut out for the them as the game became more physical. The crowd watched their team scrap and fight for every gain and unlike previous weeks, the pressure in the circle was fierce on Wallace and Housby and every ball was hotly contested. But the Swifts kept their composure and showed a maturity in the circle end that has not been there is previous seasons.

Helen Housby (Swifts). Image: Danny Dalton

The introduction of Halpin in wing defence had started to pay off. Halpin is a very physical player and the attention she paid Ingrid Colyer was limiting her access to her shooters in the circle, so much so that Colyer finished the third quarter with only three goal assists.

Klau and Eddy had formed a nice understanding and the mounting pressure out in front being provided by Halpin and Hadley, gave Klau the intercept on Fowler she had been working so hard for. In that moment the crowd finally drew breath and the Swifts dominance over the Fever was complete.

It is often called the championship quarter, and for good reason. The Swifts won it in convincing style and it set them up nicely for the rest of the match.

In the fourth quarter, Swifts fans enjoyed themselves and to their delight, their team was not happy with simply winning the game. They sustained their pressure and continued to fight for every ball with as much determination and ferocity as they did when they were down by seven goals in the second quarter.

Jhaniele Fowler (Fever) calls for the ball against Maddy Turner (Swifts). Image: Danny Dalton

The score line did not reflect the intensity of the game, or how tightly contested it was for 40 minutes. What it did reflect was a an incredibly gutsy performance by a team who should make the finals in 2019.

The West Coast Fever held on for as long as they could, but in the end the Swifts, dynamic combinations and desire to win shone through.

Fever will now look to resurrect their season like the Sunshine Coast Lightning did in 2018. Losing their first three matches of the season, they had all been written off. But, as the Lightening showed last season, you write off champions at your own peril.

The Swifts confidently set their sights towards a round 4 meeting with the team who have made themselves the bench mark of the Suncorp Super Netball competition, the Lightning.

Forget what you thought you knew about the NSW Swifts. While they might look like the same team as last year, do not be fooled; they are a totally new outfit. There is a maturity, a resilience and a fresh sense of confidence that is building each week; and if they play their cards right, though we are only early in the season, this is the sort of form that could carry them through to finals.

FINAL SCORE: NSW SWIFTS 80 defeated West Coast Fever 66

MVP: Sam Wallace

Lineups

NSW Swifts:

GS Sam Wallace

GA Helen Housby

WA Paige Hadley

C Maddy Proud

WD, Kate Eddy

GD Maddy Turner

GK Sarah Klau

Changes:

Q2: C Hadley, GD Eddy, WD Turner, WA Proud, WD Halpin

West Coast Fever

GS Jhaniele Fowler

GA Kaylia Stanton

WA Ingrid Colyer

C Verity Charles

WD Jess Anstiss

GD Stacey Francis

GK Olivia Lewis

Changes:

Q3: GK Sunday Aryang (debut)

Q4: GD Eagland, GK Francis, GK Lewis, GD Francis

 

Shooting Statistics:

Sam Wallace 62/66 94%

Helen Housby 18/18 100%

NSW Swifts 80/84 95%

 

Jhaniele Fowler 48/50 96%

Kaylia Stanton 18/23 78%

West Coast Fever 66/73 90%

Rebounds:

Fowler – 4

Wallace – 2

Goal Assists:

Proud – 30

Hadley – 28

 

Ingrid Colyer. Image: Danny Dalton

What they said after the game:

Briony Akle (NSW Swifts coach)

“When we were 7 down and we came back to even, I knew we could win from there. Maddy Proud just said to me, “We haven’t come from behind a lot (this year)”, so she knew that once we came back, they could forge ahead. We said against this Fever team, who are great, it would take sixty minutes, so our mindset was, even if we were down, we just had to stay there and take the hits which they did really well, and I am super proud of them.”

On the introduction of Sophie Halpin into the game in place of Maddy Proud:

“I don’t think Turner was doing a lot wrong, I think she was getting penalised a lot. We just had to mix it up and Soph also brings a difference of aggression and reading the play. We knew Soph would get out there and have a crack and that she did.”

On Sarah Klau:

She was very frustrated and didn’t think she was doing a good job, so I think the difference between the first half to the second half we did a lot better out the front of Sarah to make her job a bit easier. I don’t think we were doing that well in the first half. Every game she (Klau) is growing in confidence, and Sarah, like most defenders, is about confidence…what a job against Fowler…I think defensively we did a good job.”

Keeping the momentum going and the team on top of their game:

“I think we are not playing like we can play yet. I think our beliefs are there. We still made silly errors, we were seven down, so obviously we are not playing that consistently well. Next is the consistency, and under pressure, what do we do under pressure? For us it’s probably about examining those moments as opposed to just saying we won and move on. This group together has been three years, now is the time to put the foot down and examine how far they can go….other teams will come a long way as well, we are only in round three, so for me it’s probably about the consistency and the connections with each other, we have them sometimes, we don’t have them other times. How did we get into seven down is my issue…(there is) certainly room for the unforced errors to get lowered.

On meeting the Lightning in round 4:

“I say it every week, every team you just look up and it is so tough. I probably won’t focus on them as much, and it is about getting the unforced error rate for us down and continuing to build on our strengths and building belief.”

Sam Wallace (NSW Swifts goal shooter)

On the intensity and physicality of the game:

“We know these girls are physical…I honestly don’t really think it was that physical in the circle today. Olivia was giving me some bumps, trying to get into my head, but I wasn’t allowing her to.”

Were you proud of how the team managed to pull themselves out of a seven-goal deficit?

“Definitely, in that first quarter you could see heads drop…I just kept telling them, ‘Come on guys…bring the energy, we are still in this game, it is just the first quarter, if we lose a point so what – we still have three more quarters to play’. We had a talk in the change room after it was 37 all at half time, and the crowd was amazing we could hear the crowd.”

On preparing for the Sunshine Coast Lightning:

“We will go back to the drawing board and pretend the season is just starting…yes, we love the wins, but we don’t focus on the wins. So, we are just going to start all over again and go through the process.”

Kate Cornish

Email: katecornish@y7mail.com

Twitter: @KateKateCornish