The Melbourne Vixens have sent Caitlin Thwaites out a winner, beating the West Coast Fever during the Super Netball grand final in Brisbane.
Playing in their first Super Netball decider, the Vixens established a break in the third quarter and held on to win 66-64.
Fever shooter Jhaniele Fowler led the way with 54 goals from 55 attempts, but her opposite number Mwai Kumwenda was the player of the match, converting 47 goals from 50 attempts, while the veteran goal attack Thwaites — who is retiring after 232 games — was a perfect 10 from 10.
The Fever were playing in their second grand final. They lost the 2018 decider to the Sunshine Coast Lightning.
Stacey Marinkovich’s appointment as Diamonds coach was questioned in late August
Vixens coach Simone McInnis was among the candidates overlooked by Netball Australia
The Vixens are favourites to win Sunday’s Super Netball grand final
Australian netball great Liz Ellis asked how a coach with no international playing experience, or even a domestic title to her name, beat a field which included a candidate with both of those credentials.
On Sunday, Marinkovich has the opportunity to put one of those critiques to bed, when her West Coast Fever side faces the Melbourne Vixens in the Super Netball Grand Final.
She maintains, however, that is the furthest thing from her mind.
“When I’m around this group, it’s all about the Fever, it’s all about our brand, the relationships we’re building,” Marinkovich said.
“This isn’t about me on Sunday, this is about our collective and how hard we’ve worked to be able to get out there and perform.
Vixens coach Simone McKinnis was the early favourite to take the Diamonds’ role, but said the snub would not serve as extra motivation for her in the grand final.
“Absolutely not,” she said.
“Stacey’s the Diamonds coach, and well earned, [she’s a] quality coach and quality person.
“Once that process was done, my focus was absolutely with the Vixens and that’s all irrelevant to me now.”
Fever embraces history
While a win would go some way to vindicating her appointment to the top job, it would also deliver silverware to a starved WA supporter base, which has watched a side, in its many incarnations, struggle to be a force in the numerous national netball competitions it has been a part of.
Since joining the then-named National Netball League in 1997, the Fever (previously the Perth Orioles) has featured in just one Grand Final — the heartbreaking 2018 loss to the Sunshine Coast Lightning at Perth Arena.
The club has embraced its history, wearing an Orioles-inspired retro dress in its final regular season match against the Adelaide Thunderbirds.
Fever captain Courtney Bruce grew up watching the Orioles, and experienced firsthand the hard slog as a fan when she attended matches at Challenge Stadium.
“It’s special that I’ve now had the opportunity to play and I think it’s even more special that we get the opportunity to wear our retro-dress and pay respect to players of the past,” she said.
It’s a sentiment echoed by Marinkovich.
“What we’ve got to do is bring that within our group and bring it close together so that when we perform, then we get the outcome of being able to inspire and make the rest of our community proud.”
Sunday shaping up as a thriller
The Fever’s recent record against the Vixens is anything but flattering.
They have not beaten the Melbourne side in two years, with their best result a draw in round 10 of this season.
That being said, a direct comparison between the sides over their past 10 matches suggests there is little separating the two sides.
Both have eight wins, one loss and a draw (against each other).
The Fever is the highest scoring team in Super Netball, by a large margin, thanks mainly to the dominance of Jamaican Jhaniele Fowler who has scored 910 goals this season, 327 more than any other player.
But the Perth side will need to find a way past the Vixens’ tight defence, with the Victorians conceding the least goals in the league this season.
West Coast Fever are set to face Melbourne Vixens for the Super Netball title after demolishing the Sunshine Coast Lightning in the preliminary final at USC Stadium.
Jhaniele Fowler scored 60 goals as the West Coast Fever qualified for the Super Netball grand final
The Fever’s defence held firm as they kept the Sunshine Coast Lightning to 59 goals in a 14-goal win at USC Stadium
Standing between the Fever and a first Super Netball title will be the Melbourne Vixens who they will face in the decider next Sunday
The Fever burst out of the blocks with a 21 goal to 12 first quarter, and the game was never close after that, with West Coast cruising to a 73-59 win, gaining a measure of revenge for their 2018 grand final loss to the Lightning.
Sunshine Coast was coming off a 16-goal loss to the Vixens in last week’s semi-final, while the Fever had upset the defending champions, the NSW Swifts, to reach the prelim.
The Lightning had won two titles and contested three grand finals since their 2017 debut but their stunning sequence ended at Sippy Downs.
The Fever conceded the most goals of any of the finalists during the regular season — more than seventh placed Adelaide — but it was their defence that set the context for the preliminary final.
Jess Anstiss, Stacey Francis and Courtney Bruce restricted the home side to a combined nine scoring attempts in the first quarter.
Cara Koenen shot a perfect 14 from 14, and Peace Proscovia had 16 from 18 attempts, but the Lightning just could not get enough scores on the board to put the pressure on their opponents.
The Lightning led 39-23 at half-time, and although the third quarter was a tighter contest, the Fever extended their advantage to 59-41 with one term to go.
Steph Wood hit a couple of two-pointers in quick succession — and scored eight super shots in total from 12 attempts — but Alice Teague-Neeld answered with a two-point shot for the Fever, and the lead never went under double figures as the game wound down.
Sunshine Coast captain Laura Langman has already announced her international retirement and her duel with Fever co-captain Verity Charles may be the Silver Ferns titan’s last sighting at national league level.
Charles outplayed the World Cup-winning New Zealand captain with a mighty performance at both ends of the court.
An ever-humble Langman refused to let her possible swansong steal the headlines from an outstanding Fever effort.
“I think I’ll just get over this knife in the guts first,” the champion midcourter said when asked about her 2021 intentions.
Charles wasn’t the only hero, with Fever teammates Emma Cosh and Teague-Neeld outrunning and out-feeding their direct opponents.
And spearhead Jhaniele Fowler was the focal point with 60 goals from 61 attempts.
A skipper and his little dog Chewy have been rescued after their yacht crashed into rocks on the far south coast of NSW yesterday.
He thanked the police for puling himself, his dog and his boat from the rocks in a video, saying he “thought it was a goner”.
“You’ve saved our home, both me and Chewy,” he said cuddling his dog.
Eden Water Police were called to Twofold Bay at Eden yesterday with reports a yacht had come into trouble at the rocks. The skipper, 54, and his dog were rescued by Marine Area Police and taken on-board a police vessel — the yacht was later towed away from the rocks.
Miami State High School has become home to three Gold Coast Suns players with a student, past student and teacher expected to play in the 2021 season.
Miami State High has partnered with the Gold Coast Suns in a sporting development program
It has resulted in a current and past student being drafted into the local AFLW team
Draftee Maddison Levi says a stronger AFLW culture has been fostered within the school community
Year 12 student Lucy Single and 2019 graduate Maddison Levi were drafted to the team on Tuesday, joining teacher Sally Riley who signed with the Suns after playing for Adelaide in the 2017 AFLW premiership.
“It still doesn’t really feel real yet,” Ms Single said.
The hat-trick has been a culmination of the school’s partnership with the Gold Coast Suns aimed at mentoring emerging talent and providing young women with a pathway into the elite sport.
Building a culture of AFL Women’s
Ms Levi said it had been a difficult year for many emerging players to get noticed due to the pandemic, but she managed to break two records — the 20-metre sprint and the vertical jump — during the qualification process.
“We were lucky, our lockdown wasn’t like other states so I was able to do lots of fitness,” she said.
Ms Single said Suns’ players conducted training sessions with students as part of its partnership program.
“It’s kind of making more of a culture around [AFLW] and making it quite exciting,” she said.
Ms Levi said AFLW’s exposure was just getting bigger and better.
“Having the women come through and the crowd roaring and the impact its having, is an unreal feeling.”
An ‘equal standing’ between genders
Miami State High School’s principal Sue Dalton said the sports program had helped create “equal standing among both genders”.
“We have had back-to-back success in the AFLQ Cup [AFL Queensland Schools Cup] as state champions in senior girls,” Ms Dalton said.
She said 33 students were involved in the program, with plans to include primary school students next.
“They get specialist coaching which is amazing. They learn how to conduct themselves, how to handle themselves,” Ms Dalton said.
With more students set to follow in her footsteps, Ms Single said her advice was to “keep doing it if you love it”.
“There’s no point trying to play a sport if you’re not enjoying it,” she said.
A bruised Courtney Bruce and a sparkling Sunday Aryang cameo have launched West Coast Fever into the preliminary final and bundled the NSW Swifts out of the Suncorp Super Netball title race.
Jhaniele Fowler scored 55-from-55 on her 100th national league appearance
West Coast Fever will take on Sunshine Coast Lightning in next week’s preliminary final
The winner will take on minor premiers Melbourne Vixens in the grand final
The Fever’s 67-62 minor semi-final triumph at Sunshine Coast’s USC stadium kept alive the Perth outfit’s dream of a maiden premiership after a stunning fightback from nine goals down at the end of the third quarter.
West Coast star Jhaniele Fowler shot a flawless 55-from-55 in her 100th national league outing, but it was Aryang who produced the match-turning impact.
Aryang with defensive circle partner Bruce wrenched the contest out of the defending champion Swifts’ hands.
Bruce will likely wake on Monday with a black eye after having the final say in a brutal battle with the Swifts’ Sam Wallace (40-from-44).
But, playing in her first final, Aryang played with the chill of a veteran, grabbing five second-half intercepts to turn the contest on its head.
“The first half it was nervous but we have an amazing team who brought it back at the end,” Aryang said.
The Fever will meet Sunshine Coast Lightning in the preliminary final on Sunday, after last year’s minor premiers lost to Melbourne Vixens in Saturday’s major semi-final.
The game had all the elements of a sudden death final.
High-quality shooting at each end — Fowler and Wallace shot at 100 per cent accuracy throughout the first half — combined with fierce one-on-one match-ups to drive up the intensity.
Fever centre Verity Charles had the edge in her showdown with Paige Hadley and Bruce put her body on the line repeatedly in her clash with Wallace.
Bruce finished the half behind on the scoreboard and with a swollen eye after two accidental blows from the Swifts’ goal shooter.
It was the Swifts who first grabbed the upper hand when Wallace and Helen Housby sank a trio of super shots in the final throes of the second quarter.
But it didn’t last. Fever coach Stacey Marinkovich made four changes to her line-up at halftime and the team responded by erasing a nine-goal deficit to give themselves a shot at the championship.
Mason Cox unleashed an early onslaught and Brody Mihocek provided the late heroics to power Collingwood to a famous one-point win over West Coast in Saturday night’s elimination final in Perth.
Brody Mihocek kicked two goals late in the final quarter to help the Magpies get over the line
Goals from Eagles duo Josh Kennedy and Jack Darling closed the gap to one point with just over a minute on the clock
St Kilda progressed to the semi-finals via a thrilling three-point win over the Bulldogs
In Saturday night’s earlier sudden-death clash, St Kilda survived a stunning late fightback from the Western Bulldogs to hang on for a three-point win at the Gabba.
Across in the west, Cox reprised memories of his demolition job on Richmond in the 2018 preliminary final by booting three goals in as many minutes in the opening term.
West Coast snatched back the lead in a see-sawing final quarter, but Mihocek kicked two late goals and took an important defensive mark to lift his side to a 12.4 (76) to 11.9 (75) win.
The victory sets up a semi-final showdown against Geelong at the Gabba next Saturday night.
Eagles ruckman Nic Naitanui (17 disposals, 24 hit-outs, seven clearances) won his contest against fellow All-Australian Brodie Grundy (12 possessions, 19 hit-outs, two clearances), but the Magpies still created enough opportunities.
Adam Treloar, Taylor Adams and Scott Pendlebury produced big games through the midfield, while Mihocek and Cox ended up with three goals apiece.
Eagles spearheads Jack Darling and Josh Kennedy also booted three goals each, while Liam Ryan was at his creative best.
West Coast’s midfield could not get going in the opening term with Dom Sheed, Tim Kelly and Luke Shuey combining for just two disposals between them.
Collingwood won the inside 50s count 14-8 and Cox cashed in with the most productive three minutes of his career.
Cox took three contested marks against Tom Barrass during that period and converted each time to silence the 32,865-strong crowd.
After booting his second, Cox stuck out his tongue and showed two fingers in a swagger-filled goal celebration.
And when Oscar Allen stuck out his hand and slapped Taylor Adams in the face to gift the Magpies midfielder a 50-metre penalty and a goal, the Eagles were down 24-7.
The first few seconds of the second term would have filled Eagles fans with hope after Naitanui tapped the ball to Kelly, who drilled it to Kennedy for a goal.
Kennedy booted two goals for the quarter and Darling one to reduce the margin to three points at half-time.
The battle between Eagles goalsneak Ryan and Brayden Maynard made for intriguing viewing.
Ryan cleaned up Maynard with a heavy bump early in the second quarter.
And he rubbed salt into the wound when he took a mark over Maynard and cheekily showed him the ball, before delivering it inside 50 for a Brayden Ainsworth goal.
West Coast twice hit the lead during the third quarter, but goals to Will Hoskin-Elliott and Mihocek gave the Magpies a 10-point buffer at the final change.
The Eagles again hit the lead early in the last, but two goals from Mihocek and a major to Jordan De Goey helped give Collingwood a 13-point edge.
Late goals from Kennedy and Darling closed the gap to one point with 77 seconds left, but Collingwood were able to hold firm in the dying moments.
Saints hold out Bulldogs
The Saints prevailed in a 10.7 (67) to 9.10 (64) victory at the Gabba that saw them advance to a semi-final meeting with reigning premiers Richmond in Carrara.
But they face a nervous wait on Ben Long’s availability after his high bump on Jack Macrae, which is sure to be scrutinised by the match review officer.
Teammate Paddy Ryder also went to the bench with a hamstring injury in the last few minutes and finished the match in tears.
St Kilda led by four goals at three-quarter time but the Bulldogs charged home with four goals to one in the final term.
Caleb Daniel’s goal brought them within a kick with more than two minutes left to play, but the comeback ultimately fell short.
Young key forward Max King kicked two goals in the Saints’ first finals win in more than 10 years.
St Kilda got on top in the middle where Dan Hannebery (20 disposals), Zak Jones and Seb Ross (both 16) got to work and dominated contested marks (21-13) around the ground.
Jarryn Geary took a career-best four of them and shone in attack, where he limited the influence of Dogs playmakers Daniel and Jason Johannisen.
The no-nonsense skipper also finished with two goals, as did Tim Membrey and Ryder, who got on top of Tim English in the ruck.
The teams went goal for goal in the first half as King stood tall with two strong contested pack marks deep in attack that he followed up with goals.
Geary, too, posed a threat in the front half as he twice outmuscled Daniel, and the Bulldogs lost Zaine Cordy to an ankle injury before the main break.
The tall defender watched the second half from the grandstand.
The Dogs led by five points when Mitch Wallis converted a free kick from the boundary line at the 10-minute mark of the second term but conceded six of the next seven goals.
Lachie Hunter was given the chance to get the deficit back under 20 points before three-quarter time but hit the post from point-blank range after a 50-metre penalty.
Bailey Smith (24 disposals), Marcus Bontempelli (21) and Daniel (26) worked tirelessly for the Bulldogs, who are still searching for their first finals triumph since the 2016 premiership.
Josh Bruce kicked the opening goal but he and fellow key forward Aaron Naughton had little influence.
The high-flying Melbourne Vixens have rounded out their preparations for the Super Netball finals series with a 58-54 victory over Sunshine Coast Lightning.
The Vixens finished 10 points ahead of the Lightning on top of the ladder
The Lightning were already assured of second place going into the match
Vixens star Mwai Kumwenda scored 42 goals and a super shot for a 44-point haul
The two sides will meet again in next Saturday’s major semi-final but the minor premiers took the honours in Sunday’s dress rehearsal at USC Stadium to finish 10 points clear of the second-placed Lightning.
Mwai Kumwenda celebrated her 31st birthday in style with 43-of-44 shooting — including one super shot — to guide the Vixens to their 11th win of the season.
“It’s always hard when you’re playing against the Lightning, you just need to go hard every time because they are a good team,” Kumwenda said.
The Lightning were guaranteed to finish in second spot after West Coast Fever and NSW Swifts were unable to record wins in the final round, handing the two-time champions a double chance at a fourth consecutive grand final berth.
While both teams were eager to grab a confidence-building win ahead of the finals, it was the Vixens demonstrating all the qualities that saw them hold onto top spot on the ladder since round two as they led by five goals at half-time.
Vixens coach Simone McKinnis opted to rest starters Liz Watson and Kate Eddy in the second half and the Lightning capitalised to draw level in the third quarter.
But with Lightning coach Kylee Byrne ringing the changes to her line-up, the Vixens took charge of the contest with an 11-1 start to the fourth quarter.
Kumwenda piled on 10 goals without a miss in that stretch to seal the victory.
Vixens co-captain Watson was taking part in her 100th national league game after missing two matches with an ankle injury.
The outstanding midcourter picked up 15 goal assists and 21 circle feeds before sitting out the second half.