Grand fi­nal hero­ics

The Sunday Times - - Front Page - BRID­GET LACY

WEST Coast Fever will host an his­toric Su­per Netball grand fi­nal at Perth Arena on Au­gust 26 af­ter de­fy­ing the odds in a sen­sa­tional 63-57 ma­jor semi­fi­nal win over the Greater Western Syd­ney Giants in Syd­ney yes­ter­day.

Fever over­came a ma­jor in­jury scare to star goal shooter Jhaniele Fowler’s right knee on their way to beat­ing a Giants out­fit that de­feated them by three goals just a week ear­lier.

Fowler looked in se­ri­ous pain af­ter an awk­ward land­ing with three-and-a-half min­utes re­main­ing in the first quar­ter.

The tow­er­ing Ja­maican star re­turned late in the sec­ond term but her move­ment was af­fected. She still man­aged 48 goals from as many at­tempts, while Nat Med­hurst earned MVP hon­ours for her nine goals and 27 as­sists. Kaylia Stan­ton (six goals, one as­sist) played an im­por­tant role while Fowler was off the court.

Ver­ity Charles again called on her re­mark­able pow­ers of re­cov­ery to start at cen­tre af­ter go­ing down in the fi­nal minute a week ear­lier. Charles had her left knee heav­ily strapped but was ath­letic as ever as she was a ma­jor player through­out.

Cap­tain Court­ney Bruce was bril­liant with six in­ter­cepts and four re­bounds. Stacey Fran­cis was able to keep coun­try­woman Jo Harten (33 goals) qui­eter. Su­san Pet­titt man­aged 24 goals.

The Giants will play the win­ner of to­day’s mi­nor semi­fi­nal between the Queens­land Fire­birds and Sun­shine Coast Light­ning in a pre­lim­i­nary fi­nal next Sun­day for the chance to take on Fever in the de­cider.

Coach Stacey Marinkovich said the week off and the fact they don’t have to travel again was “mas­sive”.

Fowler’s in­jury is one of a num­ber of nig­gles be­ing car­ried by her play­ers.

“It’s just some­thing that has been a lit­tle nig­gle for the last cou­ple of weeks and it just got hit in the wrong way and just got ag­gra­vated,” Marinkovich said.

“She’ll be re­ally, re­ally light on in the next week. The med­i­cal staff work over­time be­hind the scenes.”

There were emo­tional scenes af­ter the match as the enor­mity of what the 2018 squad have al­ready achieved hit home.

The suc­cess-starved club won just two games last sea­son and had en­joyed just one fi­nal in its his­tory prior to yes­ter­day.

“It’s go­ing to be amaz­ing at Perth Arena,” Marinkovich said. “I just can’t wait to see the sea of green.

“The thing we said all along is we had a plan for a long time. It’s not a two-year plan or a three-year plan or a one-year plan, it was just go­ing through the ab­so­lute process, tick­ing off the boxes all the way along. It wasn’t if, but when. We’ve worked re­ally hard for it so the girls de­serve every­thing that they’re reap­ing.”

Fever had a strong start, forc­ing the Giants into er­rors with suf­fo­cat­ing de­fen­sive pres­sure. They quickly streaked out to an eight-goal lead be­fore Fowler was helped from the court.

West Coast, with Stan­ton into the game, man­aged to main­tain that ad­van­tage at the first break. There was still no Fowler at the start of the sec­ond quar­ter, but Fever and Stan­ton re­fused to wilt.

The Giants made some changes, with Kris­tiana Manu’a re­plac­ing Sam Pool­man at goal­keeper and Ser­ena Guthrie and Jamie-Lee Price switch­ing mid­court po­si­tions, with the moves help­ing them draw within three at the half.

Fowler looked more her­self in the third term as Fever built their lead back out to eight. But the Giants came again, draw­ing turnovers from Fever to claw the mar­gin back to just one at the fi­nal break.

Fever won early ball and took the lead back out to six to start the fi­nal quar­ter.

Bound for glory: Jhaniele Fowler and In­grid Colyer cel­e­brate West Coast Fever’s semi-fi­nal vic­tory yes­ter­day. Pic­ture: Getty

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