West Coast Fever season review

How did the West Coast Fever's season go in 2021? Photo: West Coast Fever

The West Coast Fever were unable to build on an electrifying start to their 2021 campaign. The Inner Sanctum reviews their season after a preliminary final exit.

An electrifying start to 2021 saw the Fever mitigate their Suncorp Super Netball 12-point salary cap penalties and boost themselves into the finals picture by the half-way stage of the season.

From there, the Green Machine faltered.

A narrow loss to the Giants in the final game of the season sent them into a must-win match-up with the Sunshine Coast Lightning. They got over the line, but the Giants would once again prove too strong, and the Fever left themselves too much to do in the final term of the preliminary final, losing out in a thrilling finish.

The odds were stacked against them, but the Fever did the hard work to get themselves into the finals picture from a three-game deficit, and will rue their inability to get the job done when it mattered.

The Inner Sanctum explores the Fever’s 2021 Super Netball season, in review.

What worked?

Bookends deliver. The Fever have enjoyed two of the premier players in the competition in both goal circles for years, and that trend continued in 2021.

Jhaniele Fowler was far and away the most prolific goal shooter in the league again with 883 of the Fever’s 1047 goals. The three-time Player of the Year was unstoppable, using her 198-centimetre height to pluck the ball over her opposition, and shot an insane 96 per cent inside the circle.

She’s also the best offensive rebounder in the league with 57 on the year, and has formed a dynamic connection with Verity Charles over the years that ensures she finds the ball at the post with regularity.

At the other end, captain Courtney Bruce saw the entirety of the court and directed teammates the whole season. Her leadership is spectacular from goal keeper, and she also backed her captaincy up with a sensational individual campaign.

Bruce leads the league in deflections with 97, and defensive rebounds with 26. In addition, she is just one intercept behind Shamera Sterling with 48 on the year. Her athleticism is consistently on display with gravity-defying leaps and lightning-quick pivots, and starts so many attacking moves through intercepts and rebounds.

It has been an incredible individual season from Bruce, and it has given the likes of Sunday Aryang someone to lean on as she develops.

Jhaniele Fowler was unstoppable for the Fever. Photo: West Coast Fever

What didn’t?

Mid-court inconsistency. Charles made the permanent move from centre to wing attack, affording Jess Anstiss the opportunity to the take the centre bib and make it her own. For the most-part, it was a successful shift from Stacey Marinkovich.

But there remained a lot of inconsistencies with the mid-courters, and their connection didn’t deliver in the games that mattered.

The wing defence position was one that provided headaches all season, with Marinkovich tinkering with line-ups. Starts from Stacey Francis-Bateman was shifted to wing defence, where some inexperienced play sometimes made the Fever give up easy feeds.

The Giants’ Maddie Hay was able to take advantage of this in the preliminary final where her quick movement and smart reading of the play got her the ball in advantageous positions.

With the ball, the Anstiss and Charles partnership was unable to break through the Amy Parmenter wall. It resulted in Charles – one of the veteran stars of the side – being benched in the second half of the final.

There’s natural progression in a lot of these youngsters and a first season with this set-up was bound to cause chemistry issues in the mid-court. But a new coach may come in and decide the experiment was all for nothing and shift Anstiss back to wing defence and Charles into centre.

Season highlight

Undefeated opening. The Fever came out of the blocks with a point to prove in 2021. Docked 12 premiership points, there was ground to be made up, and on the 15th of May it was eclipsed just three games into their season.

In the first seven games of the season, the Fever were untouchable. This run included a ridiculous 23-goal win over the Magpies and a nail-biting one-goal victory over the Giants. The best part of this run was that only two of these games were played in Perth, so there was a home-court advantage to come in the rest of the season.

Two losses by a cumulative five goals put a stop to the procession, but all was well when RAC Arena bore witness to a 35-goal demolition of the Firebirds. Amongst the best fans in the league, the Fever put on a clinic in front of vocal support with Fowler shooting 57 goals.

The Fever were unstoppable for the first few rounds of the season. Photo: West Coast Fever

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Season lowlight

Preliminary final second quarter. It was a quarter to forget for the Fever when it mattered the most. Sandwiched between two quarters where the Giants were able to outplay – but not embarrass – the club, was a disaster 15-minute period.

The Green Machine gave up too many turnovers through ill-discipline and the odd piece of frustration to really give ascendency to their opponents. Fowler wasn’t getting the ball where she needed, and Parmenter was intercepting and deflecting everything as the Fever rushed their way down the court.

It was completely unlike a Stacey Marinkovich coached side. The Fever gave up almost double the penalties for the game – 58 to 30 – and left themselves with too much to overcome in the fourth quarter.

They laid it all out on the line in that final 15 minutes – winning the period 20-13 – but it was still too much as they succumbed to a preliminary final defeat 64-61.

Team MVP

Courtney Bruce. Goal shooter Jhaniele Fowler could be on her way to a fourth Player of the Year, but Bruce has been the team’s most valuable player this season.

She has led from goal keeper, nurturing the relative inexperience around her in the goal circle and doing it with a smile on her face.

Under the tutelage of Marinkovich, she has been an absolute stalwart of the Fever and become one of the great Diamonds.

Bruce knows when to be aggressive and cut the passing lanes, but is also rock solid in defence, forcing her opponent out. She leads the competition in nearly every defensive statistic, and will be in heavy consideration for the Team of the Year come the conclusion of the Super Netball season.

Still in the prime of her career, Bruce will represent Australia on the international level as she has done for years as one of the world’s best defenders.

Courtney Bruce delivered another outstanding campaign. Photo: West Coast Fever

Rising Star

Sunday Aryang. Blossoming into a powerhouse goal defence, Aryang’s rise has been superb to witness this year for the fever.

Her drive out with the is matched by her tenacity in defence. She works the ball up the court and is fantastic in the middle third.

Her positioning in the goal cricle with Bruce has been building and – at just 20 years of age – is well-and-truly in the rising star conversation. On the weekend, her battle with Sophie Dwyer was enthralling in patches, with the Giants young gun probably getting the best of her with thanks to rapid ball movement from her side.

Aryang had 24 intercepts and 50 deflections from her 14 games in 2021. This is to add to an impressive 14 defensive rebounds as well.

Her rise as an Australian 21U representative will only continue to impress as she builds her on-court chemistry with the Fever players.

Moving forward

Legendary coach Stacey Marinkovich is set to move on from the Fever and give her full attention to the Diamonds with an eye towards the 2022 Commonwealth Games and 2023 World Cup. She has been everything for her team since its inception, and will leave as a West Coast Fever legend.

Questions marks are left on the rest of the team, with some interesting comments from Jhaniele Fowler during the season casting some doubt on her future as well.

The Jamaican has been the best player in Super Netball since making the move from the ANZ Premiership, and it would be a terrible blow for the Green Machine to lose their star goal shooter.

With the huge impending free agency around the corner, there are so many uncertainties with every team in the league.

If the Fever can keep the core intact, then natural development from the likes of Aryang and Anstiss will ensure the club remains in the mix for years to come as they chase an elusive first premiership in Super Netball.

Stacey Marinkovich departs the Fever as a legend. Photo: West Coast Fever

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