West Coast break title duck after remaining untouched by Super Netball tumult | Super Netball

It was not the closest, nor most exciting grand final, but in the end the 2022 Super Netball title decider characterised the entire season. It was physical, it was emotional, it showcased the contentious nature of the two-point super shot and it was dominated by the West Coast Fever.

Although the Melbourne Vixens were minor premiers and had the measure of their grand final opponents in their two regular season outings, the Fever can never be under-estimated and their nine-goal win in the major semi-final showed what they were capable of. They faltered only four times in 2022 – twice to the Vixens and once each to the Queensland Firebirds and Giants Netball. They scored 116 more goals in the regular season than the Giants, their closest rivals in that statistic, and despite finishing with two fewer wins than the Vixens, they had the highest goal percentage in the competition.

In a season marred by off-court controversy – from the selling of the grand final hosting rights to the state of Netball Australia’s finances – the Fever managed to remain untouched by any of the drama. Not only that, but they were also able to shake off the controversies of their own from the past couple of years – salary cap breaches, contentiously rescheduled games and bafflingly broken contracts all faded into the background as focus remained on the court. It is not surprising this was the year they were finally able to secure the premiership for the first time in their history.

The dominance of Jhaniele Fowler cannot be understated and although it took five seasons, the Fever were finally able to harness her power to the maximum. They came close in 2018 and again in 2020 – both years that they finished runners up – but in those years there were always missing connections. In 2018 they lacked finesse in wing attack, while in 2020 they could not pull enough focus from Fowler through the goal attack position.

In moving Alice Teague-Neeld to wing attack this season, the Fever received the benefit of her playmaking without the drawback of hesitancy on the shot. In her second season in the west – and with consistent outings in goal attack – Sasha Glasgow was able to provide the link between Teague-Neeld and Fowler, while also taking the shots to release pressure on her goal shooter at key moments. Verity Simmons in centre did not have her best season, but she was able to play a good enough linking game to let Teague-Neeld shine in the mid-court and set Fowler up to stamp her dominance on the competition.

Jhaniele Fowler stretches to reach the ball during Sunday’s grand final.
Jhaniele Fowler stretches to reach the ball during Sunday’s grand final. Photograph: Dave Hunt/AAP

Most interesting to note was the way the Fever have used and managed the two-point super shot. While proponents of the rule change – which came into the competition in 2020 – believe it reduces the dominance of the tall, holding shooter, the Fever have put on a masterclass this season, demonstrating just why this is not the case. With Fowler positioned under the post, Glasgow takes two-point shots with confidence and ease – and appears to deliberately err on the side of dropping them short to ensure that any misses will fall into Fowler’s hands and not outside the court for an opposition throw in. Naturally they do not all drop, but Fowler almost always gets the rebound and simply the fact that Glasgow is willing to put them up forces the defenders to cover more of the goal circle, creating more room for both shooters to move.

This season has also – more than any other – demonstrated the way Super Netball teams can be successful without requiring a significant number of stars. West Coast again characterise this best. Only Fowler in goal shooter and captain Courtney Bruce in goal keeper are experienced international players. Goal defence Sunday Aryang only made her Diamonds debut at the beginning of this year and none of the other starting seven players have been named in the national team this year.

In contrast, the Vixens will have five of their starting seven players suiting up for the Commonwealth Games later this month. It is evidence of an evolving game that players can now have a solid – and even memorable – career as a domestic netballer perhaps without ever playing for their national team. It also indicates the ways in which the league and its rule changes have pulled away from the international game. Players like Teague-Neeld, Glasgow and Simmons have become experts in playing Super Netball – rather than netball in its traditional format.

Sunday’s grand final is unlikely to go down in history as one of the great games of the sport, but it speaks volumes about the nature of Australian netball in 2022 and may change the way clubs approach recruitment and tactics in the future.

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