Which means the Fever go into Sunday’s match with a double helping of confidence and can afford to have a side order of arrogance if they so choose.
It is hard to see Lightning switching the result of the previous two encounters between the teams. I suspect that the only problem for Fever is if they pick up a dish of hubris in their attempt to devour their opponents on their way to a second grand final appearance in three seasons.
Yet it would be understandable if they did. Along with recording two impressive wins over Lightning this year, Fever are playing a team who have not looked like what they are – which is the most successful franchise in Super Netball history.
Lightning have played in every grand final since the start of Super Netball, winning the first two. They have international stars all over the court, and proven big-match winners in key positions, with goal defence Karla Pretorius, centre Laura Langman, and goal attack Wood forming a formidable spine. But this season, they have not looked their usual dominant selves.
Pretorius hasn’t had her usual devastating defensive impact at key moments, Langman has thrown away more balls than you would expect from a player widely regarded as the “GOAT” and Wood has looked more frustrated than fluent in attack. They have had flashes of brilliance, and some good wins, but they have yet to look like premiership contenders, let alone string together a full 60-minute performance.
Having said all of that, Fever cannot afford to go into this game with one eye on next week’s grand final against the Melbourne Vixens. That would be the perfect conditions for Lightning to launch a surprise attack on a team that have looked the goods all year.
If Lightning are to do that, they need to do more than hope that goal keeper Phumza Maweni can win the odd bit of possession off Fowler. They need to put on a whole lot more pressure further up the court, and in doing so disrupt the potent combination of fearless Fever mid-counter Verity Charles and the exceptional Fowler.
There are a couple of ways they can do this. They can either take a leaf out of the Swifts’ book from
last Sunday and isolate the ball carrier, making them force long bombs to Fowler. These type of
passes are hard to execute consistently, and they give the defence more time to contest in the air.
Alternatively, they can play a tight one on one and get their hands up in front of the ball carrier to block her vision and force a poorly placed pass. Either way, it is plain hard yakka, and takes a full
court defensive effort.
If Lightning can win the ball, they then have the issue of converting. In their past two encounters
against Fever, West Coast’s goal keeper Courtney Bruce has had a field day, coming up with nine and
11 gains respectively.
To win the match, new Diamonds squad member Cara Koenen needs to stand up to Bruce’s bruising presence and show that she can dominate at Super Netball level in the face of relentless physicality. Koenen has been brilliant this season when given space, but the challenge for her now is to prove that she can hold her own in a game that will be marked by plenty of push and shove.
This preliminary final is Fever’s to lose. They have shown that they are a team able to match it with
every other side in the competition. Having said that, they are up against a team in Lightning who know how to win, and will be hard to beat if all their stars turn it on at the same time.
Liz Ellis is a netball commentator and the most-capped Australian netball player in history.