Coach Dan Ryan pulled all the right levers to keep the West Coast Fever’s flawless Super Netball season start intact in a 77-69 win against the Queensland Firebirds at Nissan Arena.
Challenged for the first time this campaign by a fearless Firebirds outfit, Ryan held back trumps Verity Simmons and Chelsea Pitman before unleashing the duo in the second half to engineer a victory that took the Fever to the top of the table after three rounds.
No other team has stood up to the Fever this season like the Firebirds did in front of a home crowd of 3332.
The West Australians blasted their first two opponents off the court by quarter-time but this was a different challenge as they had to claw back from a first-half deficit.
Captain Courtney Bruce (five intercepts) and midcourter Jess Anstiss played major roles as the Fever produced a mighty second half.
They were constant menaces as the Fever used every available player to keep their energy high in the middle of a three-game road trip.
“It felt like a battle today,”Bruce said.
“We knew it would be a 60-minute grind and the Firebirds play a similar style to us.
“It’s great to have that depth and it will be even more important come finals time.”
Shootouts can come in many forms and this was a match that featured a variety.
Many in the packed crowd had signed up to watch leading shooters Donnell Wallam and Jhaniele Fowler line up against each other for the first time in a national league game.
The Fever’s Fowler (52 goals) was unstoppable and Wallam shot 43 for the home side, but even juicier was the masterclass turned on at each end by the defenders.
Fever skipper Bruce fought fighting something of a lone hand but that made it all the more impressive as she pinched two intercepts and two deflections in the first half.
The Firebirds defenders were collectively menacing against one of the league’s highest-scoring teams.
Queensland defenders Ruby Bakewell-Doran and Gabi Simpson squeezed three gains out of the Fever’s attack in the opening term and made Fowler work for every touch.
Having absorbed much of what the Fever could throw at them, the Firebirds’ confidence soared and they surged late in the first half to seize a 36-34 lead.
The Fever turned to experienced midcourters Simmons and Pitman to start the second half and the flow-on effect was immediate.
Simmons’ speed and energy gave Firebirds centre Kim Ravaillion more to think about. And Pitman’s silky hands and court craft were instantly a handful for Simpson.
Just as impactful was Jess Anstiss’s move to wing defence where she bumped and harassed Firebird Lara Dunkley away from her most productive zone at the tip of the shooting circle.