WHEN PREPARING TO TAKE ON WHAT IS ARGUABLY SUNCORP SUPER NETBALL’S MOST DYNAMIC AND UNORTHODOX ATTACKING COMBINATION, IT HELPS IF YOU’VE GOT YOUR OWN WILDCARDS WHO’VE BEEN CUT FROM THE SAME CLOTH.
West Coast Fever defender Stacey Francis says there is no better way to plot how to shut down Queensland Firebirds duo Romelda Aiken and Gretel Tippett this weekend than by hitting the court against virtual carbon copies of the two internationals at training.
“We actually said this morning in our review that we have the perfect training environment, it’s really preparing us for who we’re playing on the weekend,” Francis says.
“We have our very own Jamaican (Jhaniele Fowler) and Kaylia (Stanton) is also a very tall goal attack, so she prepares us really well for the height of the ball that we get coming in off Gretel. There’s obviously a bit of a height mismatch between Courtney and I and Gretel and Romelda, but we prepare fantastically for it here and we also have that versatility of Annie (Annika Lee-Jones), who is a very tall defender, sitting on the bench and chomping at the bit to get her opportunity.”
This time last season, the Fever were sitting winless at the bottom of the Super Netball ladder with an average losing margin of 11 goals.
What a difference a year makes.
Now the league-leading Fever are cursing themselves if they drop a single quarter, such are the new standards and expectations they’re holding themselves to.
“I think when you come off a season that was incredibly disappointing last year, to be on the absolute flip side of it this year it is like a fairytale and we’re grateful, but it just makes us want to work harder to stay where we are and to push for that next win and that next record and the next performance,” Francis says.
“The points system has definitely changed the way I’m playing the game. We were happy to have gotten the win on Sunday (against the NSW Swifts) but were disappointed to have given away a quarter. You want to gain as many points as you can and really stamp your authority on oppositions as much as possible. Knowing that we gave away a quarter gives people that inkling that there’s potentially a chink in our armour, and we don’t want there to be any.”
While they’re on top now, Francis says remaining there in the coming weeks – as they prepared to take on the fourth-placed Firebirds followed by the third-placed GIANTS Netball and second-placed Melbourne Vixens – will be the true litmus test of how far the team has come since its disastrous 2017 campaign.
Unfortunately there are no easy games this year and if there were, potentially we’ve had them, so every time we step on court it’s a fierce contest. Knowing that we’ve got the quality sides like the Firebirds and the Giants before we go into the bye, I think it will really show our form if we can come through playing the type of netball that we have done in the first four rounds,” she says.
On Saturday the Fever take on a Firebirds outfit that has at times looked like the perennial grand finalists they were from 2014 to 2016, and yet sits at 2-2 after fading late against both the NSW Swifts and GIANTS Netball.
Francis says the Fever know exactly what they’re in for and how big a threat the Firebirds pose, as well as being conscious that every team is now gunning to be the first to take the Fever down.
“There’s that real balance, there’s the excitement that we see and also the feeling of being hunted that we definitely feel as well. But it’s welcomed, we really take the pressure on board and we’re not looking too far down the line and we’re definitely not taking anything for granted.”
“We welcome it, we’re happy for it. I think it’s nice that people are paying us the respect that I think that we’ve earned this season. And similarly we look at all the other teams the same way, knowing that they’re coming out to beat us.”