Melbourne Vixens coach Simone McKinnis has urged her team to make a statement of its intent for the eight rounds remaining in the Suncorp Super Netball season, when it hosts the ladder-leading West Coast Fever at Hisense Arena on Saturday.
Before last weekend’s bye, the Vixens had slipped to sixth after consecutive away losses to 2017 grand finalists GIANTS Netball and the Sunshine Coast Lightning.
After it, McKinnis hopes to be reviewing a more focused and relentless four-quarter effort than she has witnessed in recent weeks.
“We want much more from ourselves,’’ she says of the Vixens, who are 3-3 approaching SSN’s halfway point. “It’s a really tough competition, but we’re still in the position that we’re in control of what happens from here.
“Having had the bye and having done the work out on court, we’re really wanting to set new standards for ourselves in the back half of the competition.’’
So evenly bunched are the six teams wedged between the Fever and bottom-placed Adelaide Thunderbirds that just six points separate second from seventh. Many had tipped West Coast as an improver in 2018, but perhaps not to this extent.
Which leads us to two words: Jhaniele Fowler. Two words that strike fear into the heart of every goal keeper.
For the Vixens, however, it’s not just about how to stop Fowler, as how to limit the amount and quality of ball reaching the Jamaican scoring colossus, who has converted 321 of 343 attempts in six rounds, including a league-record 66 in the first against Adelaide.
“The midcourt and front-end defensive pressure is just so important, and you’ve got to fight and scrap and work hard to get the wins that you get,’’ McKinnis says.
“But certainly, we’ve got to score off our centre passes and any extra balls we get, and we’ve had to do some work on clarifying what we’re doing in attack.
“We want the intensity and concentration across the quarter, and from quarter to quarter. It’s being able to put out that work rate, with the intent and purpose, from start to finish. We’ve done it in patches. We have to be able to do it across four quarters and do it solidly.’’
Over the bye break, a solid first week of training and match play led into a three-day long weekend. Managing byes can be “tricky”, McKinnis acknowledges, while confident this one has been used to best advantage.
With a 5-1 record that includes a single loss to the Firebirds in Brisbane in round five, the flourishing Fever are being approached as they deserve to be: as, currently, and very unusually, the best-performed team in SSN.
“They’re really tough, tough opposition,’’ says McKinnis. “Defensively, they’re getting ball. They’re backing themselves and contesting. They’re pretty relentless in their defensive work and are certainly being smart with their ball use in attack.
“So they’re playing really good netball, but from my perspective, why not come out and knock off the top team? They’re not unbeatable, and Firebirds have shown that. Having come off a couple of disappointing performances, it’s a fantastic challenge for us now to be playing the top team. So let’s go for it.’’
Importantly, with Renae Ingles’ recent confirmation as the permanent replacement for the pregnant Chloe Watson, comes the chance to settle a midcourt that has been in a state of flux in recent weeks. Ingles, as expected, is improving with every training session, just as she is likely to build with each game.
“Now that that it’s set, and Renae’s officially in the 10, we can really move forward with that now,’’ McKinnis said. “There was so much cloak-and-dagger, so it was a relief when it was all out in the open. We move on, now.’’
By Linda Pearce, multi-award-winning netball writer with over 30 years experience.
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