Leading into Saturday’s Super Netball preliminary final between West Coast and minor premiers the Giants, it was expected that Jhaniele Fowler, Fever’s colossal Caribbean shooter, would be among the most influential players on-court – if not the single most.
The 32-year-old Jamaican went into the match as the most prolific and accurate goaler in the league this season, with a 97% accuracy rate; a match-winner with a swag of MVP awards. In season 2021, she had three perfect 100% accuracy matches. Her 58/58 haul against the Vixens in July is an all-time record she shares with the Swifts’ Sam Wallace.
Across her 62-match Super Netball career, 198cm Fowler has averaged a staggering 55 goals a match and regularly seen off several direct opponents with her trademark composure. With her in the shooter bib, Stacey Marinkovich’s side have made two grand finals, in 2018 and 2020, just losing both, and this year West Coast were looking on track for another appearance despite coming into the season with a 12-point penalty for salary cap breaches.
Given the tradition of world-class players standing up when it matters, the possibility of Fowler once again stamping her mark on the preliminary final was a distinct possibility. But what unfolded at USC Stadium on the Sunshine Coast was far from Fowler’s finest hour.
With the acrimony and upset around the Fever’s salary cap breaches, it is a loss that was, rightly or wrongly, cheered in some quarters. A possible WA parliamentary enquiry into the scandal, revealed by ABC journalist Corbin Middlemas on Sunday, will also be welcomed by those who have been calling for more transparency and accountability.
To dispose of West Coast, the Giants – particularly goal keeper Sam Poolman and wing defence Amy Parmenter – carefully and methodically executed a game plan designed to dilute Fowler’s influence. She, and by extension, the Fever crumbled.
Despite a late, super-shot fuelled comeback in the last quarter, the Fever fell short and the Giants won 64-61 to book a place in next Saturday’s grand final against the NSW Swifts, the first all-NSW decider.
Fowler finished with 41 from 46, including four super shots, meaning she still shot more goals than anyone else. She was also the most accurate and had the most rebounds, offensive or defensive. But it was not the usual Fowler. She was flat, flustered and at times, furious.
Julie Fitzgerald’s Giants cracked the Fever code. They starved Fowler of opportunity to influence the contest, mainly through cutting off supply from her key feeder Verity Charles and keeping GA Alice Teague-Neeld quiet.
The Giants’ master plan involved dominating possession and also a liberal dose of good old fashioned “keeper niggle” from 30-year-old Poolman. Poolman was Fowler’s omnipresent, irritating shadow, even when the ball was in the Giants’ shooting circle. She jolted and jarred Fowler at every chance and combined well with goal defence April Brandley, who had been missing during the sides’ two previous meetings.
Like their teammates across the court, the defensive line of Parmenter, Brandley and Poolman did the little things – confused the space, stayed in play, backed each other up on tips, treasured the ball – right from the first whistle. Despite their physicality, they stayed clean in the right moments too, with their team total of 30 penalties a season-low.
Close physical attention is not new for Fowler, who fronts up to the world’s best defenders each game and trains against Australia’s keeper, her teammate Courtney Bruce. But combined with an uncharacteristically quiet Charles, who was smothered by Parmenter in the first quarter and then dragged in the second, Fowler never really looked herself.
Frustrated, she gave away more contacts than any other attacking player on the court, and missed shots so routine she surprised even herself. She also took the bait laid out by Poolman, swinging her elbows and throwing her weight around at times, actions that only emboldened the smiling defender, who had a touch of clubmate Toby Greene about her.
Poolman finished with two gains, an intercept, two deflections, a rebound and just three contacts, a rare achievement for a keeper. She was also not penalised for obstruction. Her performance rightfully earned her match MVP.
Her shield Parmenter also had a blinder, banking six gains, a game-high four intercepts and five deflections, two resulting in a gain, surely strengthening her case for the starting WD bib in the Diamonds.
Post-match, a dejected-looking Fowler was shown laying on her back, tossing used tape up in the air and catching up, no doubt contemplating what could have been. Meanwhile, the women in orange revelled in toppling a titan.