West Coast Fever have booked a second grand final appearance and ended the Sunshine Coast Lightning’s dynasty with a 73-59 preliminary final triumph.
The Lightning have won two titles and contested three grand finals since their 2017 debut but their stunning sequence ended at USC Stadium when the Fever qualified for next Sunday’s season climax against the Melbourne Vixens in Brisbane.
Sunshine Coast captain Laura Langman has already announced her international retirement and her duel with Fever co-captain Verity Charles may be the Silver Ferns titan’s last sighting at national league level.
Charles outplayed the World Cup-winning New Zealand captain with a mighty performance at both ends of the court.
An ever-humble Langman refused to let her possible swansong steal the headlines off an outstanding Fever effort.
“I think I’ll just get over this knife in the guts first,” the champion midcourter said when asked about her 2021 intentions.
Charles wasn’t the only hero, with Fever teammates Emma Cosh and Alice Teague-Neeld outrunning and out-feeding their direct opponents.
And spearhead Jhaniele Fowler was the focal point with 60 goals from 62 attempts.
“I’m so proud of the girls. Each game we’ve come and built,” Cosh said.
While Langman’s future is uncertain, it was a disappointing finish for the Lightning’s Jacqui Russell who had a fine second-half cameo in her final career game.
The Fever conceded the most goals of any of the finalists during the regular season – more than seventh placed Adelaide – but it was their defence that set the context for the preliminary final.
Jess Anstiss, Stacey Francis and Courtney Bruce restricted the home side to a combined nine scoring attempts in the first quarter.
Young Lightning shooter Cara Koenen would ordinarily do that on her own.
As fiercely as the Lightning responded, the pressure they faced forced them into almost twice as many first-half turnovers as their opponents.
With the win effectively sealed by three-quarter time, West Coast handed young centre Courtney Kruta a debut in the final term.
Q1: Lightning 12 v Fever 21
Q2: Lightning 11 v Fever 18
Q3: Lightning 18 v Fever 20
Q4: Lightning 18 v Fever 14
Nissan Player of The Match – Emma Cosh (West Coast Fever)
Lightning shooting statistics
Cara Koenen: Total points – 14 G1 14/14 (100%) G2 0/0 (0%)
Steph Wood: Total points – 29 G1 13/17 (76%) G2 8/12 (67%)
Peace Proscovia: Total points – 16 G1 16/18 (89%) G2 0/0 (0%)
Fever shooting statistics
Jhaniele Fowler: Total points – 60 G1 60/61 (98%) G2 0/1 (0%)
Alice Teague-Neeld: Total points – 13 G1 7/14 (50%) G2 3/4 (75%)
Lightning starting seven: GS – Cara Koenen GA – Steph Wood WA – Laura Scherian C – Laura Langman WD – Maddy McAuliffe GD – Karla Pretorius GK – Phumza Maweni
Fever starting seven: GS – Jhaniele Fowler GA – Alice Teague-Neeld WA – Emma Cosh C – Verity Charles WD – Jess Anstiss GD – Stacey Francis GK – Courtney Bruce