Melbourne Vixens have claimed an emotion-charged victory in the Super Netball decider, withstanding a last-quarter fightback from West Coast Fever to triumph 66-64.
The two-goal victory was a perfect send off for Australian netball great Caitlin Thwaites and Tegan Philip, who had announced they would retire at the end of the campaign.
The Vixens survived a thrilling finish to clinch their maiden crown at Brisbane’s Nissan Arena.
With the Fever in possession and trailing by one with a minute remaining, Vixens defenders Jo Weston and Emily Mannix pulled down a massive rebound after goal attack Alice Teague-Neeld missed a shot.
They held possession until the final seconds when grand final MVP Mwai Kumwenda slotted her 47th goal of the match to seal an emotional win.
Kayo is your ticket to the best sport streaming Live & On-Demand. New to Kayo? Get your 14-day free trial & start streaming instantly >
With senior players Thwaites and Philip retiring and the team dedicating the win to the people of Victoria in their COVID-enforced lockdown, there was plenty of emotion for the Vixens, who won their first premiership since the Trans-Tasman trophy of 2014 and their first Super Netball title.
Thwaites finished with 16 points, including three super shots and was thrilled after the win.
“I don’t even think it’s sunk in yet but holy crap, that was right down to the wire,” an emotional Thwaites said after the win.
“But we’d played out all those scenarios, we knew exactly what to do. I’m just so proud to be a part of this club.
“We really hope that you guys back home (in Victoria), we’ve brought some light to you guys, we know it’s been really, really hard had for you and we can’t wait to get home.
“We’re giving you all a big hug.”
The match was played in front of 2061 fans, who were heavily supporting the Vixens.
Coach Simone McKinnis said: “I feel relieved and I feel exhilarated and I feel everything in between.”
“The Fever were outstanding all game.
“It’s been one of the toughest seasons in every way possible and I knew that we wanted to be the toughest competitors in this competition.
“I’m super proud of the Vixens, I’m super proud of anyone who supported us along the way and I hope it’s been the start of a couple of grand final wins for Victoria over the next couple of weeks.”
The match was a clash between the best attacking team, in the Fever, and the best defensive outfit, the Vixens.
The Vixens’ full-court defensive press did not pay immediate dividends but wore down the Fever players, who started to turn over some ball late in the match as the tide turned.
In a huge pre-match boost for the Vixens, Kate Eddy was named in the starting seven after overcoming a foot injury that kept her out of the semi-final.
The wing defence was outstanding, lasting until the final minutes of the match in an effort that helped her team seal the match.
The Fever led by a single goal at quarter-time and again at the long break after reining in a Vixens lead.
The Vixens took a three-goal lead to the final break though after winning the term 18-14 but they unable to break away totally, the Fever drawing level again early in the final period before the match came down to the wire.
The best goal shooter in the world, the Fever’s Jhaniele Fowler headed into the match averaging almost 57 goals per game and was the focus of the Fever attack, finishing with 56 goals on Sunday.
But it was the Vixens’ Malawian shooter Kumwenda, a star in her own right and had an outstanding game against Fever captain and goalkeeper Courtney Bruce.
Kumwenda finished with 47 goals, fed brilliantly by her midcourters Liz Watson and Kate Maloney, the Vixens co-captains who later hoisted the Super Netball trophy.
MELBOURNE VIXENS 66 (Kumwenda 47, Thwaites 16, Philip 3)
WEST COAST FEVER 64 (Fowler 56, Teague-Neeld 8)
MORE SPORT NEWS:
MORE PAIN TO COME FOR FEVER AFTER GRAND FINAL LOSS
Heartbroken West Coast Fever players face further turmoil over the next fortnight, with many players and staff heading home to 14 days of quarantine after their Super Netball grand final loss.
The Fever lost a thrilling final to the Melbourne Vixens 66-64 in Brisbane on Sunday, with the match decided only in the final seconds, leaving West Coast players shattered after coming within an ace of a maiden Super Netball title.
But after more than 12 weeks away from home, living in a hub in Queensland due to COVID-enforced restrictions on the season, many Fever players face further emotional turmoil when they arrive back in Western Australia on Monday.
Those who do not have access to a separate bathroom and bedroom in which to quarantine at home face two weeks alone in a hotel in Perth to dwell on what coach Stacey Marinkovich called a “gut-wrenching” grand final loss.
“We’ve got to go back into isolation when we go back and I don’t think anyone actually comprehends what that’s going to feel like when you’ve come off the back of a grand final,” Fever coach Stacey Marinkovich said.
“Some of our girls will go back into hotels for two weeks by themselves, so it’s incredibly tough and it hasn’t finished yet for us.”
The Fever’s grand final opponents, the Melbourne Vixens had been in the Queensland hub for more than 90 days after having to quarantine for two weeks ahead of the season start but will not be forced to isolate again when they return home.
“I have full respect for what the Vixens have done and what all teams have done in making the move to Queensland but we’ve still got two weeks to go before our season closes off and it’s hard,” Marinkovich said.
“But I also understand that what’s happening elsewhere is even harder.”
The new Diamonds coach, Marinkovich and players Courtney Bruce, Jess Anstiss and Verity Charles will remain in Queensland for a national team camp next week before returning to Perth.
Marinkovich said she was incredibly proud of her players despite the loss, with little separating the sides in a high-quality decider.
“The quality of the game was so high that I can’t pin point one moment (where it was lost), because I don’t think there were huge momentum swings,” she said.
“I’m just so incredibly proud of our girls, Vixens had been the form team of the season but the way in which we have taken every challenge, you just know the girls have done everything in their preparation, their performance and their support of one another.
“That’s the way sport is, there’s got to be a winner and a runner-up and we fell just short.”
LEGEND’S FITTING FAREWELL
More than 30 minutes after the final whistle, Caitlin Thwaites joked the colour of her face showed she had left everything on court in the final match of an 18-year national league career.
The Melbourne veteran capped her 232-game stint by helping the Vixens to a maiden Super Netball premiership with a thrilling 66-64 win over West Coast Fever in Brisbane on Sunday, adding the title to the Commonwealth Bank Trophy national league title she won with the club in 2009.
The former Diamonds shooter may have trailed teammate and grand final MVP Mwai Kumwenda (47 goals) on the scoresheet but she played a key role in the Vixens’ win, nailing a crucial super shot with less than three minutes remaining to break a 61-61 deadlock and help her side edge towards victory.
Thwaites said her ability to compartmentalise – something she learnt early in her career – helped on Sunday as she focussed on her job rather than the emotion of her final game.
“I’ve always known that I’ve had a really good ability to compartmentalise and that’s been through managing my mental health and being able to switch off and cross the line and go, ‘I’ve got a job to do’,” she said.
“This year hasn’t been any different in terms of that, there’s been so much, even in terms of the retirement (call) and the reason that happened early was because we wanted to draw a line in the sand and say, that’s one thing but we’ve still got a job to do and we want to move on and be able to execute.
“That’s been at the forefront of our minds and that ability to compartmentalise definitely came into play today so I could do what I needed to do – shoulders back, take on the battle.”
A goal shooter for much of her career, Thwaites has played at goal attack for the Vixens for most of this season and has been outstanding.
“I think we’ve just embraced the roles that we’ve had to play this year and having a different challenge this year and to be able to embrace that has been awesome,” she said.
“I’m super, super proud and there’s no better moments than these and they bond us for life.
“There will be moments of emotion that will spill over in the next little bit.
“But I couldn’t be prouder of what this team has overcome to get here and I think unless you’ve been a part of it and known the ins and outs, it’s a pretty incredible feat to have gotten this far this year.”