Fever coach Stacey Marinkovich ignores critics ahead of Super Netball grand final

When Stacey Marinkovich was named Australia Diamonds coach in late August, it came as a surprise to some.

Australian netball great Liz Ellis asked how a coach with no international playing experience, or even a domestic title to her name, beat a field which included a candidate with both of those credentials.

On Sunday, Marinkovich has the opportunity to put one of those critiques to bed, when her West Coast Fever side faces the Melbourne Vixens in the Super Netball Grand Final.

She maintains, however, that is the furthest thing from her mind.

“When I’m around this group, it’s all about the Fever, it’s all about our brand, the relationships we’re building,” Marinkovich said.

“This isn’t about me on Sunday, this is about our collective and how hard we’ve worked to be able to get out there and perform.

Vixens coach Simone McKinnis was the early favourite to take the Diamonds’ role, but said the snub would not serve as extra motivation for her in the grand final.

“Absolutely not,” she said.

“Stacey’s the Diamonds coach, and well earned, [she’s a] quality coach and quality person.

“Once that process was done, my focus was absolutely with the Vixens and that’s all irrelevant to me now.”

Fever embraces history

While a win would go some way to vindicating her appointment to the top job, it would also deliver silverware to a starved WA supporter base, which has watched a side, in its many incarnations, struggle to be a force in the numerous national netball competitions it has been a part of.

Since joining the then-named National Netball League in 1997, the Fever (previously the Perth Orioles) has featured in just one Grand Final — the heartbreaking 2018 loss to the Sunshine Coast Lightning at Perth Arena.

The club has embraced its history, wearing an Orioles-inspired retro dress in its final regular season match against the Adelaide Thunderbirds.

Fever captain Courtney Bruce grew up watching the Orioles, and experienced firsthand the hard slog as a fan when she attended matches at Challenge Stadium.

“It’s special that I’ve now had the opportunity to play and I think it’s even more special that we get the opportunity to wear our retro-dress and pay respect to players of the past,” she said.

Three Super Netball teammates get set to bump fists in celebration after a goal.Three Super Netball teammates get set to bump fists in celebration after a goal.
Fever captain Courtney Bruce (left) grew up watching the Perth Orioles.(AAP: Darren England)

It’s a sentiment echoed by Marinkovich.

“What we’ve got to do is bring that within our group and bring it close together so that when we perform, then we get the outcome of being able to inspire and make the rest of our community proud.”

Sunday shaping up as a thriller

The Fever’s recent record against the Vixens is anything but flattering.

They have not beaten the Melbourne side in two years, with their best result a draw in round 10 of this season.

That being said, a direct comparison between the sides over their past 10 matches suggests there is little separating the two sides.

Both have eight wins, one loss and a draw (against each other).

The Fever is the highest scoring team in Super Netball, by a large margin, thanks mainly to the dominance of Jamaican Jhaniele Fowler who has scored 910 goals this season, 327 more than any other player.

Jhaniele Fowler leaps with the ball near the goal post.Jhaniele Fowler leaps with the ball near the goal post.
The Fever’s Jhaniele Fowler has scored more than 900 goals this season.(AAP: Darren England)

But the Perth side will need to find a way past the Vixens’ tight defence, with the Victorians conceding the least goals in the league this season.

The Vixens have also been riding an emotional wave into the decider, and have drawn on the difficulties facing Victorians during the coronavirus pandemic.

“Only if you’re from Victoria do you understand what it’s like at the moment and how hard it has been,” coach Simone McKinnis said.

“We left Melbourne when it was heading into its worst period of lockdown and obviously our family and friends are still there.

“Anything we can take back is a positive, so we are doing it for them.”

Simone McKinnis speaks while standing in the middle of four Vixens playersSimone McKinnis speaks while standing in the middle of four Vixens players
Melbourne Vixens head coach Simone McKinnis says only Victorians know how hard it has been during the coronavirus pandemic.(AAP: Albert Perez)

They will also be farewelling two of the games greats, with Tegan Philip and Caitlin Thwaites announcing their retirement.

Whatever happens on Sunday, there will be a fairytale finish to the season for one of the teams — and the Fever is just hoping it’s theirs.