As she knelt on the floor, embracing her shooting partner Sasha Glasgow after the final whistle of the Super Netball grand final in Perth tonight, relief seemed to wash over Jamaican superstar Jhaniele Fowler.
Fowler, who arrived at West Coast in 2018 having just won a title in New Zealand’s elite competition, had done it. She’d delivered West Australian netball its first piece of silverware in its history.
She was indeed the “Fever redeemer” the green army had hoped she’d be, even if it took five seasons, two coaches and three grand finals to break the 25-year drought with an emphatic 70-59 victory over the Melbourne Vixens.
Fowler – who topped the league for shooting accuracy and volume this season, putting in 871 from 902 at 97% accuracy ahead of the grand final at RAC Arena – shot 58 from 59 attempts to all-but win the game with her own hands in front of more than 13,000 fans.
While the 32-year-old looked uncharacteristically uncomfortable at times in the first half against Vixen keeper Em Mannix, even giving away an offensive contact and a turnover, she still sunk 26 from 27 attempts.
In the second half, after talking to umpires Tara Warner and Jemma Cook about the treatment she was receiving from Mannix and Vixens goal defence Jo Weston, Fowler was flawless, sinking another 32 from 32 to finish with 98% accuracy. She also recorded key four rebounds and a single feed.
In the third Fowler flattened Weston in a bruising contest just inside the goal circle and stepped over her, boxer-like, to retrieve the ball in a move that showed she meant business. Fox Netball commentator Cath Cox described it as a “monstering.”
“We were worried about her not really firing up. Have a look at this! Get out of my way. Jhaniele Fowler is so strong,” Cox exclaimed.
In her first grand final, player of the match goal attack Glasgow certainly did her part too, sinking eight from 13, including four super shots, and fed Fowler beautifully, but it started and ended with 198cm Fowler, who simply couldn’t be stopped or even stalled.
The five-time Super Netball MVP only had 12 from 13 in the first stanza, but combined with a flurry of Courtney Bruce deflections at the other end, it was enough to get Fever a four-goal quarter-time lead.
That lead was never headed by the Vixens, who lost just two games in the home and away season, but stumbled badly in the finals, with a humiliating nine-goal semi-final loss to the Fever followed by almost losing the preliminary to the Giants last week.
With Fever centre Verity Simmons having the better of Kate Moloney in the centre and Liz Watson, widely regarded as the best wing attack in the world faltering, the Fever added 17 more in the second and went into the half-time break up by six.
Despite adding Rahni Samason and former Fever defender Liv Lewis to the mix at different times, Vixens coach Simone McKinnis had no answers for the Fever and the game was over at three-quarter time, with the women in green up by nine.
That was extended in the last, when the Vixens tried a defensive mix-up with saw Weston go to wing defence and Kate Eddy to goal defence, and the home crowd had time to savour the historic win before the siren went.
Fowler – who lives apart from her daughter Drehannah, cared for by family in Jamacia – was almost speechless post-game, the relief palpable.
“Oh my god, I’m filled with emotions, but I’m so happy for this group.”