Crucial round as season reaches half-way mark

Vixens-Swifts
We’ve reached the half-way mark of the ANZ Championship and this latest round could play a major role in shaping the Australian Conference ladder.

The top-placed Queensland Firebirds head across the country to take on West Coast Fever (third) in Perth on Saturday afternoon while traditional rivals Melbourne Vixens (fourth) and NSW Swifts (second) face off at Hisense Arena on Sunday.

Fever is back home after a fortnight on the road in New Zealand and will be eager to snap the Firebirds 19-game winning streak.

While Fever was the last team to beat the Firebirds – in the opening round of last season – the reigning champions will go into the match knowing they took the points on their last visit to Perth in Round 10 last year.

The Firebirds have suffered a blow with goal attack Gretel Tippett ruled out with an ankle injury suffered in last week’s win over the Northern Mystics.

Her absence means youngsters Chelsea Lemke – who impressed on her debut last round after replacing Tippett – or Beryl Friday will come into the starting line-up.

A victory will see the Firebirds’ coach Roselee Jencke become the most successful coach in the history of the ANZ Championship.

Jencke is currently equal with former Adelaide Thunderbirds coach Jane Woodlands-Thompson on 70 wins. Both have two championships in their CV’s.

Vixens will be watching the result of Saturday’s match closely, knowing they can move into third spot on the ladder if Fever lose and they can claim victory over the Swifts. They also have a game in hand on Fever.

But they’ll have to defy history – only once in eight meetings have the Vixens beaten their Sydney rivals in Melbourne.

The 2016 winner of the Sargeant-McKinnis Cup will be decided on Sunday.

It’s the annual trophy both teams play for, named after NSW legend Anne Sargeant and Victorian legend Simone McKinnis, the current Vixens coach.

It’s currently in the Swifts’ hands and they won the first encounter between the two sides, in the opening round, by 15 goals in Sydney – meaning the Vixens need to win by 16 goals to claim the trophy for the first time since 2014.

Both teams are coming off convincing wins last round – the Swifts thrashed Central Pulse by 38 goals in Sydney while the Vixens celebrated captain Madi Robinson’s 100th game with a 21-goal win over the Tactix in Christchurch.

The Adelaide Thunderbirds have the bye.

But there’s finally been some good news for the winless Thunderbirds with defender Amy Steel resuming training – albeit on a modified program – while she continues her recovery from glandular fever.