February 28, 2024 | Perth Lynx news

Perth Lynx enter the WNBL finals full of confidence and healthy with Aari McDonald’s return sparking their late season resurgence and coach Ryan Petrik is looking forward to challenging the Townsville Fire with distinctive different styles going up against one another.

For so many reasons and it’s a match up to salivate over in the WNBL semi finals starting Thursday night in Townsville before Game 2 comes back to Perth on Sunday afternoon with the Lynx hosting the Fire.

Fascinating match up with Townsville

First of all, it’s a rematch from the semi-finals of last season, where Townsville was able to beat Perth in two games on the way to winning the championship, and now both teams are back in the same position, finishing first and fourth, respectively at the end of WNBL24.

There’s been great change to both teams, though, which is what makes for such a fascinating semi-final series, and that includes former Lynx captain Sami Whitcomb now leading the charge for Townsville up against her old team.

From that championship team last year at Townsville, they no longer have Karlie Samuelson, Tianna Hawkins, Lara McSpadden, Kate Gaze, Shyla Heal and Lauren Nicholson.

However, not only have they added Whitcomb but also Alice Kunek, Amanda Zahui B, Cassandra Brown, Jess McDowell-White and Saffron Shiels, and they’ve again finished on top as a result.

There’s also been great change at the Lynx with Chloe Bibby, Whitcomb, Emma Gandini, Tayah Burrows, Robbi Ryan, Lauren Scherf, Jessie Edwards and Alex Sharp gone from the team a year ago.

However, there has been the addition of new captain and former league MVP Anneli Maley, Aari McDonald, who could well have been this season’s MVP had it not been for a knee injury, and then Miela Goodchild, Steph Gorman, Ash Hannan, Alex Ciabattoni and Emily Potter on top of that.

Throw in the totally different game styles the two teams have and the fact that a Grand Final spot is up for grabs over the next week, and you can understand why Petrik is primed for one of the biggest tests of his coaching career.

While Townsville has won all three meetings between the two teams this season and nine in a row overall, with the Lynx not having won over them since March 18, 2022, Petrik is confident his Perth team will be totally different this series for the Fire to try and overcome.

The first meeting this season was back at Bendat Basketball Centre on November 25, and the eventual 16-point win for the Fire doesn’t tell the story that the Lynx had an 11-point lead in the first half and were right in the contest most of the way.

The other two meetings were back-to-back games up in Townsville either side of the New Year and that’s when the Lynx were first trying to figure things out after the injury to Aari McDonald so it’s hard to read too much into those two losses.

That’s why Petrik has good reason to have plenty of confidence of what the Lynx will be capable of delivering heading into this semi-final match up.

“We also know they’ve seen three very different Perth Lynx teams this season, none of which had us as in sync as we are now,” Petrik said.

“Now we have our Ferrari in Aari back in the lineup, we know we’ve got a weapon that can cause them major problems.”

Different looking Lynx outfit

Having that confidence in what the team is capable of is one thing, but then being able to put it into practice is now the task that begins in Townsville on Thursday night for Game 1.

A good performance there could very well set the Lynx up to close the deal at home on Sunday in front of the home fans with a Grand Final spot on the line. Petrik will be urging his players to come out playing free and embracing the occasion.

“For us, it’s very much the ability to play with freedom and enjoy the situation,” Petrik said.

“Townsville are the defending champs, were the favourites to win it all before a game was even played, and finished top yet again.

“All of the pressure is on them, meaning we can play with a reckless abandon to try and take the favourites down.”

Contrast in styles

Stepping back and taking a look at the match up from an objective point of view, and Petrik can see why it’s a great contrast in styles between the Fire and Lynx for this semi-final series.

From a neutral perspective, that will create for fascinating viewing with Townsville attempting to limit the possessions in the game, slow down the pace and to make it a physical grind while Perth will want to make it a high-tempo, fast paced, quick shooting affair.

“It’s probably the two teams with the most contrasting styles in the league,” he said.

“Townsville are a very methodical, slow it down, surgical type team, who run their patterns and systems better than anyone. Whereas us on the other hand are very fast and chaotic, feast or famine styled offence.”

Trying to stop the defending champs

While the Fire are a somewhat methodical and well-drilled outfit who might not have that same free-wheeling X-factor the Lynx do, that doesn’t make them easier to stop because they are damn hard to stop.

That’s why they are both the defending champions from last season and the regular season champions from this season. Petrik is well aware of the monumental task ahead of the Lynx to reach a second Grand Final in three years.

“Stopping them is easier said than done. They are very well drilled, and know their roles and responsibilities better than anyone,” Petrik said.

“For us it’s about picking our poison; we know they’ve got elite talent all over the floor so we know we can’t stop all of it, but can we force them into certain actions and to certain players and force them to try and beat us.”

Thursday 29 Feb / 4:00PM awst on ESPN

Sunday 3 March / 12:30PM (awst) Bendat Basketball Centre