The WNBL has axed one of its grand final referees on the eve of the championship-deciding match at the AIS Arena, but the Canberra Capitals insist they have moved on from the game-two drama.
Keen to avoid a stoush with match officials, the Capitals say they have narrowed their focus to a tense game-three contest against the Adelaide Lightning on Saturday night.
The match will be played in front of a full AIS Arena, with only 200 standing-room tickets left and the Capitals releasing 44 Hollywood-style courtside tickets on Friday night.
The lead-up to the biggest game in Canberra in more than a decade has been dominated by controversial decisions in a heartbreaking 74-73 Adelaide win on Wednesday.
Referee Vanessa Devlin has been left out of the three-person team to take charge of the decider after being involved in the first two games.
But Canberra officials privately hope the saga will be forgotten at tip-off to avoid an ugly scenes and are urging their fans to focus their support on the players.
Capitals coach Paul Goriss has been trying to reignite his team, confident they can get back to their best and erase the memory of earlier this week.
"It’s taken a while [to get over game two]. I had all of yesterday to pout, sulk and watch the game three times over," Goriss said.
"I woke up [on Thursday] with a fresh mind and a new outlook. I’m the leader of this group and I’ve got to make sure I’m positive.
"[The players] are positive and in an upbeat way, we know we can finish this, we know we’re better than what we showed on Wednesday night in a one-point game. It’s a new outlook, fresh day, fresh situation, and to be back at home, there is no better feeling."
The WNBL will review its refereeing process and investment in technology at the end of the season, with the commission likely table an option for an instant replay system for all finals matches.
But the drama has added an extra edge to the Capitals sparking renewed interest in Canberra. They played in front of a sell-out crowd in game one and tickets were snapped up in less than 24 hours for game three.
The clash against Adelaide comes almost 20 years after Carrie Graf and Lauren Jackson led Canberra to its first WNBL championship, coincidentally also against Adelaide.
Graf, who now oversees the Capitals program for the University of Canberra, said beating Adelaide again could be the rebirth of a dynasty.
"It's been a massive turnaround for us on and off the court," Graf said. "That's not by fluke, that's by design. Credit to [Goriss] and the quality of roster we've got is full of talent, and full of character.
"Canberra's like a lot of sporting cities, they love a winner. The Capitals, in a way, started that women's sport movement in Canberra and to be back, it's nice to come full circle."
The Capitals had made the play-offs just once in 14 years when Graf arrived to coach the team in 1999. She grabbed Lauren Jackson, Shelley Sandie and some young guns to form a championship-winning roster.
The Capitals won seven of the next 11 championships, including six with Graf behind the steering wheel, but failed to make the finals from 2011-18.
"There's real similarities. Compare Kelsey Griffin to Shelley Sandie - you couldn't get two players with a better work ethic, that understand their team and are humble," Graf said.
"The young talent. Lauren was a superstar young talent, but Kia Nurse is a superstar young talent now. The bench players as well ... they're quality, quality human beings in both teams then and now. You can see the chemistry and you can see the belief.
"I've said to people this is the start of a new dynasty. You can just feel it."
WNBL GRAND FINAL
Saturday: Game three - Canberra Capitals v Adelaide Lightning at AIS Arena, 5pm. Limited standing room tickets are available from Ticketek.
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