With the last Suncorp Super Netball (SSN) game having been played in Brisbane over six months ago, and the Commonwealth Games still seven weeks away, local netball fans were eager to see high-intensity netball. Their wish was granted over the weekend with two SSN teams, teeming with international netball talent, taking the court in a preseason hit-out.
Queensland Firebirds: Romelda Aiken, Gretel Tippett, Caitlyn Nevins, Mahalia Cassidy, Gabi Simpson, Laura Clemesha, Jemma Mi Mi, Kimberley Jenner, Tara Hinchliffe, Maddison Hinchliffe, Amy Somerville.
Absent: Laura Geitz (both games – leave), Mahalia Cassidy (game 2 – medical)
Melbourne Vixens: Mwai Kumwenda, Tegan Philip, Liz Watson, Kate Moloney, Chloe Watson, Jo Weston, Emily Mannix, Emma Ryde, Kadie-Ann Dehaney, Khao Watts, Jacqui Newton, Tayla Honey.
WHAT HAPPENED ON COURT?
With Laura Geitz unavailable for this weekend’s games and Mahalia Cassidy being match managed following her ACL injury, the Firebirds used this game as a chance to experiment with some new combinations. They started the game with an untested pair in the defensive circle, in Kimberley Jenner and Tara Hinchcliffe. Both players were impressive in their time on court, each getting their hands to the ball on numerous occasions.
Firebirds training partner, Amy Somerville, combined well with Gretel Tippett in the shooting circle, shooting at 100% in her 15 minutes of court time. At centre, Jemma Mi Mi made an impact, picking the pocket of Vixen Liz Watson. Romelda Aiken looked shaky on the shot early on in the game, however, found her groove in the second half, even pleasing the home crowd with a layup.
The Vixens showcased their usual precision passes and drive to the top of the circle. Liz Watson and Kate Moloney were both standouts, finding circle edge easy. The Vixens also used this pre-season hit out as an opportunity to give game experience to their bench, with all players taking the court at some stage during the game. Kadie-Ann Dehaney showed that she is a contender for more court time this season, with an impressive 30 minutes against fellow Jamaican, Romelda Aiken. Tegan Philip caused some headaches for the Firebirds defenders by showing that she is comfortable to put shots up from anywhere in the circle.
The Firebirds showed their trademark tenacity and put up a good fight in the last quarter. However, the Vixens withstood the onslaught by showing patience and treasuring possession.
Melbourne Vixens 63 def Queensland Firebirds 57
(17-17, 36-28, 49-42, 63-57)
Aiken 28/31 90%
Tippett 23/31 74%
Somerville 6/6 100%
Kumwenda 18/19 95%
Philip 31/37 84%
Ryde 14/19 74%
Vixens came out of the blocks firing on Sunday. Their game was fast and passes precise. Again, Kate Moloney and Liz Watson found the circle edge all too easy. Emily Mannix was impressive in defence until a tough mid-air collision with Romelda Aiken saw her spend the rest of the game on the bench icing her head. Vixens showed their unity and exhibited some great teamwork, with several players scrambling for each loose ball.
The Firebirds were caught behind the play on several occasions, resulting in calls of “come to the ball” from captain Gabi Simpson. There were signs of brilliance from the Firebirds in the form of clean intercepts from Laura Clemesha and Simpson. Caitlyn Nevins was also impressive during her runs at centre and wing attack, with consistent drives to the ball and excellent down court vision to her shooters.
Gretel Tippett had a much cleaner outing, which showed in a higher accuracy on the shot. Sunday’s game also saw the debut of Madi Hinchcliffe at centre. Her defensive combination with twin-sister, Tara, built well over the course of the second half.
Game two was less-scrappy, but both teams still struggled to find consistent, clean passages of play.
Melbourne Vixens 62 def Queensland Firebirds 51
(18-13, 34-26, 47-41, 62-51)
Aiken 18/27 67%
Tippett 23/28 82%
Somerville 10/12 83%
Kumwenda 15/16 94%
Philip 32/41 78%
Ryde 15/21 71%
WHAT WE LEARNT
Consistency is key
After the games, both captains flagged consistency as one of the main areas for improvement. While the Vixens did play far more consistent games than the Firebirds, they still had areas for improvement, particularly in the defence end. The Firebirds, on the other hand, had fairly tight defensive pressure for much of both games, however, were not able to capitalise on turnovers.
Cassidy is the Firebirds’ missing cog
In the one quarter she was on court, Mahalia Cassidy showed that she is an essential part of the Firebirds lineup. She was the vital link between the defence and attack ends, finding space and providing backup at crucial times. Her link with captain Gabi Simpson in the defence end was noticeable and will be something to watch across the 2018 SSN season.
Vixens ‘family’ mentality may be the key to their success in the 2018 SSN season
Both Kate Moloney and Jo Weston spoke of the family feels within the Vixens camp, and both attribute this mentality to the unity displayed on court.
Weston: “You can see out on court with Kadie in the defence circle when she’s playing with either Em or myself, we try to be as supportive as possible.”
Moloney: “It is really all about family at the Vixens. We love playing together. We work hard for each other. That’s what we want to do. We want to get out on court and really support and back each other up”.
The one-percenters count
Both teams gave up a lot of possession to ‘coach killer’ errors, particularly in the first game. Both games were scattered with calls for stepping, breaking, short passes and replays. This is an area of play which both teams highlight needs improvement leading into the SSN season.
Romelda Aiken is adding more to her game
While she didn’t put out a stellar shooting performance in the second game, Romelda Aiken did show that she is adding more features to her game. During both games, she was on the move and created space for her shooting partners. She also provided crucial defensive pressure which resulted in a clean intercept in game two. Her feeds into Tippett and Somerville were also precise. If she keeps this up during the SSN season, she will provide more headaches for defenders.
Watson is lethal
We have known for a while that Liz Watson is one of the best, if not THE best, wing attacks in the world. However, during this weekend’s matches, she showed just how crucial she is to the Vixens’ line up, by not only feeding well to her shooters but by combining well with Philip in particular. Watson’s screens on the transverse line and around the circle edge confused space for the Firebirds’ defenders and allowed Philip to gain clean entry into the shooting circle. It is clear that her time spent in the Diamonds environment has added another weapon to her already impressive arsenal.
#twinchliffe is a thing
Firebirds recruits, Tara and Maddison Hinchliffe, relished their court time together and are ‘obsessed’ with the nickname fans have given them. As they gain more court time, in the coming years, we expect #twinchliffe will grow in popularity.
WHAT THEY SAID
“We need to improve those patches where we got great momentum and then those patches where we lost momentum. We are really going to have to look at that. So, today (game one) was all about us and looking at what we can do tomorrow to improve those patches and make them more consistent.”
“In my opinion preseason is only just getting started. These next few games that we have in preseason will really improve our preparation for game day one against the Swifts. So, we need to continue to build. This is just the start.”
On Mahalia’s return to the court and rotating positions in the mid-court.
“Mahalia has had a really long road of getting herself back, and it was just so beautiful to see her out there and playing so well. Last year when she went down we found that we hadn’t really created the depth in that centre court. So, these preseason games are about making sure that every player is ready so that when it comes Round One we can use every player’s strengths and get them out on court so that we have the versatility and so that we can play the full games with the strengths we’ve got.”
On improving from last year
“We were minor premiers last year, but I think it showed in the end that what we were producing wasn’t quite good enough. So, we know that we’ve got a lot to work on in this preseason.”
On consistency for four quarters
“It is about working on that consistency for us, and I think today (game one) we showed we were really good in some quarters and dropped off in others. So, it is just about maintaining that intensity for four quarters and showing that we can build and maintain pressure the whole time.”
Playing at WD in the Vixens dress
“It was the first time in a long time at WD for the Vixens. I have had a few hit-outs (at WD) for the Diamonds at the squad camps, but it was nice to mix it up. It’s nice to have a bit of a run at wing attack as well which I have been doing a bit of at training. It just keeps it fresh and fun, and I love mixing it up.”
On being back on court after her ACL injury
“It was so fantastic. I was so excited to get out there and get amongst the action. I feel like I have been sitting and watching it for so long. I was excited to get back in amongst it all and do what I love. It was just great to get out on court and give it my all for 15 minutes.”
On managing her load
“It’s all about managing my gameplay and each week I will add more. I started with a quarter today and am only starting with one game a week to decrease the risk until I am fully back into it.”
On the difference between gameplay and training
“We have been doing a lot of match scenarios at training, and it will take me a lot of match play to get me back to where I was in terms of match fitness. It is hard to replicate it during training. I was very tired. I look forward to getting it back.”
On the physicality of the match
“With the Firebirds attacking end you, sort of, come to expect it a little bit. I think it definitely went up a notch in the third quarter (of the second game). For us especially, we aren’t happy, we got scrappy across the court. And I think with that, comes a loss of body control and things like that. For us, we always play a really tight one-on-one, so a bit of physicality and contact is a part of that. We just try to work that to the rules and adjust to the umpires and from there we aren’t afraid to get into a little contest. Especially with someone like Romelda, they are going to score the goals anyway, so we need to at least be contesting out the front and in the circle.”
On the importance of playing these matches against import players, especially leading into the Commonwealth Games
“Personally, I think it is great to have a bit of match play because as an Australian group we haven’t had any test matches against Jamaica over the last few years. So, I guess, it’s a good to have a bit of a look at. Though their dynamic will be quite different to this, because with Grets and Romelda, for example, they have quite a strong relationship. So it will be interesting to see how they look in their own national team.”
On the things which can be learnt from these two games
“The takeaways from these two games is we struggled to be consistent. We also need to be harder at the ball. I think that is still coming”
On the importance of preseason games
“These practice games are immensely important. They are fantastic. Having two games back-to-back is a really tough gig. Yesterday’s match play was quality, today’s was a drop-off and you saw that in the sloppiness on court in play.”
On the expected dynamic in the defensive end with Laura Geitz returning to the team
“We have lots of versatility, but it will be all about performance – who is training really well. We can put Geitzy back there obviously. She has that hardened experience that we need there. Then you have Kim and Tara, that youth. I think that we have a number of different combinations that you can run there. At this particular stage, it is just about seeing how all of the practice games unfold and see who is performing really well.”
How to prepare for a physical game
“It’s the Australian style of contest, hard one-on-one. It is about being able to take the hits and being able to control the ball at the same time. I think both teams fought it out hard against one another. We trained for that, but we have to be better at it (taking the contest).”
On Firebirds being behind play in defence
“For the majority of the time we are able to get hands up. But other times it was about reading the play. Now that we have played on them, we need to make better decisions on being able to choose when to stay in that circle, so that fast break doesn’t come out. And that is just about working together.”