The Queensland Firebirds welcomed Laura Geitz back to the Brisbane Entertainment Centre in emphatic fashion, with the slaying of the West Coast Fever juggernaut.
As was seen in previous games by other teams, the Firebirds used the tactic of applying hard full-court pressure early to stop Fever’s ball flow over the transverse line. This tactic was used right from the first whistle and paid immediate dividends, with a Gretel Tippett intercept on the transverse line.
The Firebirds played their usual body-on-body style of defence, which the Fever were more than happy to return in kind. The match played out like a game of dominos with nearly all players spending some time on the floorboards.
One particular tussle between Gretel Tippett and Stacey Francis saw Tippett hit the floor with pain-ridden angst all over here face. But the tough Queenslander rallied and continued on – if not slightly gingerly for a few minutes on her left knee.
The knock didn’t hinder her synergy with Romelda Aiken though, with the two shooters finding each other under the post with ease. The one-two combination they displayed last week seemed to strengthen this week and left the Fever defenders scrambling to get their arms up in time.
The Firebirds took an early three goal lead, forcing the visitors to call a time-out only five minutes in to the game. Fever came out of the break with more determined defence which halted the Firebirds’ drive over the transverse and cut-off flow to the circle edge. But the pressure was short lived, with Caitlyn Nevins looking long and launching the ball to Aiken, who was alone under the post.
Hinchliffe played most of the game off her player but was able to take a resounding five intercepts for the match. The first was thanks to a telegraphed pass across caught to Nat Medhurst in the pocket.
Queensland started the second quarter with great full-court pressure and were able to extend their lead. The momentum swung evenly for half of the period, with no team making inroads on the scoreline, before a Firebirds four-goal run and Fever calling another time-out.
Fever brought on Annika Lee-Jones to GK and shifted Bruce and Francis forward. Francis’ instructions to Lee-Jones were to “stay strong”, against the close attention Aiken was paying the Fever rookie. The change didn’t stem the Firebirds flow of goals as they took a five goal lead into the half-time break.
The third term saw a more composed Fever take the court. The errors were tightened, particularly from Verity Charles, who up until that point was responsible for several balls sailing out of court.
Fowler was more comfortable to take some shots from midrange. In fact the Jamaican looked to be having fun on court and was smiling despite wearing lycra-tight defence from Geitz.
There was more see-saw action, until a misplaced elbow from Aiken produced the first turnover of the quarter. Again we saw glimpses of stifling Fever defence which caused congestion through the Firebirds’ attacking end. But the pressure was released thanks to an uncharacteristic fumble and misplaced foot by Francis.
Fever coach Stacey Marinkovich said these pressure releases are areas, “We have got to keep working on it so that we can make sure that next week we reduce our turnovers, get in the contest and make sure that we apply pressure to the opposition.”
Marinkovich, looking for a better return from her goal attack, opted to bench Medhurst and bring on Kaylia Stanton. The move was futile with the Firebirds extending their lead to 11 goals.
In a rare win for the Fever, Lee-Jones and Bruce both went flying for an across-court ball thrown by Tippett, with the captain cleanly taking the ball and sending it down court to be finished off by Fowler.
With the game locked away, the Firebirds eased the pressure as Aiken attempted, and sunk, a shot as she fell out of court – a move she practiced pre-game.
If the game was any indictor, the Firebirds of old are on the return. With their purple hearts on full display, they will look to continue to tighten their grip on the top four against the Magpies in Tasmania next week.
West Coast Fever return home to host the Giants in Round 6, where they have some clear objectives according to Marinkovich, “We have taken a lot out of this game in terms of what we can deliver out there and it has certainly given us some homework to actually look at other areas of the game”
Queensland Firebirds 66 def West Coast Fever 58
(17-16, 35-30, 51-47, 66-58)
Player of the match: Gretel Tippett (Firebirds)
Crowd: 3,837 at Brisbane Entertainment Centre
Aiken 43/48 90%
Tippett 23/25 92%
West Coast Fever
Fowler 45/46 98%
Medhurst 11/14 79%
Stanton 2/2 100%
Tara Hinchliffe (Firebirds) 5
Jess Anstis (Fever) 3
Laura Geitz (Firebirds) 2
Stacey Francis (Fever) 2
Gretel Tippett (Firebirds) 26
Nat Medhurst (Fever) 21
Mahalia Cassidy (Firebirds) 14
Courtney Bruce (Fever) 25
Laura Geitz (Firebirds) 22
Annika Lee-Jones (Fever) 19
GS Romelda Aiken
GA Gretel Tippett
WA Caitlyn Nevins
C Mahalia Cassidy
WD Gabi Simpson
GD Tara Hinchliffe
GK Laura Geitz
West Coast Fever
GS Jhaniele Fowler
GA Nat Medhurst
WA Ingrid Colyer
C Verity Charles
WD Jess Anstiss
GD Stacey Francis
GK Courtney Bruce
Umpires: Michelle Phippard and Joshua Bowring
A look at…
Battle of the Sunshine Girls
The battle of the Sunshine Girls was one of the most anticipated spectacles of Round 5 and it did not disappoint. Romelda Aiken and Jhaniele Fowler played their trademark aerial games to perfection. The difference came with the other components of their game: Aiken has been adding more movement to her play this season, whereas Fowler relies on her height and feeders to get her the ball. Aiken’s options outside the circle won out and was the game changer for the Firebirds.
The physical match-up between Gretel Tippett and Courtney Bruce (once she moved to goal defence) was riveting. Both players were evenly matched for speed and agility, and both didn’t pull back on the hard-hitting first-ball contest. The only way these two quality performers could be differentiated was in Tippett’s ball delivery – she relied on her jump passes to fire the ball in to the circle which proved unstoppable for Bruce.
The other match-up of interest was between Caitlyn Nevins and Stacey Francis (in wing defence). You could be forgiven for thinking that Francis would win this contest based on her imposing physical presence and ability to muscle onto the ball, but Nevins held her own in many contests for the ball. There was no clear winner in this contest: it was just fantastic to witness.
What they said
Mahalia Cassidy, Queensland Firebirds
What was your strategy going into today’s match?
“We weren’t very happy with how we performed last week, so our strategy today was to go back to playing our Firebird’s brand. That is just the hard drives down, working the ball all the way to the edge of the circle and just making sure that those feeds are safe to Diddy and Gretel and not putting them under pressure. In defence, it is obviously hard with Fowler down the back so it was putting as much pressure as we can and hopefully capitalising on the turnovers that we did get.”
On the full court defence
“Caity (Nevins) and Gretel (Tippett) have such a presence in defence and that has been something that is so great for us. They managed to get a few tips and intercepts and that is just precious ball that we can get and turnover and push that lead out.”
How do you combat the slow ball over your attacking transverse line?
“The main thing was that we had to keep taking those drives. And when we do that we just open up so much space and we still have the backup with Gabi and Tara at the back, so we have to take those drives and then we will have no issue getting the ball down the court.”
You have another tough game next week against Magpies, what is your strategy there?
“We just concentrate on ourselves. We play the game we did today. We continue to play good netball, be fearless in defence and just be absolute mongrels out there and get as much ball as we can and really capitalising on that.”
Stacey Marinkovich, West Coast Fever coach
How do you prepare for such a physical game?
“The competitiveness and the athleticism is always there at training, so we are prepared to come in to that sort of environment for game day”
What was your thoughts in bringing Annika on?
“In preseason we worked that combination quite well. It gives us diversity and it gives us that little bit of extra height in the circle. I think it paid dividends early on. We got a couple of quick balls back. It is about testing our depth and what variations we’ve got.”
“She is a young, young athlete. The game is very quick and I think she will keep growing with the speed of game just by experience. I think she held her own against a very experienced attacking lineup who work very well and in-sync with each other. So to get a few deflections and to get some balls, it shows that we have someone else to go to.”
Do you think your game is starting to become predictable?
“I think everyone has the same (defensive) philosophy. I guess when you have a tall shooter out the back, you want to put a whole lot of pressure throughout the court and the Firebirds did a very good job of that tonight. I don’t think we are too predictable. We do have some variation and I think we strayed away from what we wanted to deliver in our game plan. That is just something we have to work out: what caused that and rectify it.”
You take on the Giants next week, how do you prepare for them?
“We just keep building our game. And being consistent. That is what this whole competition is all about. We got one quarter out there, so it shows that we can deliver under that type of pressure.”
What was your plan in putting Kaylia out on?
“Again just another variation. She is a very good goal attack. She provides a lot of movement. She has got some height out there in terms of the ball release and is dynamic and provides a different type of movement to what Nat offers. It is just adding that variation.
Images: Simon Leonard