A struggling Adelaide Thunderbirds side were handed their biggest loss of the season when they hosted the Queensland Firebirds for Round 7 of Suncorp Super Netball.
The ferocious Firebirds came out with a point to prove after last week’s loss to the Magpies and did not skip a beat, taking the game by 24 goals. Queensland’s pressure was relentless from start to finish and numerous errors from the Thunderbirds left the home side utterly exposed.
Coming off last round’s close encounter with the NSW Swifts, the home crowd were hopeful to see Adelaide gain their first win of the season, but it was not to be. After a tight first quarter, the Firebirds ran away with it, leaving Thunderbirds coach Dan Ryan disappointed.
Post-game, the frustrated coach said his side had taken a “massive step backwards” after six weeks of steady improvement.
“Today was not a building block, it was an absolute stumbling block and we have no one else to blame but ourselves,” he said.
“Part of it is about brilliant opposition pressure, but also recklessness in the way we play the game.”
Another slow start put them in chase mode once again, but, thanks to a strong defensive effort and great movement from Charlee Hodges in goal attack, they managed to hold on.
Former Firebird Kate Shimmin got the crowd out of their seats with an impressive block over the Firebirds’ 196cm star shooter in Romelda Aiken, allowing the Thunderbirds to go up 11-10 with three minutes to go.
With the Thunderbirds threatening to steal the bonus point in the final minutes, Firebirds coach Rosalee Jencke called an urgent time out. Back on court, a fumble from Pitman saw momentum swing the way of the Firebirds and the Thunderbirds’ chance of a bonus point slip away. Queensland took the first quarter 15-12, leaving the sell-out home crowd deflated.
Defensive effort from the Thunderbirds was intense from the get go but the connection between goal attack Gretel Tippett and Aiken held strong through the pressure.
Once again, Pitman struggled to find Nelson at the post as Hodges played beyond her years shooting 8 from 11 in the first half and being a strong option for the Thunderbirds in attack. In the second, decision-making and unforced errors let Adelaide down and the Firebirds were sure to make them pay.
At half time Queensland led 31-23, which asked a lot of the Thunderbirds to claw their way back into the game in the second half.
Tippet showed off her basketball background with multiple lay ups and jump shots, while Aiken struggled with accuracy, shooting 46 from 61 attempts at 75 per cent.
Crowd favourite Hannah Petty came on at the half way point of the third and had an immediate impact with an intercept.
Sadly for the Tbirds, it was a rare moment of success for the quarter as the girls in purple pulled away to take the third 17 goals to 10. In response, Dan Ryan made two crucial changes heading into the final term.
After a quiet third quarter from Hodges, she was replaced by impact goal attack Abigail Latu-Meafou and South African recruit Bongiwe Msomi came off the bench to replace Kaitlyn Bryce in centre.
Firebirds captain Gabi Simpson stuck to Chelsea Pitman like glue the entire game, wearing her down and forcing errors while Diamonds goal keeper Laura Geitz was successful in confusing the space around Nelson and putting doubt into the feeders’ minds.
After weeks of being the shining light for the Adelaide side, Nelson struggled for the first time in Super Netball under immense pressure and attention from Geitz.
Dan Ryan said Nelson battled with the “behind the play stuff that goes on” and lost confidence, becoming ineffective as the side’s target goaler.
“It’s a learning curve for her that she needs to be a little stronger in her positioning and not be too timid to want to move off the hold too early,” he said.
“We can’t control the umpires, but we can control what we do in that situation.”
With nine minutes to go, Ryan made the gutsy call to move Nelson to the bench and put his faith in the side’s two young, shorter goal attacks to own the shooting circle.
Hodges and Abigail Latu-Meafou combined well despite their inexperience, giving Geitz something new to think about as they utilised their speed and agility.
Hodges said the change up was in response to feeders struggling to find Nelson and was designed to keep Geitz guessing.
“I know I don’t play a holding goal shooter role, but I like to keep people’s heads spinning and get a bit of movement in there,” she said.
Despite Dan Ryan’s best efforts to change things up, the Thunderbirds were simply not strong enough to stick with the Firebirds who took the final term 19-8 and claimed a clean sweep.
While he acknowledged the Firebirds were amongst the top contenders in the competition, Ryan said his side was certainly not 24 goals behind them when they play to their potential.
Unlike previous weeks, he said the Thunderbirds’ performance in Round 7 demonstrated a lack of ability to keep moving forward and a lack of resilience when they needed it most.
“We need to be much better next week than just 20 minutes of quality netball,” Ryan said.
“We walk away from today bitterly disappointed because we know we’re much better than that, we’ve seen it, we’ve produced it and we’re not okay with that (result).”
His post-game message was that the performance was simply unacceptable.
“We didn’t start the training week well this week and it didn’t get any cleaner as the week went on.”
“I think the players needed to take some reflection around how they prepare for a game after a break and put the effort in.”
Queensland Firebirds 66 def Adelaide Thunderbirds 42
(15-12, 31-23, 48-33, 66-42)
Player of the Match: Gretel Tippett (Firebirds)
Aiken 46/61 75%
Tippett 20/21 95%
Nelson 23/25 92%
Hodges 14/19 74%
Latu-Meafou 5/5 100%
Starting line ups
GS Shimona Nelson
GA Charlee Hodges
WA Chelsea Pitman
C Kaitlyn Bryce
WD Fiona Fowler
GD Leana de Bruin
GK Kate Shimmin
GS Romelda Aiken
GA Gretel Tippett
WA Caitlyn Nevins
C Mahalia Cassidy
WD Gabi Simpson
GD Tara Hinchliffe
GK Laura Geitz
Photos: Liam Hughes