The Queensland Firebirds claimed their first scalp of the 2018 Suncorp Super Netball season at the expense of the premiers, Sunshine Coast Lightning.
The Queensland derby got off to an emphatic start with both teams scoring efficiently. For the first six minutes of the game, the scores remained goal-for-goal.
It looked like Gretel Tippett, in her 50th national league game, was going to continue her pattern of layup-style passes to Aiken and avoid going to post herself. Lightning defenders Geva Mentor and Karla Pretorius were quick to realise this and began double-teaming Aiken.
This extra attention caused the first turnover, in favour of the Lightning, thanks to the defenders muscling Aiken to the sideline and forcing her to take the ball out of court.
Caitlin Bassett appeared relaxed, even putting up some shots from mid-range. By the end of the first quarter, Bassett had shot 12 goals without a miss. Steph Wood netted three, also at 100% accuracy.
For much of the first quarter Lightning wing attack Kelsey Browne seemed to have it all her way. Her closing speed onto the ball and her dexterous footwork allowed her to easily get away from Firebirds wing defence Gabi Simpson.
During the first break, the Firebirds were given some tough love from the coach, Roselee Jencke: “I said to them that they had to go out and fight and bring the effort”.
These stern, yet straightforward, instructions seemed to reinvigorate the Firebirds who took the first turnover of the second quarter in less than 30 seconds. The team seemed to have a more forceful first ball contest which allowed them to disrupt the Lightning’s flow.
Gabi Simpson appeared to find her second-gear and had her hand to two wayward passes early in the term. Caitlin Nevins and Laura Clemesha also had a piece of the action, both tenacious in defence.
Geva Mentor picked up where she left off in the first term. She was again attached to Romelda Aiken like a fly to honey, even getting in a good swat at the ball on a soft offload from Gretel Tippett.
The battle between Tippett and Pretorious was enthralling. Both players were not afraid to get physical and use their elbows on occasion. Despite this, Tippett was able to sink 11 goals in the second term – a marked improvement on her meagre two from the first quarter.
The physicality was also happening outside the circle with at least half of all the players hitting the floorboards throughout the game – Kelsey Browne did so three times.
By far, the star of the second quarter was Tara Hinchliffe. The young goal defence was like a bulldog hunting down every loose ball. Her persistence saw her snaffle three intercepts for the term which spurred her team to a seven-goal lead at halftime.
Firebirds captain Gabi Simpson couldn’t be more proud of Tara’s first player of the match performance.
“With every game and a little more time under her belt, she will continue to grow and I expect her to be a goal defence for Australia one day.”
The Lighting started the third term with a reshuffle in the midcourt: Erena Mikaere entered the game at wing defence, Laura Scherian moved to wing attack and Maddy McAuliffe moved to centre, while Kelsey Browne went to the bench.
The reshuffle seemed to work as the Lightning were more composed as they chipped away at the goal deficit. There were a few patches of slick play from the visitors, many of which were between Wood and Bassett.
Pretorious’ pesky defence and patience also paid off, with the South African notching up two intercepts, four gains and two rebounds for the quarter.
With less than two and a half minutes left on the clock Firebirds centre, Mahalia Cassidy went down awkwardly. She took no further part in the game as Jemma MiMi moved from the bench into the centre.
Despite the loss of their linchpin, the Firebirds didn’t miss a beat and were able to steal one last turnover. However, it was too little too late, with the Lightning taking the quarter 13-8.
With the Firebirds only holding a two-goal lead, both teams came out for the final term hungry.
The final term was scrappy from both teams, with many players coughing-up possession. Jemma MiMi pocketed a beautiful, flying intercept only to lose the ball to an over-a-third call.
At times the Lightning’s defence threatened to stifle the Firebirds fire, but the home side showed patience working the ball around the circle and even back to the middle third before, eventually, finding their shooters.
In a move reminiscent of the 2016 grand final, Gabi Simpson stole an intercept in the last five seconds of the game which allowed the Firebirds to seal the quarter and the match.
Gabi Simpson believes that despite them not having their anchor Laura Geitz on the court, it was the Firebirds self-belief and trust in one-another that got them over the line today.
But will that self-confidence help them as they face off against the Melbourne Vixens next week? Meanwhile, the
Lightning face a tough challenge at home next week, when they host the West Coast Fever.
Queensland Firebirds 55 def Sunshine Coast Lightning 52
(11-15, 31-24, 39-37, 55-52)
Player of the Match: Tara Hinchliffe (Firebirds)
Crowd: 6,627, at Brisbane Entertainment Centre
Aiken 39/45 87%
Tippett 16/21 76%
Sunshine Coast Lightning
Bassett 35/36 97%
Wood 17/18 94%
Karla Pretorius (Lightning) 5
Tara Hinchliffe (Firebirds) 4
Gabi Simpson (Firebirds) 3
Laura Clemesha (Firebirds) 3
Kelsey Browne (Lightning) 18
Caitlyn Nevins (Firebirds) 17
Laura Scherian (Lightning) – 17
Gabi Simpson (Firebirds) 5
Gretel Tippett (Firebirds) 4
Tara Hinchliffe (Firebirds) 3
Geva Mentor (Lightning) 3
Starting line ups
GS Romelda Aiken
GA Gretel Tippett
WA Caitlyn Nevins
C Mahalia Cassidy
WD Gabi Simpson
GD Tara Hinchliffe
GK Laura Clemesha
Sunshine Coast Lightning
GS Caitlin Bassett
GA Steph Wood
WA Kelsey Browne
C Laura Scherian
WD Maddy McAuliffe
GD Karla Pretorius
GK Geva Mentor
Umpires: Josh Browning, Bronwyn Adams, Emma Davey (reserve)
A look at…
Even though fans preferred to show their pride by wearing their team colours at the game, many fans were flailing their #wakeupnetball signs for the cameras. As this (mostly) unbiased Brisbane crowd showed today, netball fans don’t care who is playing, or who is winning, they just want to see quality netball.
Both shooters and goal attacks showed improvement over last week’s games, in areas of consistency and volume. Most improved was Gretel Tippett, who put up twice as many goals as she did last week and improved her percentage by 3%. If she keeps this up, across the season, the Firebirds goal circle will be a cause for worry for the other teams.
The key matchups for this game were between both teams’ goal attack and goal defence. The Tippett/Pretorius battle was physical and a spectacle to watch (and hear on occasion – the body-on-body knocks could be heard from the media bench). Of the two, it appeared that Tippett wore the encounters better, with Pretorius looking quite ragged by the end of the game.
The Wood and Hinchliffe battle seemed to be more of a mental game. Both players were clinical in their approaches, and we could almost see the cogs ticking in their brains as they thought their way through the game. Both rarely showed any emotion, outside a wry smile or a slap of the hands. We can’t say either player came away from the battle an outright winner, but both showed a marked improvement in their game this week.
The use of timeouts
So far this season we have seen many strategic uses of the new timeout rules. The Firebirds used their timeouts more effectively than the Lightning. The Sunshine Coast called two-time outs during the second-quarter, in an attempt to stop the flow of goals from the Firebirds, but it was the home side who came out of those breaks better.
What they said
Gretel Tippett, Firebirds
On her 50th national league game
“I think the home crowd made a difference and it was so great to be having this 50th game at home.”
What would you say to fans who want to aspire to do what you did today?
“I think, just, to have as much fun as possible. Play with your friends and make new friends. I can’t wait to meet you all.”
Gabi Simpson, Firebirds
On the difference between last week’s game and this week’s game
“That was the type of netball we want to play. You could say that it wasn’t consistent across the quarters but what we needed to feel was that belief and that trust in each other. And that is what we saw today. There was fearless netball.”
“We were contesting the ball, and that is what the Firebirds brand is all about. Last week we learnt a lot about ourselves and learnt a lot about what not to do. And the feelings which start to come over you when the other team is starting to come back. This week we responded exactly how we said we would, and that is what I am probably most proud of.”
What did Rose say to you at quarter time?
“That was the moment we started playing with our purple hearts and we just started to completely trust and play freely.”
How is the bonus point affecting the way you play?
“It is absolutely motivating. We have seen that teams are winning and winning four quarters and then they are eight points ahead. So you are seeing how vital each quarter is and that really does push us to that extra limit instead of holding on to the ball in that last bit of the quarter. We have to push on and score it.”
On not having Geitz out there
“It changes the dynamics a bit, but at the same time, we have the most depth, I believe, in our defence end that we have ever had. We have four players, and each of them are interchangeable. Clemmy stepped up and just had a phenomenal game.”
Tara Hinchliffe, Firebirds
On getting player of the match in only her second game of Super Netball
“I still can’t believe it. I have no words.”
On the difference between this game and last week
“Throughout the game Clemmy, Gabi and I just kept looking at each other, and we knew we wanted to fight. We didn’t want to repeat what happened last week, so we just had to hold on at the end and keep pushing.”
Roselee Jencke, Firebirds coach
First win of the season you must be happy with that?
“I am extremely happy. I am extremely excited. Both teams put on a great performance today and it was really hard and tough. But I am really proud that we just continue to fight. The first quarter was really difficult, we had to find our feet and find our connections. We weren’t backing ourselves in that first quarter. But in that second quarter, we did.”
On Tara’s player of the match performance
“Tara is someone who studies the game really closely, and she does her homework really well on her opposition. She’s a student of the game really, and at 20. She learnt a lot last week, and she is going to grow each week.”
Caitlin Bassett, Lightning
What changed in the second term?
“I think we relaxed a bit in defence. Obviously, when you have two dominant shooters in Romelda and Gretel, it takes a whole seven to defend them and slow the ball up. So yeah, Geva had a bit of a tough time in that second quarter which was the reason for the score.”
On what to improve for next week
“I guess that every game that we have is an opportunity to grow and we should have learnt some things from last week, but we maybe didn’t. So, next week is a big one for us: we need to come out and win. The Firebirds did a really good job of disconnecting us and making a big hole in that middle third. So definitely something to look at for next week.”
Does it help being at home next week?
“Yeah, definitely. I think our first home game, being in front of our home crowd is going to be amazing. The support that the Sunshine Coast gave us last year was one of the reasons that we won the grand final. So, to come back in front of our fans is going to be great.”
Noeline Taurua, Lightning coach
Your thoughts on the game?
“I thought there were some moments for us like we started off really well, but we were very inconsistent in parts. The ball that we coughed-up was very soft. Last week we were a bit disconnected in our ends but I thought this week we were actually stronger and I thought there were lovely combinations. We just need to get our middle bit better than what we are currently doing.”
Looking ahead to next week
“We’ve got Fever at home next week, so that is going to be interesting. Our processes never change, irrelevant of whether we win or lose. It is really just looking at the things we have done well and how we can do it better and obviously the things we need to do better. We need to be contesting more than we currently are.”
On the changeup in WD
“We needed to do a change in that middle. Like I said we coughed-up a lot of ball that was unnecessary and soft, so we needed to plug that hole there. I think, just because of her (Erena Mikaera) height it makes a change and gets in the opposition’s head a wee bit.”
On the physicality
“I think there were times when there was no room or an inability to contest the ball, and I think a lot of our players were wearing the body. We do train for physicality but probably more cleaner in regards to the ability to contest the ball.”
Cover image: Simon Leonard