The Queensland Firebirds have thrown down the gauntlet, rolling over the second-placed Giants 64-50 in Brisbane.
The Firebirds set the tone early by playing hard, body-on-body defence. The Giants tried to combat this by playing with speed as they have done all season.
However, this time their work came undone by veteran Susan Pettitt who gave away the ball, in her first touch, thanks to a footwork call.
Romelda Aiken was on the move early in the first term. Her work outside the circle has been a feature added to her playbook this season. This movement is designed to allow Gretel Tippett easy passage to the post.
Bec Bulley and Sam Poolman opted to play different styles of defence. Poolman was riding Aiken’s hip in the circle and came off the body when the Jamaican ventured out. This allowed Poolman to block Tippett’s usual path into the circle.
Bulley’s off body defence didn’t work too well as Tippett’s aerial skills and speed allowed her to get the ball and offload unhindered all too often. This showed as Tippett was the player on court with the highest number of centre pass receives (24) and fourth on court for feeds (19).
The Giants’ other veteran, Kim Green, looked rattled early on by the extra attention paid to her by Gabi Simpson. Her connection to her shooters, while solid, did show cracks on occasion.
The most obvious instance was when Green misfed Harten from circle edge. Laura Geitz had manoeuvred Harten to the top of the circle, but the English international did her trademark roll and dropped to the post, which Green misread, sending the ball lofting across the top of the circle and over the sideline.
Geitz took great pleasure in this second win in her domain, slapping her hands together and cheering her team on as they moved into transition. But, not before telling them to settle.
The Firebirds didn’t have things all their way. Just when they looked to run away with a four-goal lead, Giants hit back with three goals.
Not surprising, it was Serena Guthrie who came up with the settler for her side. She read a perfectly timed intercept off the centre pass and was backed up by Green as Guthrie fell out of court. Guthrie’s huge sigh of relief as her intercept was consolidated, showed how desperately her side needed the goal.
In contrast to her captain, Jo Harten seemed unphased by the physical contest she was having with Geitz and Kim Jenner. Throughout the first quarter, Harten casually loped into the circle, took the ball and put it up, accurately, from midrange.
Jenner was equally unphased by the calibre of the players she was matched up with. In her first start of the 2018 season, Jenner took two intercepts, and one rebound. She didn’t even mind, taking her body to Green, sending the latter to the floor in the process.
An intercept off the centre pass by Simpson, was the nail in the coffin for the Giants in the first quarter. And, it was a play which rattled them as they started the second term.
The Firebirds were in a defensive frenzy, and it was Simpson who again provided the spark – taking an intercept at circle edge.
But the move did have a negative consequence as all players on court began to play at a frenetic pace resulting in numerous silly errors which lasted a full five minutes. During this time only one goal was scored.
The Giants experienced players were the ones coughing up the ball – easy passes weren’t caught; fumbles and replays were aplenty, and goals were missed.
But the Firebirds were certainly not polished either. Tippett gave away possession in the circle thanks to a step, and Caitlyn Nevins couldn’t hold on to the ball when charged by Guthrie.
For all the turnovers, the ball travelled between ends six times, before the game settled when Susan Pettitt opened her account for the second term.
In an endeavour to calm her side, Giants’ coach Julie Fitzgerald, called a timeout and switched her players.
She moved Jamie-Lee Price from wing defence to centre, hoping that her calm head would extend to the rest of her squad.
Guthrie, also seemed better suited to wing defence as she was able to read the plays easier and play less of a reactive game.
Once parity was restored, the Firebirds became calm in attack. They were willing to play patiently and work the ball back and forth into their scoring third. However, a chink in their glimmering armour was their inability to take the long bombs.
One particular instance saw them pass the ball in and out of the circle ten times before they were satisfied to put it up. Of course, the risk in doing this is they allowed their defenders more opportunities to get to the ball.
Poolman and Bulley were all too aware of this and hustled to get their hands in. They did get a few tips, but only one deflection resulted in a gain.
Just before half-time, the Firebirds were again tightening their pressure. It worked as Harten tried to force a pass to Pettitt in the pocket.
The ball sailed right past Pettitt who then turned, scowled at Harten and told her to “settle, settle”.
This last mishap allowed the Firebirds to take an eight-goal lead into half-time.
The drama continued in the third quarter. This period is arguably the Giants worst performance of the season and the Firebirds best.
The period started well for the Giants as they notched back three goals. But the Firebirds weren’t having it and began throwing themselves at everything.
Every touch or deflection was backed up by a sea of waiting Firebirds arms and launched into transition in their most accurate goal scoring quarter.
Kristina Brice made a cameo as the Giants looked to add more height. Initially, it worked for them, as Geitz was unable to get up to the balls which were lobbed into Brice.
But, the movement in the circle was lost, and Harten was forced to up her work-rate outside the circle. Geitz was able to read Brice’s lack of movement easily and get around the body to swipe the ball.
Brice also got in Harten’s way – something which doesn’t happen when Pettitt is in there, and after only seven minutes on court, Pettitt was reinjected.
But the damage was done as the Firebirds had now extended their lead to 16 goals.
The fourth quarter saw the return of the regular Giants. They someone found composure in the three-quarter-time break and presented a more calculated approach for the final term.
Kristiana Manu’a was introduced at goal defence. She was a better physical match for Tippett as she managed to keep pace with her throughout the quarter, though giving away height.
Tippett seemed to be a bit more reckless in her approach to the circle, opting to release hail-Mary passes into Aiken. Poolman was on to this and positioned herself better, coming off the body to allow the umpire unobstructed vision of Aiken’s offensive contacts.
Aiken put on a spectacle in the final term. Launching herself over the sideline, and media bench, in one instance – collecting a camera and laptop for her effort.
On another occasion, Aiken landed uneasily off another aerial pass and belly-flopped onto the floorboards, collecting Manu’a’s shoulder with her face on the way down.
The Giants attacking line was offering and reoffering multiple leads to the ball, something which was lacking for the rest of the game. This allowed them to win the final quarter by two.
But the damage was already done, the Firebirds had resecured fourth spot on the ladder thanks to the 64-50 win.
The Firebirds will need to ride the momentum of this game as they take on the West Coast Fever at Perth Arena next week.
The Giants, head to Melbourne to face the Magpies, who will be fighting hard to keep their finals’ hopes alive.
Queensland Firebirds 64 def Giants 50
(17-13, 30-22, 48-32, 64-50)
Player of the Match: Gretel Tippett (Firebirds)
Crowd: 4,623 at Brisbane Entertainment Centre
Aiken 35/51 69%%
Tippett 29/31 94%
Pettitt 23/26 88%
Harten 25/29 86%
Brice 2/4 50%
Laura Geitz (Firebirds) 2
Serena Guthrie (Giants) 2
Gabi Simpson (Firebirds) 2
Caitlyn Nevins (Firebirds) 27
Kim Green (Giants) 23
Mahalia Cassidy (Firebirds) 13
Romelda Aiken (Firebirds) 7
Kim Green (Giants) 5
Susan Pettitt (Giants) 5
Gretel Tippett (Firebirds) 5
GS Romelda Aiken
GA Gretel Tippett
WA Caitlyn Nevins
C Mahalia Cassidy
WD Gabi Simpson
GD Kim Jenner
GK Laura Geitz
GS Jo Harten
GA Susan Pettitt
WA Kim Green
C Serena Guthrie
WD Jamie-Lee Price
GD Bec Bulley
GK Sam Poolman
Changes: Q2 GS Susan Pettitt, GA Jo Harten, WA Serena Guthrie, C Jamie-Lee Price, Q3 GS Kristina Brice, then Susan Pettitt, GD Kristiana Manu’a
Umpires: Michelle Phippard and Bronwen Adams
A look at…
Key match-up – Simpson v Green
Gabi Simpson and Kim Green are players who have the power to spark their teams. When they last met, in Round 4, Kim rolled over Gabi, blitzing her with speed and ball movement. Gabi was forced to play a reactive style of game resulting in her featuring in many of the negative stats including turnovers, offsides and ‘bad-hands’.
Today’s game was a role-reversal with Kim being the one featured highly in the negative stats. The usually unflappable former-Diamond was visibly upset with the game. Gabi’s hard on-body defence didn’t sit well with Kim, who could be seen shaking her head after being denied her numerous appeals to the umpires.
This doesn’t mean that Kim didn’t have the desired impact for her team. She still used the ball well and notched up respectable numbers in the centre pass receives and feeds. But for her part, Gabi was the one who won this gladiator fight. She was an overpowering physical presence on the court and shut down Kim’s flow through the mid-court.
Aiken’s underwhelming accuracy
Romelda Aiken holds prestige as one of netball’s most premier shooters. Seeing as she attempted 51 goals against the Giants, the title doesn’t surprise. However, a glaring problem over the past couple of seasons is Aiken’s accuracy – which seems to be getting worse. Aiken is shooting at 82.6% this season – the lowest percentage for any goal shooter in the competition. In a league where the standard is 90% or above for goal shooters, this does not bode well for the Firebirds.
You could argue that it does not matter when your goal shooter can get the rebounds. And you’d be right as Aiken is also sitting atop the league for offensive rebounds. But, as we have seen, defenders can take it to Aiken in the air and win the ball off her, which causes one to ask: could this inability to consolidate on goals have cost the Firebirds in the close matches?
It is something worth looking at, considering the Firebirds put up the exact same number of goals as the Vixens last week, but the Firebirds were less accurate. In Round 9 against the Lightning, it was a similar situation. In the Firebirds Round 1 loss to the Swifts, the Firebirds put up more goals than their counterparts.
Given that Gretel Tippett is the only goal attack shooting above 90% in 2018, Firebirds fans will be hoping that Aiken finds accuracy soon, as it could mean the difference between winning and losing come finals time.
What they said
Gabi Simpson, Queensland Firebirds
Congratulations on an impressive win. What caused you to come out firing this week?
“I guess for us we knew that it was going to be a grind. We knew that there wasn’t going to be a moment where we could come out and dominate a team. We knew that we would both go at such a high pace from the moment we started the game. So, it’s about waiting for the moment there was a lull and just taking it head-on.
“Gretel really came to play. And the defensive pressure we were able to apply throughout the whole court built, and built, and built. We knew we needed to come out with great, physical pressure. And flying at that ball was important, to create disconnect. When Giants are on song they are unstoppable, so if you can create disconnect early you can start to get the tips and the touches. That was our main game plan.”
They tried to slow you down by throwing two time-outs in the third quarter, how do you maintain momentum in moments like that?
“It is that same urgency. We have lost the last two games by one that hurt and that put fire in the belly. We also lost to these guys in the last quarter last time. So, that urgency we needed was provided by our past performances, and we knew we needed to start winning and win every quarter.”
The battle between you and Kim Green was a bit testy in patches
“Kimmy and I always have great battles; it’s always a chest bash between she and I. Last time we played, she got on top of me, so I didn’t want that to happen again. But I love that physically we can match each other. I love that challenge. It’s always a great competition, and that’s what netball is all about.”
The backup play in the Firebirds was strong today. Was something you have been working on?
“That just comes with the urgency and being in the moment. If we have a lull, we aren’t going to be there to back up each other up. So, that is something we did well, and we need to make sure that we keep doing it from now until the end of the season.”
How does this sit the Firebirds in terms of their perspective of the season?
“This game is as big as any game we have got for the rest of the season. We know that our season is on the line every time we step out on court. To see the belief and fight that we showed is something I am incredibly proud of and that we need to use going forward. We cannot take our foot off the peddle from now until the end of the season.”
Congratulations on your Diamond’s nod.
“Thank you. It is such an honour. Wearing the green and gold, you never take it for granted. It is just such a pleasure to put on that dress and play with the girls that are in the squad. I am not aware of who else is in the squad, but I am very happy to be invited.”
We can tell you, that Gretel Tippett is in the squad. How big is that, given she was dropped before the Comm Games and to see her fight her way back into the squad.
“Her preseason was phenomenal. And to see how dominant she has been this season. She has got great variation in her game. She has that X-factor which can be needed to spark a team during a game. I am so happy to be playing with her.”
Jamie-Lee Price, Renae Ingles and Jess Anstiss were also named in the squad. Does that give you a little bit more of an incentive to improve your game, knowing that that competition is there for the WD bib?
“Absolutely, it does. To have competition in that area is fantastic. And also to be able to embrace them into the squad as well. Renae coming back and the others moving into it, that adds another exciting challenge as a leader as well. So yes, it forces you to step up your game. But competition is great, you have to embrace it.”
Julie Fitzgerald, Giants coach
That was a tough game
“It was tough. Firebirds were very, very good tonight. They rattled us, and we found it very difficult to maintain composure.”
Talk me through the changes, starting with the defence end
“Gretel just dominated completely on the court. So, we thought it was only fair that Krissy (Kristiana Manu’a) have a shot to see how she could go out there. She did some nice things. It is good to see the effects she has when she can have a run.”
And the switch between Jamie-Lee and Serena?
“We just thought Serena would have more impact down here on the second and third phase. Jamie-Lee is quite calm in the centre. She calms things down, and we were getting a little bit frazzled and struggling to maintain composure at times.”
What were the instructions at three-quarter time
“We were very determined to come away with at least one quarter and to make sure we kept fighting it out. We know that we weren’t at our best today but had to keep fighting until the very end.”
Vixens next week. It’s going to be another tough battle.
“It certainly it. Vixens are in form. But every game in this competition is hard.”
Jamie-Lee Price, Giants
Firstly, congratulations on your maiden Diamonds call-up
“Thank you so much. I got told on Tuesday, so it’s very exciting. It has been a little hard to contain you want to tell everyone, but you can’t. I told my family and a few friends but had to let them know … you know.”
Was it hard to switch your brain back to focusing on the Giants?
“No. I don’t think so. I guess, the reason I got in this squad is because I have been playing in the Giants. So, I have to continue to play like that.”
Julie mentioned that she made the switch between you and Serena because you are so level-headed and calm. Is that something you practice or does it just come naturally?
“I think that comes naturally to me. I am not a big stress head. I guess there is no point in stressing over something you can’t control. So, all I do is focus on now.”
It was a tough game today; there were a lot of bodies on the floorboards, how do you combat that?
“We knew the Firebirds were going to come out strong because they need to make the top four. And, obviously, we didn’t come out as strong as we needed to today. But, we did come out better in the last quarter. We got the point. So, I guess that is something we can be proud of. We didn’t give up when it would have been easier to.”
How did you regather yourselves, especially after their great third quarter?
“We just had to make sure we scored off our centre passes. There isn’t really much you can do.”