If anything positive is to come out of the Queensland Firebirds’ second draw of the season, it is that they have never lost a Suncorp Super Netball game to the West Coast Fever.
In the third draw of the season – second, for each of these teams – Fever went in as favourites. But someone must have forgotten to tell the Firebirds, because they were out hunting early, slowing the ball through the midcourt and forcing passes backward before the Fever were able to find Jhaniele Fowler.
The Firebirds attacking line looked very different this week with Romelda Aiken absent due to a tibia stress fracture. In her place was former Firebird Abigail Latu-Meafou. The goal shooter, who has just finished a season with the Splice Construction Magic in the ANZ Premiership, is a mobile shooter which was something the Fever defenders adapted to.
Speaking after the game Fever defender, Stacey Francis, said, “I think we were pretty well prepared. We have a slightly smaller shooting circle to practice against at training. We knew they wouldn’t move Gretel to the back, obviously, they would want to play to their strengths.”
But the mobile shooting circle was something which the Firebirds relished adding to their arsenal. Birthday girl, Caitlyn Nevins, said “it is quite nice. It is different but in saying that we still have the tall goal attack who we can post the ball up to. It does change the pace that you can pass the ball. And, we need to have a little more patience with ball in hand too.”
Nevins was instrumental in the Firebirds taking a 17-14 first quarter. In addition to her feeds and centre receives, she got 3 pickups, 1 deflection and 1 gain for the quarter.
The impressive stats were due to Jess Anstiss giving Nevins extra freedom to roam as she moved off the wing attack to block Firebirds’ centre, Jemma Mi Mi’s entry into the goal third in the second phase. The switch between Anstiss and Verity Charles – who tried to mark Nevins – didn’t work as the slick wing attack was too quick for the Fever centre as she made her way to the top of the circle or right pocket.
For her part, Mi Mi was also impressive as she played her first full 60-minute super netball game. She was less costly in turnovers this Round than in previous weeks and also got her hand to crucial turnovers.
Much of the ball won by the Fever was done by their stalwart defenders, Courtney Bruce and Francis. The duo know each other’s game exceptionally well and was able to fluidly switch up play in the circle and deflect passes and rebounds knowing that the other’s hands were waiting to scoop it up.
They were also instrumental in igniting the Fever’s slick transition play.
Kaylia Stanton played much of the first term outside the circle and only notched up 7 feeds and 2 goal attempts.
Her lack of willingness to go to the post allowed Tara Hinchliffe and Laura Clemesha to double team Fowler. However, this didn’t stop the Fever feeders from putting the ball up, knowing that Fowler would be able to outmuscle the Firebirds’ defence.
To their credit, Hinchliffe and Clemesha did manage to have a mostly clean battle with Fowler in the first. The duo only notched up 5 contacts and 4 obstructions. And, when Kim Jenner entered the fray with 6 minutes to go, she didn’t add to the negative stats. In fact, she was the catalyst for positive change from the moment she entered the game at GK; forcing a held ball on Stanton’s shot.
As the quarter wound down, the intensity rose, and the game got more physical. The battle between Francis and Gretel Tippett was particularly absorbing with the former spending time on the pine after trying to block Tippett’s entrance into the circle.
Of the physical battle, Francis said, “I think it was just the nature of the game. 7thv 8thyou were bound to see players scrapping for any kind of gain and it wasn’t likely to be clean intercepts or speccy kind of deflections. It was bound to be those kinds of gritty balls.”
Nevins agrees, “whenever we play Fever it is a physical contest from both sides. I don’t know whether it is because of the similar styles of play. It is always a tough contest.”
As the quarter-time whistle blew an advantage goal was awarded to Tippett which didn’t sit well with Bruce who beelined straight for the umpire’s station.
As the game went on Latu-Meafou’s connection with Tippett grew and they began to create space for each other.
At one point in the second term, Latu-Meafou led out of the circle drawing Francis with her, this opened up the baseline for Tippett’s first layup of the game. She put up three more later on in the match.
Speaking after the match about the apparent set play, Latu-Meafou was adamant it wasn’t intentional. “A lot that play is instinct. We don’t have a lot of set plays. Both of us are quite unorthodox players. And, it’s obvious that I am the smallest in there, but I am the strongest, so I have to use that to my advantage. Gretel has the aerial and I have the groundwork so it works a charm.”
The Fever’s second term also saw improvements. The defence came off the body and drew less whistle. Bruce and Francis began attacking the passes into the circle with Bruce nabbing an impressive block midway through the term. Their corrected positioning also allowed them to gain valuable rebounds.
The third term was the best from the Fever as they raised their turnover to goal percentage to 75%. Extra defensive work was being done right down the court, with Fowler assisting to block Gabi Simpson’s passage over the line for the centre pass.
Their transition play was swift and wide as they looped the ball across the court and began feeding the circle from the pockets. The slick movements around the circle edge confused Hinchliffe and Jenner and allowed Fowler to open up close to the post.
Stanton also began to draw the defenders as she faked the shot on numerous occasions before offloading.
The final term began with the Fever leading by one before pushing out a quick three-goal lead. Not surprisingly it was Simpson who spearheaded a comeback with an intercept which sent Anstiss flying. This was followed by another held ball by the Fever shooters and another Simpson intercept. But such was the competitiveness of the game that the Fever didn’t allow the Firebirds to get away.
As the score see-sawed, the crowd inside the Queensland State Netball Centre took to their feet to ride every goal and every umpire call. The desperation culminated with Latu-Meafou sinking the buzzer beater to deny the Fever a spectacularly fought win.
The Firebirds are at home again next week hosting the New South Wales Swifts.
Nevins believes that the crowd will factor in their first win of the season, “They were amazing when we played against the Magpies. It is a nice cauldron here. The seating is so intimate that it feels like the crowd is on the court with us.”
In terms of getting over the line with the Swifts, “The Swifts are quite a structured team. So we will just go back review some footage and figure out some of their patterns of play to see if we can create that disruption. Because, when we get that intercept, we are now able to score it and put that scoreboard pressure on.”
Next week’s game will also see the introduction of South African goal shooter, Lenize Potgieter, to the Firebirds lineup.
The Fever are also at home next week, hosting Giants Netball who will be bolstered after their great win over the Adelaide Thunderbirds.
Francis isn’t perturbed by the challenge, knowing that consistency is key for her side. “This year more than anything, consistency is important for us. We have had two really poor games and that put our season in the balance for us. Next week we need to start well, and we need to make sure that when we get a bit of a lead, we stretch 5 out to 7; 7 out to 9. We need to stomp our foot on the neck of the opposition, so they don’t feel like it is a battle.”
Queensland Firebirds 62 draw with West Coast Fever 62
(17-14, 33-30, 46-47, 62-62)
Player of the Match: Gretel Tippett (Firebirds)
Abigail Latu-Meafou 27/32 84.4%
Gretel Tippett 35/36 97.2%
West Coast Fever
Jhaniele Fowler 55/60 91.7%
Kaylia Stanton 7/11 63.6%
Courtney Bruce (Fever) 3
Tara Hinchliffe (Firebirds) 2
Caitlyn Nevins (Firebirds) 32
Kaylia Stanton (Fever) 25
Verity Charles (Fever) 17
Ingrid Colyer (Fever) 4
Jemma Mi Mi (Firebirds) 4
Jess Anstiss (Fever) 3
Caitlyn Nevins (Firebirds) 3
Courtney Bruce (Fever) 15
Kim Jenner (Firebirds) 13
Jess Anstiss (Fever) 12
GS Abigail Latu-Meafou
GA Gretel Tippett
WA Caitlyn Nevins
C Jemma Mi Mi
WD Gabi Simpson
GD Tara Hinchliffe
GK Laura Clemesha
Bench: Kim Jenner, Amy Sommerville, Macy Gardner
Changes: (Q1) Kim Jenner – GK, Laura Clemesha – bench,
West Coast Fever
GS Jhaniele Fowler
GA Kaylia Stanton
WA Ingrid Colyer
C Verity Charles
WD Jess Anstiss
GD Stacey Francis
GK Courtney Bruce
Bench: Shannon Eagland, Olivia Lewis, Alice Teague-Neeld
Changes. (Q2) Shannon Eagland – GD, Stacey Francis – bench,
(Q3) Stacey Francis – GD then GK, Shannon Eagland – bench, Courtney Bruce – GD
A look at …
The Changes to the Firebirds line-up
In recent weeks the Firebirds have experienced a lot of changes due to injuries. And, while they were bolstered by the return of Kim Jenner this week, they were still in doubt to take the game because they needed to adjust to a new shooter.
Despite having a Firebirds returnee in Abigail Latu-Meafou, Caitlyn Nevins said they still had to learn how to place the ball into her, “Abs has grown. She has matured and gotten stronger in her game smarts. And Gretel is a completely different player to what she was when Abs was in the list. Abs did a great job last week and I think having a couple of extra trainings with her this week has helped us have a better connection and overall feel together.”
This will again be a focus of attention for the Firebirds heading into Round 7 with the introduction of Lenize Potgieter.
But Nevins isn’t too worried, believing the Firebirds culture is what helps them form connections so quickly. “We have been very flexible and adaptive this season. And with our culture, we have really been more connected than ever before. One of our mottos is ‘person first before player’ so we will get to know Lenize throughout the week. We will spend time getting her comfortable in our environment.
But, it is all about connections. I need to be able to turn and sight my goalers and be able to give the ball in a split second, so I think I will be spending a lot of time with her during the week and then we will be able to play and adapt. And, while we haven’t been able to get a win, we have played some really good netball so I don’t doubt we can keep doing that.”