She’s back. After 18 months away from the game for the birth of her son, Queensland Firebirds inspirational former captain Laura Geitz has returned.
At the Commonwealth Games her form was so good it looked as if she’d never left. The anticipation, footwork, timing and positioning was all there. It was a sight that no doubt pleased Firebirds fans.
Geitz’s comeback will also have instilled confidence back into a team used to success. The Firebirds’ fifth place finish last season was the first time since 2012 that they failed to make the Grand Final, such has been their consistency.
Geitz was an integral part of that great run, not only through her play but her leadership. Her experience in the defensive circle will be invaluable this season as she’s likely to be teaming up with two promising, but inexperienced young players.
After impressing many with her play in a solid rookie season, Kim Jenner appears to be the likely front runner to play goal defence. However, 19-year old Tara Hinchliffe is considered a star of the future and after some noteworthy efforts in the pre-season, it wouldn’t surprise to see her also make a big impact.
Laura Clemesha was a regular starter last season, but may take more of a back seat now that Geitz is back to challenge for the goal keeper bibs.
It’s the ever-reliable Gabi Simpson who continues in the role of captain, which she took on last season. Fresh from the Gold Coast where she was one of Australia’s best, her tremendous form at wing defence is no doubt set to continue. Week in, week out, she is a consistent performer, winning ball and cancelling out some of the best attacking players in the world.
Young midcourter Mahalia Cassidy suffered a cruel season-ending knee injury prior to round one last year. But, after an encouraging build up in the pre-season, she’s back to hopefully take her chance in the pivotal position of centre.
Jemma Mi Mi is capable of playing all three midcourt positions and is a possible back up. Vice-captain Caitlyn Nevins is also a candidate for the centre position, but it’s more likely she’ll be back in her familiar role at wing attack, utilising her speed and passing accuracy on the circle edge.
With four defenders and four midcourt players named in a team of ten, that only leaves room for two shooters. But they’re the same two shooters who’ve formed a successful combination over the past three seasons – Gretel Tippett and Romelda Aiken.
The unconventional Tippett, once seen as the future of Australian netball, has had her progress stalled slightly at test level, but she’s still more than capable of starring in Super Netball. She combines well with Aiken and if they receive enough ball, they will be very dangerous again.
Incredibly, this is Aiken’s eleventh season straight at the Firebirds and still has what it takes to be a dominant shooter. With her height, athleticism and mere physical presence under the post, she will always be a difficult match up.
However, her shot can be shaky. She was never the most accurate shooter, even at her best, but since her famous struggles in the 2016 ANZ Championship Grand Final, this part of her game has been a battle. For her and the team’s sake, she needs to somehow recapture her confidence.
Firebirds supporters will be anticipating better times this season. As they should, with the return of Geitz alone making this a stronger team than last season.
But will that be enough to see a return to finals, when other sides have been strengthened also?
There is incredible depth in the league this year. The Firebirds are likely to be among a group of mid-table teams pushing hard for the last spot in the finals. It will take a strong team performance to get there.
2018 team list
Gabi Simpson (c) WD/C
Caitlyn Nevins (vc) WA/C
Romelda Aiken GS
Mahalia Cassidy C/WA
Laura Clemesha GK/GD
Laura Geitz GK/GD
Tara Hinchliffe GD/GK
Kimberley Jenner GD/GK
Jemma Mi Mi C/WA/WD
Gretel Tippett GA/GS
Head coach: Roselee Jencke
Assistant coach: Jenny Brazel
Training partners: Alexia Baker, Tippah Dwan, Macy Gardner, Hulita Haukinima, Maddison Hinchliffe, Kristen Oxenford, Amy Sommerville, Annabella Sorby, Ashlee Unie