There is something about a state of origin clash that brings out the emotion in players.
Queensland Firebirds captain Gabi Simpson says the ‘massive rivalry’ between the Firebirds and the NSW Swifts stems from the multiple grand final clashes they have had. Regardless of the cause, the Firebirds were not about to let the Swifts two-up them this season, when they hosted the Sydney-siders in a passion fuelled game which also featured a Laura Geitz death stare.
Both teams started the game with their familiar starting seven. The home side’s plays were also habitual, and Sarah Klau knew it. She rode Romelda Aiken from the outset and managed to get her hand to a tip within the first few seconds of the game. But unable to control the ball as it sailed over the sideline, the Firebirds reset and scored anyway.
The battle in the midcourt was hot. Caitlyn Nevins and Abbey McCulloch were pushing and shoving each other throughout transition. Neither willing to back down from the challenge. This was a pretty even battle for the entire first half.
Gabi Simpson and Mahalia Cassidy opted to switch their players in their defensive third. The Firebirds’ captain often marked the zippy Maddy Proud. The Swifts centre has the most goal assists for her team this season, but with the extra attention paid to her by the Diamonds’ wing defence, she had to relegate much of the feeding role to Paige Hadley.
Thanks to Klau’s tireless work, the Swifts were able to reset the score part way through the first term. The goalkeeper used her footwork well to carousel around Aiken to get her hand to a ball which was pitched too low.
However, that win in defence was one of the only highlights of the first quarter for the Swifts. Too often they were unable to penetrate the Firebird’s wall of defence in their own goal third, or they forced the ball into Sam Wallace who was unable to gather it.
Gretel Tippett was clearly enjoying her run, even opting to announce one of the passes she wanted as she darted past Nevins. The broad smile rarely left Tippett’s face as finished the quarter with five goals at 100% accuracy.
Two minutes into the second term Proud again attempted to force ball high into Sam Wallace. The work which Laura Geitz did to force Wallace to the top of the circle caused the ball to sail over the goal shooter and across the base line, giving the Firebirds their first win for the period.
From there the scores stagnated with the Firebirds unable to extend, nor the Swifts unable to close. The desperation from both teams was tangible. No pass went uncontested. Helen Housby was showing how effective she can be in defence by running down to get hands over at many centre passes. She got a few deflections but no gains for her effort.
The two goal attack’s gave a preview of the NRL state of origin, as they tackled each other for a loose ball. Housby’s slight frame proved ineffectual against Tippett’s athletic physique, with the former ending up on the floorboards.
A blocked shot from Laura Geitz ignited her team. They transitioned down court, using the left corridor and eventually found Aiken who rewarded her defender’s effort.
Seeing no inroads, Swift’s coach Briony Akle opted to call a timeout and introduce Sophie Garbin in at goal shooter and Kate Eddy at wing defence. Akle’s instructions were to look forward and “back yourselves”.
Eddy made an immediate impact, putting Nevins under pressure to force a pass on the fly. This allowed Maddy Turner to have her first intercept of the game.
Garbin made an impression early after entering the game. Her fleetfooted movement created space and gave Geitz something else to think about.
The Swifts sniffed an opportunity to deny the Firebirds a second bonus point in the dying seconds of the quarter. But desperate arms over defence from Tara Hinchliffe, who until that point was having a quiet game, kept her team in contention for the bonus point.
At the start of the third term, Claire O’Brien was brought onto the court at wing attack. She had little impact to start with, as a fired-up Simpson smothered every lead O’Brien tried to make. Twice in a matter of minutes Simpson’s closing speed allowed her to get hands to ball. Her trademarked incept taken as she flies over the sideline allowed her to cannon the ball to Aiken who was out of the circle.
Klau and Turner opted to change strategies this quarter, often leaving Tippett to her own devices as they doubled-back on Aiken. At one point instructions of “make her shoot” were heard from Maddy Proud as Turner tried to come off Aiken’s body. Tippett was all too obliging pocketing eight goals to Aiken’s seven for the quarter.
The double-teaming did pay off for the Swifts when Tippett was uncomfortable with her range. She regularly tried to pass the ball around to get closer. Turner, read the ball, contested in front position and allowed her team to close the gap.
Garbin and Housby were more comfortable with their partnership this quarter. The two shooters made use of switches and moved the ball to split the defenders effectively. They shared the shooting load at seven-a-piece for the quarter.
Mahalia Cassidy started the Firebirds off well in the final term. She was comfortable and confident to let the ball go, from range to Aiken.
The Swifts opted for a more controlled style of play. Their passes were short and patient. O’Brien found space from Simpson and was able to feed Garbin without hindrance.
The battle between Garbin and Geitz intensified this quarter. Each player was not willing to back down in their hunt for the ball. However, when it came to aerial battles, Geitz’s strong positioning and experience in wearing the body saw her win nearly all the skirmishes.
With ten minutes to go, Housby thought Garbin had the space to take the ball high. Geitz was not allowing it. She read the pass and got the front position, sending Garbin to the floor in the process.
Garbin came away from the encounter fired up and returned serve 30 seconds later with a late charge for the ball. This time Geitz iced her with a death stare and let her elbows fly, showing Garbin that while Geitz is the golden girl of netball, she is also a hardened competitor.
For the next few minutes, Garbin and her Swifts were rattled so, Akle called her team in for a time-out. Her instructions were to ‘stay calm and come off the body’.
The timeout worked, as the Swifts wall of the defence went up. The Firebirds were forced to work the ball around the midcourt as all options over the transverse line were blocked.
Lack of options or over-exuberance saw Simpson launched two balls from the midcourt to Aiken. One paid off with a goal; the other was nowhere near the mark.
The Firebirds began to rush play seeing them make many crucial handling errors. The Swifts were able to capitalise on these and bring the scoreline from a deficit of six to within two.
The last 30 seconds of the game were messy, with the ball travelling from end to end three times. The Firebirds were able to withstand the confusion to win the game by three goals.
The draw does got get any easier for either team in Round 9. The NSW Swifts host the Vixens and the Firebirds travel down the road to take on the Sunshine Coast Lightning.
Queensland Firebirds 60 def NSW Swifts 57
(16-14, 29-26, 44-40, 60-57)
Player of the Match: Gretel Tippett (Firebirds)
Crowd: 5,526 at Brisbane Entertainment Centre
Aiken 43/49 88%
Tippett 17/18 94%
Wallace 13/15 87%
Housby 25/32 78%
Garbin 19/23 83%
Laura Geitz (Firebirds) 2
Gabi Simpson (Firebirds) 2
Maddy Turner (Swifts) 2
Caitlyn Nevins (Firebirds) 16
Maddy Proud (Swifts) 16
Gretel Tippet (Firebirds) 16
Tara Hinchliffe (Firebirds) 9
Sara Klau (Swifts) 9
Laura Geitz (Firebirds) 15
Maddy Proud (Swifts) 15
Maddy Turner (Swifts) 13
Tara Hinchliffe (Firebirds) 12
GS Romelda Aiken
GA Gretel Tippett
WA Caitlyn Nevins
C Mahalia Cassidy
WD Gabi Simpson
GD Tara Hinchliffe
GK Laura Geitz
GS Sam Wallace
GA Helen Housby
WA Paige Hadley
C Maddy Proud
WD Abbey McCulloch
GD Maddy Turner
GK Sarah Klau
Changes: Q2 GS Garbin, WD Eddy, Q3 WA O’Brien
Umpires: Michelle Phippard and Joshua Bowring
A look at…
Sarah Klau’s improvement this season
In last week’s media, Swifts coach, Briony Akle, targeted goal keepers as the most crucial position this Super Netball season. Given the improvement of her charge, Sarah Klau, it is no surprise that she has a great expectation from her last line of defence.
Klau has shown consistent improvement across the 2018 season. Round 7’s performance in curbing the flow of goals from Diamonds’ shooter, Caitlin Bassett, was arguably her best game of the season. Her stats weren’t spectacular, but she did put doubt in the feeder’s mind which saw Bassett post her second lowest score of the season.
At the end of Round 7, Klau features in the top eight of all the crucial defensive stats. She event sits third for the most deflections (behind Geva Mentor and Courtney Bruce). Her showing today against Romelda Aiken proves that she is thinking more about her game, rather than playing more of a reaction-style of defence. By cutting down her contacts and obstructions, she kept herself in the contest and was able to get hands to the ball.
If she keeps up this form, we have no doubt she will be again be named in the Diamonds squad at the end of the year.
Playing for each other
There has been a lot of talk about team comradery and how the team who likes each other will ‘gel’ better on court. Speculation has been rife that this emotional connection between teammates has been part of the Swifts’ winning formula this season. You can see it on court: they are genuinely friends.
The Firebirds have also spoken about this connection. After their first win of the season against the Sunshine Coast Lightning, Gabi Simpson commented that one of the things which got her side over the line was their belief and trust in each other. The core of the Firebirds team has been playing together for several years, so it is easy to assume that they are genuinely friends as well.
The ‘playing for each other’ formula was on full display in this match. There were shouts of praise and backing calls coming from many players on court. What wasn’t seen was exacerbation, head shakes and frustration in each other. When silly errors were made, teammates rallied around the offending player telling her “don’t worry about it. We’ll get it back”.
This level of support isn’t present in some Super Netball teams. One must wonder if this is the difference between success and loss. If the teams which are lacking kinship can find it, perhaps there is still a chance of making a difference come finals.
What they said
Claire O’Brien, New South Wales Swifts
It looked tough out there. How was it for you?
“It was bloody tough. Every ball we had someone riding us. The Firebirds really brought it and I think at crucial times we just went away from what we were doing well in patches of that game.”
There were a few midcourt changes for your team, what was the reason for that?
“Not sure, to be honest. I just got told at half time. I am assuming we wanted to get more depth in our attack end. So that’s what I tried to do.”
What were your instructions?
“Gabi is obviously a very experienced wing defence and she is bloody hard to play against. My job was just to try and keep her busy and keep her out of it.”
You won that last quarter..
“Oh! Did we? I didn’t know.”
I take it bonus points aren’t a focus for the Swifts?
“We have focused on the bonus points in the past and I think it threw us off a little bit. So, now we just look at the game a centre pass at a time. We obviously want to win bonus points, but we want to win the game as well.”
You have Vixens next week. They will be riding the win over Collingwood, does that change the way you prepare?
“The Vixens have been really, really good lately. I think for us we just need to keep working on what we work on and fine tune the little things in our attack end. We also need to make sure we capitalise on those turnovers our defenders get for us.”
“To get to finals we need to win some more quarters. I think that will get us up there. But we also need to review ourselves and work out what we, individually, need to work on as well.”
Gabi Simpson, Queensland Firebirds
That win seemed to mean a bit more than the average win
“Absolutely. One, because of that first game where they really took it from us. That really hurt us early on. And, two, during that bye week we had a real think of what we need to do to make sure that we start winning those close games starting last week and then this week.”
What really pleased you most about this game?
“The fact that when we did make a mistake, we were able to pull ourselves back and adjust quickly. Also, just from the start to the finish, there was consistent pressure and that was something we have really been working on.”
How does this set you up for next Sunday, the Queensland derby?
“It is so important. The Lightning had a brilliant game yesterday and showed that they are up for these close games. For us, this is important for our confidence going in to that next one.”
Does it sting that you didn’t win that last quarter and walk away with the eight points?
“I guess best case scenario is walking away with the eight points. I was probably trying to go for those eight points a little bit too early and bombing some long ones in to Romelda, so I take a bit of responsibility for that. But every game we want those eight points. It is so important because the middle of the ladder is so tight.”
You had a change of wing attack on you. Does that give you a bit of pleasure there that you got it over the first one?
“I think that comes down to the work that Mahalia and I have been doing on that centre pass. So I guess it is a good bonus and confidence boost for us that what we are doing is working so shut down that centre court. But it also gives me a fresh pair of legs to try and work down, too.”
Report: Katrina Nissen
Images: Marcela Massey