2018 Final Ladder Position: 4th
Head Coach: Rosalie Jencke
2019 Gains: Tippah Dwan
2019 Losses: Laura Geitz (retired)
2019 Full Team: Romelda Aitken (GS), Gretel Tippett (GS/GA), Tippah Dwan (GA), Caitlyn Nevins (WA), Laura Clemesha (GK), Tara Hinchliffe (GD/GK), Kim Jenner (GD/GK), Gabi Simpson (WD)(captain), Jemma Mi Mi (WA/C/WD), Mahalia Cassidy (WA/C)
2019 Training Partners: Maddie Hinchliffe (WD/C), Amy Sommerville (GS/GA), Alexia Baker (GA), Macy Gardner (C/WA), Leah Middleton (GD), Bridey Condren (GK), Ruby Bakewell-Doran (GD), Rylie Holland (GS).
The Queensland Firebirds are one of the only teams who have retained a virtually unchanged line-up from 2018.
While they have lost legend Laura Geitz, her absence doesn’t necessarily mean that they will have disruption in their defensive unit. The Firebirds still have stalwart Laura Clemesha and dynamic young guns Tara Hinchliffe and Kim Jenner. This trio have been playing together since 2017 and, notably, in 2018 they put out a winning performance against the Sunshine Coast Lightning, in the absence of Geitz.
Clemesha is a smart athlete who reads play well and likes to disrupt the flow into the circle. She is tall yet nimble enough to get around the body and she retains a cool head under pressure.
Hinchliffe and Jenner both play a tagging sort of game to wear their opponents down. Last season, Firebirds’ coach Rosalie Jencke often rotated these two players through goal defence, using them for impact.
Jencke has dubbed Hinchliffe a ‘student of the game’ as she puts a lot of time into studying her opponents which allows her to mirror them on the court and anticipate their moves.
Jenner has a knack for shutting down the zippy goal attacks, effectively removing them from the game. 2018 was a big year for Jenner as she was earmarked a future Diamond and then elevated into the Diamonds squad as a training partner ahead of the 2018 Quad Series.
And, of course, both Hinchliffe and Jenner gained vital experience when they represented Australia in the 2018 Fast 5 competition. Lookout for them to make bigger impacts this season.
The Firebirds midcourt is a settled unit, with three of the players having been with the team for more than four years. This is both a positive and a curse for the club because while they don’t have to spend excess time building connections, they may need to put extra work into reinvention, so they aren’t predictable.
Caitlyn Nevins is always dynamic in wing attack, Mahalia Cassidy is continually improving at centre, while captain Gabi Simpson plays a fierce and uncompromising shut down role in wing defence.
The surprise factor may come in the form of Jemma Mi Mi who was often called upon last season when the Firebirds needed a spark in the mid court. Mi Mi is agile and has good instincts which makes her effective across all three mid court positions. This will be Mi Mi’s third season with the Firebirds but given she has only played a handful of quarters she is still a relative unknown.
There are a lot of talking points in the Firebirds’ shooting combination of Gretel Tippett and Romelda Aiken.
Tippett is coming off her best domestic and international seasons. She was the most accurate goal attack in Super Netball last year. That coupled with her athleticism and the work she did in transitioning attack and causing defensive turnovers were just some of the reasons she was named Firebirds’ Player of the Year in 2018.
Aiken is one of the most reliable goal shooters in the league and despite having played here for a decade, she is still feared because of her ability to pull the ball from anywhere and because she is still evolving her game.
The synergy of this shooting unit is undeniable and when their confidence is up, they are hard to beat.
But their confidence can also be their downfall because when they lose it, it can spell disaster for the Firebirds. Aiken’s infamous bout of the ‘yips’ in the 2016 grand final has been known to make a re-emergence in high pressure games. When that happens, Aiken’s accuracy falls away and she visibly shuts down, stalling flow in the attack end.
When Tippett loses confidence, or when a defender gets inside her head, she balks at putting shots up altogether. This means she either makes too many passes out of the circle or dishes off to Aiken. This is also when she begins to force plays resulting in offensive contacts and bad decision making.
New comer Tippah Dwan is unlikely to receive much court time given the synergy of Tippett’s and Aiken’s pairing, but her presence provides a far more balanced line up than their previous split of 4 defenders/4 midcourters and just 2 shooters.
The Firebirds are at their strongest when playing at home which is where they feed off the energy of a raucous crowd. However, three of the last four rounds of the 2019 season will be away, so this is when they will need to rely on their connections and their tenacious defence. Captain Gabi Simpson claims they play their best when their backs are against the wall, but when they are away from home will it be enough?
Another point which they may need to work on is their stamina. Last season their fourth quarter was their worst, having only won four fourth quarters the entire season. Interestingly, they tended to go out hard, winning 64% of the first and 73% of the second quarters they played.
With a balanced mix of enthusiastic youth and experienced playmakers across the court, expect the Queensland Firebirds to be in the mix for finals. Whether they make to the grand final is entirely up to them.