After a season ruined by adversity, the Firebirds took a more streamlined approach into today’s game. They rediscovered the joy of playing netball, and it showed in every moment on court. While the match was taken seriously, there was also plenty of laughter and of appreciating teammate’s company. The win was a perfect way to finish the careers of Caitlyn Nevins and Laura Clemesha, who are retiring at the end of the season.
At the end of the match coach Rose Jencke reflected on her injury-riddled group, adding her voice to concerns about fixturing around the World Cup, saying, “I think that it’s (been) a long season, and you are seeing some of that with injuries over the last couple of weeks. It’s something that needs to be questioned. I still think there should be twelve players, not ten, I think we’ve got a duty of care towards the players and I’d like to see that change.”
In contrast, there was little to smile about for the Fever. They went into the game without Courtney Bruce (respiratory illness), and unfortunately kept their winless record against the Firebirds intact. While they cemented their sixth place on the ladder, it was a far cry from the record beating season of last year.
While disappointed, Stacey Marinkovich said, “Our crowd is magnificent, our support in WA is huge. They’ve been on a journey with us when we’ve had our downs before and this will be a short one because I know the girls and all of us at the club will be working overtime to make sure that we’re back for next season.”
The game started in end to end fashion, with some uncharacteristic misses from Jhaniele Fowler and several sprayed passes by the Firebirds Jemma Mi Mi, who produced five turnovers for the game. However, Caitlyn Nevins was a steadying presence for Queensland, constantly reoffering and present around the circle as she worked towards a game high 38 centre pass receives and 22 goal assists.
At the opposite end of the court defenders Tara Hinchliffe and Kim Jenner were attacking the ball, albeit in a more controlled manner than previous weeks, but struggled against the strength and height of Fowler. It wasn’t long before Romelda Aiken, who’d started on the bench, stripped off her jumper to reveal a goal keeper bib and took the court against her Jamaican counterpart.
It paid immediate dividends, with the Fever less certain of where to place the ball to Fowler, and Aiken working into good position to cause a few turnovers. Her lean over the shot produced a held ball on Alice Teague-Neeld, but pleasingly for the latter, it was her only such penalty during the game.
While the Firebirds held a healthy five goal margin at the end of the first quarter, the Fever soon returned serve. Gretel Tippett was kept relatively quiet in the early part of the second, scoring just one goal by the half way point. Despite this her growing maturity was on display – combining fluently with Lenize Potgeiter, providing certainty under the post rather than a more spectacular but less accurate offering, and a strong defensive presence in the midcourt.
Ingrid Colyer was having a fine game against Firebirds captain Gabi Simpson, readily available at the centre pass and reoffering around the circle. Colyer, Teague-Neeld and Verity Charles all shared the duty of feeding Fowler, their triangular play a foil for Aiken’s height and making it increasingly difficult for the Firebirds defenders to steal the ball.
Two early turnovers by Potgeiter in the third term saw a time out called promptly, and Aiken shifted into the more familiar position of goal shooter. Despite the resulting height mismatch in the circle Olivia Lewis, playing at goal keeper in place of her unwell skipper, managed to get up to a number of less-than-perfect passes. The youngster has impressive elevation and was the Fever’s best, but will be better served by upright positioning – a la Laura Geitz – to increase her vision down and across court, than the current crouch she prefers.
The Fever shuffled their line, introducing Shannon Eagland at wing defence, and moving Jess Anstiss and Charles forwards. It was a less effective combination than in the first half, with neither player driving hard enough in attack. Teague-Neeld stepped into the breech, with seven goal assists to the others three each.
By three quarter time Fever had narrowed the gap to just two goals, with Fowler unusually animated in the break. However, the Firebirds saved the best for last. Gabi Simpson had been relatively quiet but burst into life with one intercept and three deflections, and crucially kept Colyer out of the play. Fever gave away some clumsy errors, while the unstoppable Tippett dropped in her 30th goal without miss in an MVP performance.
While the game was still close for much of the last quarter, the smiles on the Firebirds’ faces showed just how much they enjoyed a great team effort and their first win of the season. After the match captain Gabi Simpson paid tribute to the resilience of her group, saying, “This is probably one of the proudest wins I’ve been part of, because we’ve worked so hard to get it, we’ve shown a lot of character throughout the season but we haven’t been able to show the character that’s going to get us the win and get us over the line. Today, we showed the fight, we stepped up when it counted, and there’s a lot that went into that.”
Final score: Queensland Firebirds defeated West Coast Fever 68 – 62 (19-14, 14-16, 15-16, 20-16)
MVP: Gretel Tippett
West Coast Fever: Jhaniele Fowler 58/65 (89%), Alice Teague-Neeld 4/7 (57%)
Queensland Firebirds: Gretel Tippett 30/30 (100%), Lenize Potgeiter 19/21 (90%), Romelda Aiken 19/22 (86%)
West Coast Fever: GS Jhaniele Fowler, GA Alice Teague-Neeld, WA Ingrid Colyer, C Verity Charles , WD Jess Anstiss, GD Stacey Francis, GK Olivia Lewis.
Bench: Sunday Aryang, Shannon Eagland, Kaylia Stanton
Queensland Firebirds: GS Lenize Potgeiter, GA Gretel Tippett, WA Caitlyn Nevins, C Jemma Mi Mi, WD Gabi Simpson, GD Kim Jenner, GK Taraw Hinchliffe.
Bench: Romelda Aiken, Macy Gardiner, Laura Clemesha.
Gains: Queensland Firebirds 9, West Coast Fever 5
Goals from Gains: Queensland Firebirds 7/9 (78%), West Coast Fever 2/5 (40%)
Turnovers: Jemma Mi Mi 5, Alice Teague-Neeld/Stacey Francis/Lenize Potgeiter 4
Caitlin Nevins: 38 centre pass receives, 22 goal assists
Alice Teague-Neeld: 18 centre pass receives, 22 goal assists.
Rosters for 2020: Firebirds
While the Firebirds have been riddled with injuries this season, they’ve also struggled in a few areas on court. The promising but youthful defensive end have been out of play far too often, while Jemma Mi Mi has been wasteful at times in attack. The bones of a great team are in place – particularly given the leadership of Gabi Simpson and Rose Jencke – but they need some good recruits to replace the retiring Caitlyn Nevins and Laura Clemesha, and potentially Tippah Dwan and Jemma Mi Mi who both are uncontracted at this point. A strong defensive partner is needed in the circle, while the midcourt is sure to be a focus for the coach.
Rosters for 2020: Fever
Fever have all their players on multi-year deals, other than Kaylia Stanton who comes out of contract at the end of this season. On one hand the playing group have the benefit of another preseason together, but on the other hand there are a few areas on court that could have used some strengthening, so an opportunity has potentially been missed.
Given the years that the club has invested in Stanton, it’s hard to see them letting her go at this point. The Adelaide Thunderbirds are potentially the only club with an opening for a goal attack, so it’s unlikely that she’ll want to move on either.
Where to for both clubs
While the Fever have a settled line and the Firebirds will bring in some new faces, both teams will be on a mission to reduce their penalties while simultaneously creating more turnovers. They are the two most penalised teams in the league, and standing out of play so often reduces a player’s impact on play.
The Fever have given up three more goals per game, and scored six goals less per game than in their record breaking 2018 season. They need to find a way to reverse this trend if they are to impact the ladder again next season.
The Firebirds have perhaps the most potent shooting combination in the league, particularly now that Romelda Aiken is looking more settled, so goal scoring isn’t an issue for them. Creating opportunities and delivering the ball safely to the circle will be their biggest challenge for 2020.
Looking ahead to next week
Both teams head to Sydney, with West Coast Fever taking on the Giants and the Queensland Firebirds taking on the Swifts. The outcome of those games could have a huge impact on the ladder. Having held top position on the ladder all season, the Swifts are now sitting in second. While they can’t be overtaken by the Vixens, they are just two points behind the Lightning and will want to finish the season strongly. However, the Firebirds will mount a strong challenge and could potentially take down the Swifts, particularly if Helen Housby is out for the third week running.
The Giants need a crucial win against the Fever if they are to cling onto fourth place and a berth in the finals, with the Magpies currently sitting just one point – and a superior percentage – behind them. It will be a tall ask for the Fever, particularly given that coach Stacey Marinkovich isn’t confident that Courtney Bruce will play. It that’s the case, it leaves Olivia Lewis to face the taller and vastly more experienced Australian captain, Caitlin Bassett.
What they said after the game
Rosalie Jencke (coach, Queensland Firebirds)
On today’s game: “We’ve never stopped believing, and never stopped working towards, every week we are always in with a chance…It was probably the most consistent effort we’ve put out all season.”
Her thoughts looking ahead to 2020: “I said to them yesterday that we’ve still got a lot to get out of the season. Regardless of where we are on the ladder, we can really finish off the season on a positive note and take that into 2020, and that’s what we were working towards. The spirits been good all season, even regardless of all the stuff that’s been happening, but every team goes through adversity at some stage and I think that the strength in them sticking together is a credit to them.”
We’ve got really great support from Netball Queensland. I think it’s all the strength that we get from one another, and it’s been a pretty long season with the World Cup between, and I think you are seeing that result this weekend. I think that it’s a long season, and you are seeing some of that with injuries seeing over the last couple of weeks. It’s something that needs to be questioned. I still think there should be twelve players, not ten, I think we’ve got a duty of care towards the players and I’d like to see that change. For us, we just keep working at it.
Gabi Simpson (captain, Queensland Firebirds)
Managing a difficult season: “Its just talking about it, acknowledging that it is what it is, a bad situation to be in. But we’ve had amazing players coming into the group and stepping up. That adds a whole new level to our culture in itself. Looking at it like that, every game is a new opportunity, if you can stay positive in the losses, a win is a bonus.”
What Laura Clemesha and Caitlyn Nevins have brought to the team: “You will not meet anyone more dedicated or team orientated than Clemmy. She’s our organisation girl, but the biggest thing with her is her determination. She works so, so hard. But the love and care that she shows for every player in the team has lifted everyone over her journey.”
“Caity is just a scrapper. She’s the one that when there’s a loose ball, she gets her head down and gets to it. That’s so important in a team, and her calm reassurance brings so much to the team.”
Stacey Marinkovich (coach, West Coast Fever)
Reflection on the season: “It’s been a tough year, and there’s years when you wish went a different way, but it doesn’t stop what you’re trying to do and where we’re headed and I think that while some people might have comments around line ups and the team going forwards I think it’s great that we’re keeping our team together.”
“That way I think we can have the real conversations at the end of the season, you can have those great reviews and then you’re able to work on things and build on that knowing what it is that you need to focus on. I’m looking forward to what we can do, I think there’s still a lot of growth in our area, we haven’t performed in some areas of the court as much as we did last season, but we still produce a good brand of netball, we’re scoring a lot of goals, and if we can sharpen up a few areas, change some draws into wins and close these margins down we’ll be back up there.”