Following their dismal trip to the Sunshine Coast last week, where they were defeated by 23 goals, the Magpies had few resilience issues to prove to their home crowd fans. Luckily for them, they had a game against bottom-of-the-ladder Firebirds in freezing temperatures, in which to re-capture some joy in the game. The only real doubt was whether the Firebirds’ new import Lenise Potgieter had been able to establish a winning combination at GS with Gretel Tippett at GA.
The Firebirds forced their opponents to sort through some early defence strategies that were forcing the Magpie feeders wide in their attacking third. Initially, surprise starter at C Kimiora Poi was clogging up the centre corridor before she settled down to a steadier attacking game. While Poi and Kelsey Browne generally had measured approach to the goal circle, it was Natalie Medhurst’s quick passes to Shimona Nelson in the goal circle that broke up an intimidating double-team defence by Kim Jenner and Tara Hinchliffe. Medhurst led the way with eight goal assists and five goals at 100% accuracy.
The Magpies were disciplined throughout the first quarter giving up possession on only one centre pass. The Firebirds however had a horror time, giving up nine turnovers, from which the Magpies scored five times. Geva Mentor had four defensive gains in a standout quarter, but was relatively quiet for the rest of the match. Tippett and Potgieter were struggling to see where to put the ball to each other, and each finished the quarter with underwhelming figures of five goals from seven attempts.
Romelda Aiken was suited up in her first match returning from injury, but coach Roselee Jencke left her on the bench to add Erin Burger at C, who immediately found better connections with Potgieter. Caitlyn Nevins at WA was being well-smothered by Ash Brazill, so it was up to Burger to feed her South African teammate. Burger had eight feeds for the quarter, exposing Poi’s defensive game somewhat. She created better access for Potgieter who doubled her attempts to score 13 from 14.
With three minutes left in the second quarter, Jencke called a strategic timeout to protect the Firebird’s second-quarter lead of 12-10. She substituted Romelda Aiken to GK for her first appearance in the game. Each team traded centre pass conversions until the Magpies took their last centre pass with 15 seconds left on the clock and a chance to level the score. Then, WD and captain Gabi Simpson committed an intentional contact in the centre third, which the umpire advanced to the goal third with four seconds left to play. Browne had few options but to toss the ball up to the goal post, and Aiken rewarded her coach with a successful deflection to prevent the Magpies scoring the final goal.
The Magpies had a favourite pocket for feeding Nelson in the third quarter. From the forward left pocket, Browne had four goal assists and Medhurst two for the quarter. This play worked better when both the feeder and Nelson were on the move. Nelson usually sets up with her keeper between the feeder and the ball, and with good hands-over-the-ball defence from Simpson, Browne was forced to continually assess the danger and decide whether to pass or swing the ball. Luckily, she is good enough to do this accurately, but it was a potentially limiting strategy which the Firebirds did not take sufficient advantage of.
Potgieter was allowed only two mistakes in the final quarter before Aiken returned to GS with 10 minutes left in the game. This enabled Tippett to recall her reason for being, as she was able to find much more space for layup passes and feeds at the goal post. However, the final quarter proved to be the Firebirds worst, as the Magpies extended their six-goal lead by a further seven goals, to finish the match 13 goals ahead.
Wright was happy with the way his team responded after their loss to the Lightning in Round 8. “I think it was important to get the win today,” he said, “but to be a serious finals contender we need to find a couple more levels. At times we were very good today, but there were some patches where we really kept them in it. If you look at the top three teams, they would have buried a team like the Firebirds, and that’s what we have to do.”
It was a tough call to leave Kim Ravaillion on the bench at the start of the match. “We actually felt that Poi’s combination with Kelsey in a practice match during the week was probably a little bit better. I went with my gut and thought that had been working. I thought Poi did a nice job, and she was certainly nervous going out to start the game. When Rav came on, she did exactly what I wanted her to do, so I was really pleased with both of them.”
Medhurst found a balance between feeding and scoring in the match which proved her importance in the team strategy. “She went 17 from 17 today. It’s great that she shot 100%, but I was much happier with her volume. When she scores 15 goals plus, then I feel like we become a 60-goal team, so I was really thrilled with that. It also takes some of the load off Shim. Often she gets double-teamed, so if we can get ‘Bung’ into the game, it gives us two options. I felt like that was her best game since Round 1.”
With five weeks until the next game against the Giants, Wright is already thinking about how to prepare for this important matchup against the fifth team on the ladder after the break. “At the start of the season, I thought this wasn’t a good time for a break. But for us, we’ve had a couple of hard weeks and some tough, honest conversations. I think this break is a good opportunity for us now. Three weeks ago, I said that we needed to win two of the next three games to put us in a decent position. It’s going to be a cracker against the Giants. I heard Julie Fitzgerald, and she wasn’t that happy after their performance on Saturday. She said, ‘Look out after the break’, and we certainly will be.
“It’s a good thing to go into the break with a bit of happiness, because last week was incredibly ordinary. It was a good bounce-back today.”
The Magpies play the Giants at Melbourne Arena on Sunday 28 July, while the 8th placed Firebirds host second-placed Lightning on Saturday 27 July.
Collingwood Magpies (63) def Queensland Firebirds (50)
(15-10, 14-15, 16-14, 18-11)
Player of the match: Natalie Medhurst
GS Shimona Nelson
GA Natalie Medhurst
WA Kelsey Browne
C Kimiora Poi
WD Ash Brazill
GD April Brandley
GK Geva Mentor
Q3: C Kim Ravaillion
GS Lenize Potgieter
GA Gretel Tippett
WA Caitlyn Nevins
C Jemma Mi Mi
WD Gabi Simpson
GD Kimberley Jenner
GK Tara Hinchliffe
Q2: C Erin Burger, GK Romelda Aiken GD Tara Hinchliffe
Q3: GD Kim Jenner, GK Tara Hinchliffe
Q4: GS Romelda Aiken
Gretel Tippett (Firebirds) 9, Natalie Medhurst (Magpies) 5
Natalie Medhurst (Magpies) 31, Erin Burger (Firebirds) 21, Kelsey Brown (Magpies) 18
Geva Mentor (Magpies) 21, Tara Hinchliffe (Firebirds) 21