Giants were hoping for their first home win against the Queensland Firebirds and there were hot matchups presented all over the court.
Laura Geitz would face Jo Harten, as they had so many times in international tests including the recent Commonwealth Games final and Kim Green was to have a captains’ battle against old mate and foe, Gabi Simpson.
“I just love the battles with Kimmy, she’s so smart, physically we match each other, and it’s just that cat and mouse game – she’ll make a move, she’ll beat me once, I’ll try and adjust, and then we’ll go back and forth,” said Simpson.
In many parts of the court, athletes stood each other for the very first time – rookie Queenslanders Tara Hinchliffe and Mahalia Cassidy against Giants veterans Susan Pettitt and Serena Guthrie, in her 50th match.
From the outset momentum swung continually and despite perfect shooting from Gretel Tippett and the Firebirds leading for six minutes near the end of the match, the Firebirds made pressured mistakes in feeds to Romelda Aiken. The deceptive feeding from Harten to Kristina Brice gave the Giants the last four goals and sealed a thrilling two-goal win.
Aiming for some payback for the Commonwealth Games, Geitz had a barnstorming first quarter on Harten, easily taking front position and causing frustration and a measly output of four goals. In contrast, Pettitt was shouldering more scoring burden, leaving Tara Hincliffe in her dust several times. While she did front-cut brilliantly, she wasn’t connecting with Harten, clocking zero feeds and goal assists in the first quarter.
Aiken had the nearly unanswerable weapon of height and the Queensland attack line had more options overall, and with Tippett repeatedly setting each other up for easy attempts. Mistakes did come when Aiken ventured too far out of the circle and tried to slam the pass to her shooting partner.
Jamie-Lee Price appeared to struggle, as she came in late we penalised three times for contact, unable to stop Caitlin Nevins, who opened with five goal assists for the quarter. Mahalia Cassidy produced very quick releases with a good arc of the ball to Aiken under the post.
Although the Giants midcourt attack of Serena Guthrie and Kim Green were secure, it did come down to the missed shots and unavailability of Harten, along with Geitz’s three defensive gains in explaining the 15-12 quarter scoreline in favour of the visitors.
Needing to open the passage to goal, Giants coach Julie Fitzergerald brought Kristina Brice to goal shooter and moved Harten to goal attack, with Pettitt on the bench, to start the second quarter.
Brice’s economical movement, and hold gave confidence to the Giants feeders. She sank her first five attempts on the way to a tally of 12/14 for the term. Geitz was still well in the contest if Brice moved off her mark and out of the circle.
The centre pass receives was a tactical contrast between teams, with Green taking 14 of 27 for Giants in the first half, while the Firebirds shared evenly between Tippett, Nevins, and Simpson. However in the second quarter, Harten took some responsibility for the first phase, which made the structure in attack less predictable and the pass to Brice more open.
Within five minutes, the clean access to Brice brought the scores level at 17-all, prompting Queensland to call a time-out to settle the troops. The Giants continued to roll on and after three more minutes pulled out to a 22-19 advantage.
Nevins kept a slick connection to Aiken, but Guthrie and Green seemed to have both more attacking space and more defensive endeavour, getting the upper hand over Cassidy and Simpson.
The second quarter was clearly the Giants’ – they were more determined to scramble for pickups and rewarded by the subtle moves from Brice. There was also an improvement in timing from Sam Poolman in reading the space, grabbing four intercepts, the stat proving to be a decisive feature in the match.
Despite Aiken and Tippett keeping 100% accuracy, Giants took the bonus point for the quarter and lead 28-26 at the main break.
Poolman was replaced by returning former Diamond Kristiana Manu’a in goal keeper for the third quarter. This was a deliberate ploy from the Giants coaching staff, according to Fitzgerald.
“In the last couple of weeks we’ve struggled to maintain intensity across the four quarters. We thought if Kristiana came out that Sam could sit down and have a little look at what’s happening…. (and then plan) to bring a fresh Sam back on for the last few minutes.”
Jemma Mi Mi, who had replaced Cassidy at centre, moved to wing attack after two minutes, forcing Nevins to the bench with no apparent injury.
Kim Green was performing brilliantly against Simpson, timing her drive beautifully and using excellent shoulder and core strength to to hold her opponent off and even gain an intercept off a pass to Mi Mi. The possession Green did give up was more the responsibility of the bad choice of passes her teammates made to her.
For the first part of the third quarter, Geitz had the better of Brice – contesting off the body and creating doubt.
After six minutes, the Giants called a time out with the scores 31-30 in their favour. Tippett stood up well in the third quarter, with six goals from as many attempts, four assists and another spectacular layup. She did however give away a very notable bad pass to Aiken, with the Firebirds potentially losing touch, trailling 40-37 with two minutes until the final break.
In a tense final fifteen minutes, both Harten and Tippett were agonisingly close to winning the ball on the transverse line. Harten earned the first two goal assists for the Giants, using balance and deception to move Geitz off Brice just enough.
Aiken was forced into fortuitous rebounds when she missed two shots, before the Giants called a tactical timeout, with scores level at 44-apiece. Manu’a, who received a caution for coming in under Aiken, was replaced by Poolman.
Just as Firebirds took the lead 47-46, umpire Marc Henning called a novel, but warranted obstruction on Aiken, taking a difficult circle-edge ball with the right arm vertical, with her left barring Poolman’s contest.
The pressure on every ball was incredible, with a mistake from Tippett coming from out of court soon redeemed by a pinball machine from Simpson to another six players, eventually collected by Mi Mi and converted.
The Harten-to-Brice pass was still working, and the youngster appeared ever-so cool on the shot. Indeed Harten appeared to have saved her best for last, with six goals in the last quarter and some slick triple-plays with the feeders. Giants lead 52-51 when Cassidy gave perhaps her worst feed of the match, gifting the ball to Poolman.
Two behind and with a Giants’ centre pass, the Firebirds called a very basketball-reminiscent timeout, with only 21 seconds remaining. Despite an overambitious pass to Guthrie giving the Firebirds a glimmer of hope, Queensland couldn’t convert in time, with the home team victorious.
Giants 53 def Queensland Firebirds 51
(12-15, 28-26, 41-39, 53-51)
Player of the match: Jo Harten (Giants)
Harten 18/20 90%
Pettitt 8/9 89%
Brice 27/31 87%
Aiken 32/28 84%
Gretel Tippett 19/19 100%
Jo Harten – 2 intercepts, 2 deflections, 1 rebound
Sam Poolman – 5 intercepts, 3 deflections, 8 penalties
Mahalia Cassidy – 2 intercepts, 11 penalties
Gabi Simpson – 1 intercept, 3 deflections, 10 penalties
Tara Hinchcliffe – 2 intercepts, 3 deflections, 2 rebounds, 18 penalties
Laura Geitz – 3 intercepts, 8 deflections, 3 rebounds, 12 penalties
GS Jo Harten
GA Susan Pettitt
WA Kim Green
C Serena Guthrie
WD Jamie-Lee Price
GD Bec Bulley
GK Sam Poolman
GS Romelda Aiken
GA Gretel Tippett
WA Caitlyn Nevins
C Mahalia Cassidy
WD Gabi Simpson
GD Tara Hinchcliffe
GK Laura Geitz
Umpires: Helen George, Marc Henning, Michelle Phippard (reserve)
What they said
Julie Fitzgerald, Giants coach
On the game as a whole and the shooting position changes
“There are obviously a couple of times as a coach you look back and wish we’d done things differently, but I thought much more controlled this week. We handled the situation a whole lot better. Firebirds are a really quality side, and I felt that we would need to mix things up against them, just to keep making them guess and keep changes coming.”
“Kristina Brice did a great job. How hard is it for Pratley (Susan Pettitt) – we just needed that target at the back and KB provided that for us and Jo’s extra defence in the middle really helped us out. She can pick us up a little bit of ball in the middle. We knew that the middle was going to be terribly important, because their ends are spectacular.”
On Serena Guthrie’s 50th game and how she contributes to the team
“Oh, she’s fantastic! She’s a great personality, but she’s also a person of great character. Having her in own team just enhances everything.”
On whether Guthrie and Harten winning Commonwealth Gold has given them on ongoing boost
“I think all our players have a great impact, I couldn’t single those two out. Jo hasn’t come from a traditionally winning culture in that sense, so this year’s been a big year for her. I’ve coached her now for five years, and I’ve seen her really grow across that time.”
On why Poolman was taken off despite taking four intercepts in the second quarter
“We’ve found that in the last couple of weeks we’ve struggled to maintain intensity across the four quarters. We thought if Kristiana came out that Sam could sit down and have a little look at what’s happening. Kristiana did a reasonable job for us while she was there and then it was nice to bring a fresh Sam back on for the last few minutes.”
On how strong Kim Green looks and how she used her conditioning to beat Gabi Simpson
“Kim’s a strong girl and I just can’t stress enough how much, how hard she’s worked through her rehab. She didn’t want to just come back, she wanted to come back as good as she was – she’s getting there and I couldn’t be happier. Green and Guthrie do know their roles really well and I thought they were very very good tonight, in both attacking and defence. It was very important for us that the midcourt stood up, and they did.”
Serena Guthrie, Giants
“You never quite know how long you’re going to be able to stay out here and compete at this level, so I’m very happy to be able to get 50 games, especially for this club, because it’s such a fantastic club – and it was such a tough game today, so, very happy with the win.”
On whether she noticed the pressure in the tight final quarter
“God yeah, you feel the pressure, but you get used to it and you learn to start enjoying those pressure moments. Those are the moments you kind of play for, live for. It was pretty intense out there, but the team stuck together pretty well. Win or lose, those are the moments you learn a lot about yourself and the game and tactics, and what you can do to improve”.
Gabi Simpson, Firebirds captain
On whether it’s possible to pinpoint a certain winning/losing moment, or if it’s just the ability to withstand pressure
“That was a brilliant game of netball, in the scheme of pressure, high-contest, ball going back and forth, some mistakes after mistakes, and then some wins after wins. There’s no one moment, I’d say what we need to be able to do is in that last pressure moment, be able to have those calm heads. But to be honest, that was consistent throughout the game.”
Were you unhappy with any particular kind of mistakes?
“Probably just our ability to maintain calm possession really. But to be honest, those errors were forced upon us, because of the great pressure from (the) Giants. Their contest pressure was probably the best that we’ve come up against this year, so that’s something that we will grow from, because now we’ve experienced it, so we will learn how to deal with that better. There were patches that we played just fearless, (and) let that ball go. Jemma Mi Mi came on and did a really great job at that and that was really impressive.”
On whether the Commonwealth Games final match loss to England was in her and Geitz’s minds
“To be honest, no. I thought it might be – obviously around the time when we had the loss I thought it would stick with me, but no, the focus was purely on Firebirds and Giants. They bring slightly different style, and we just wanted to get that win. Unfortunately, we didn’t.”
“That’s the beauty of Geitzy. It always takes a bit of time to adjust to a change. And she has the smarts that she’ll just slowly work things out, adjust, and then bring her dominance into the game. That’s what we love about her. Also I think Grets (Tippett) was just fantastic in that last quarter. She really came into the game and took leadership control in that attack end, and that’s huge growth from her.”
On the matchup against Kim Green
“I haven’t played Kimmy I think since the 2016 grand final and I just love the battles with her, because she’s so smart, and like you said, physically we match each other. And it’s just that cat and mouse game – she’ll make a move, she’ll beat me once, I’ll try and adjust and then we’ll go back and forth. I love that challenge! I think she probably got on top of me today to be honest, but I’ll look forward to going again.”
Cover image: Danny Dalton