Kicking into the second half of the season the Queensland Firebirds host the Giants at the Gold Coast Convention and Exhibition Centre. After some indifferent performances in their last couple of games, the Firebirds entered the game keen to show their Gold Coast fans what they are capable of. For the Giants, with just one loss in the season so far, they are looking to extend their championship lead at the top of the ladder. The result would eventually favour the ladder leaders, but it was a performance that lifted the monkey off the backs of the Firebirds, and left them feeling a lot more confident about the second half of the season.
The first quarter proved to be the one which eventually defined the outcome of the game. The Firebirds, led by goal defender, Laura Clemesha started with confidence picking up a pair of early intercepts the Firebirds took early control of the game, taking a four-goal lead to the delight of the locals.
South African centre, Erin Burger, having just returned from her homeland, was rested in the first half allowing youngster Jemma Mi Mi to be entrusted with the centre bib. Giant centre, Serena Guthrie was able to dominate the midcourt. The Giants had a methodical approach and, without panic, were able to chip away at the Firebird lead. The Giants, on the back of sensible play and outstanding shooting, finished the quarter 14-10 ahead. Ten Firebird turnovers for the quarter were key to the Giants obtaining the necessary attempts at goal for their shooters, Jo Harten and Susan Pettitt, to step ahead.
The second quarter played out more nicely for the Firebirds, who were able to calm the frequency of turnovers, and play quality netball at the level of their more-fancied rivals. On the back of strong defensive play throughout the court, the Firebirds were able to see the score levelled. As the Giants begged for time, the two teams retreated to their coaching staff. A subtle smile on the face of Roselee Jencke in stark contrast to the dejection expressed during the last round. The Giants slowly pegged back their lead to the same differential as the first quarter, the score for the second tied at thirteen goals each.
A spirited battle, the Giants and Firebirds are locked in a see-sawing arm wrestle, which was to continue for the rest of the game. Caitlyn Nevins, wearing her more-familiar wing attack bib, was superb, able to get where-ever she needed to be, and presenting ball to her shooters without hesitation. Romelda Aiken and Gretel Tippett, plagued by some less-memorable performances recently, were shooting and moving extremely well. Aiken was particularly dynamic, with superb give-and-go plays bamboozling the Giant defenders.
With Tippett making strong drives, and using her creative flair to find Aiken, the pair were difficult to stop. With Pettitt and Harten firing so beautifully at the other end, the game was beginning to become a delightfully spectacular shoot-out. When the Firebirds are able to disrupt the flow, and force the Giants into broken play, they were dominating, while the Giants were better at controlling the tempo and dominating the more-structured play. At the close of the half Giants were able to recover their lead 27-23.
As the third quarter commenced, the Firebirds welcomed back their South African centre Erin Burger, who quickly demonstrated her timely knack for picking off intercepts. For the Giants, Sarah Wall made her debut for the team replacing Taylah Davies. Again, Nevins is sublime for the Firebird attack, and the addition of Burger made the Firebird attack all the more dangerous. Guthrie and Wall working well to prove the Giants were equal to the challenge, feeding a flawless shooting duo. The Firebirds managed to win the quarter 14-13, turning over the ball just four times while maintaining their creative flair. This is the performance the Firebirds need to compete at this level of competition and demonstrates they have not lost that capability.
The final stanza to this story saw the Giants step back up, to outscore the Firebirds 15-14, essentially nullifying the entire final three quarters of the game. The Giants won this one in the first quarter, the Firebirds, ruing a missed opportunity to upset the Giants, but buoyed by a superb performance in which they were able to run with the best in the competition, and push them until the final moments. Again, the attacking ends of both teams firing, almost undeterred by the defensive efforts of their opposing teams.
The Firebirds made a switch with nine minutes to go, bringing Kimberley Jenner into the game, at the time the Giants had edged ahead by five. An intercept by Romelda Aiken sparked a comeback, surging on confident emotion. As the game closed, the penalty differential and turnovers in that all-important first quarter proved the difference, penalty count of 82 for the game to the Giants 59.
Giants will take the intensely fought and hard-earned win. Firebirds contesting to the end, enthused by a far more confident performance were clearly jubilant at the close of the game in spite of their loss. This Firebird team appeared far more resilient and battle-hardened than the team which travelled to the Sunshine Coast in round seven.
Firebirds captain Gabi Simpson surmised the Firebird performance:
“I think that was one of our best games yet to be completely honest. We started to get that flow back and a bit more of that fearless play. We’ve done some really hard work in the last three week to sharpen our game up. I’m so proud of the improvement from last week, we don’t really need to be at the top of our game right now, it’s at the end of the season when we’re building and we hit finals.”
Giants captain Jo Harten looked back on their game stating:
“We didn’t control that game enough we had patches of brilliance and patches of scrappy netball. Obviously happy to get it over the line. Jules (coach Julie Fitzgerald) will want more from us, we want more from us, we are always looking for that extra bit, that extra step up in our next game.”
Giants 55 def Queensland Firebirds 51
Player of the Match: Susan Pettitt (Giants)