A new look attacking line up from the Adelaide Thunderbirds gave the Queensland Firebirds fans a scare early in their Round 13 clash.

The Thunderbirds opted to start Chelsea Pitman in goal attack, as their rising star, Charlee Hodges has been sidelined for the remainder of the season due to a foot injury.

Kate Shimmin (Thunderbirds) and Gretel Tippett (Firebirds). Photo: Simon Leonard.

Dan Ryan said after the game that Pitman was to play a specific feeder role and offer support and protection for Shimona Nelson. The strategy worked during the first half, as Pitman and Bongi Msomi were able to use dexterous passing in and around the circle to open up Nelson.

The Firebirds applied the same strategy as what they did against Fever, with smothering arms over defence. But the Thunderbirds were showing patience and were more than happy to continue to rework until they found Nelson.

A Nelson sandwhich. Photo: Simon Leonard.

As they have done all season, it was the Firebirds mid-court pressure which caused headaches for their opposition. Their wall of defence off the centre caused the Thunderbirds to force uneasy, desperate passes which were swallowed by the Firebirds midcourters.

But the Firebirds were far from their best in the early stages of the match. Queenslander’s more experienced players were guilty of giving up possession in simple ways such as breaking off the centre pass and stepping.

Gabi Simpson (Firebirds) and Bongi Msomi (Thunderbirds). Photo: Simon Leonard.

Post-match Gabi Simpson said that a combination of tense nerves and pressure applied by the Thunderbirds disrupted the Firebirds’ flow and caused those errors. Regardless of the cause, Adelaide took satisfaction in not allowing the Firebirds to run away with the first quarter and denied the home side a crucial bonus point.

The Firebirds looked to have settled their nerves at the start of the second as they ran out to a three goal lead early. The change came off the predictability of Pitman not wanting to put any shots up. She only put up three five shots in three-quarters of netball.

Geitz read the attempted dish to Nelson and was able to tap the ball back to Kim Jenner. However, the transition into attack was not easy for the Firebirds.

Laura Geitz (Firebirds) and Shimona Nelson (Thunderbirds). Photo: Simon Leonard.

The Thunderbirds were able to cause congestion, restricting the Firebirds to the righthand side of the defensive circle. The Firebirds’ midcourters were forced to clear out and reoffer a couple of times before the ball was passed long to Tippett who was streaming up the centre corridor.

Tippett was instrumental in finishing the play, getting her hand to at least five touches before consolidating the defensive efforts.

Despite getting out to a three goal lead, the Firebirds were unable to extend. A forced pass from Tippett into Aiken caused the Jamaican to take the ball unbalanced and step. The moved allowed the Thunderbirds to level up again.

The Tippett lay-up. Photo: Simon Leonard.

Eventually, it was Geitz who forced a momentum shift. She got off the body and contested the ball more cleanly. From there, miscommunications by the Thunderbirds midcourt, and frustrations from Pitman saw a few more handling errors give the Firebirds easy wins.

The Firebirds then began to play with their usual speed and flare. Caitlyn Nevins and Tippett each releasing the ball from the transverse line to Aiken who was waiting under the post.

The third quarter saw Tara Hinchliffe enter the game. The youngster was instrumental in wearing down Pitman, but she was also cleaner in her defence than Jenner. This kept Hinchliffe in the game and contesting over the shot.

Fiona Fowler (Thunderbirds) and Caitlin Nevins (Firebirds). Photo: Simon Leonard.

A rare highlight for the Thunderbirds from the third quarter was the hustle they had to a loose ball knocked out of the circle by Shimmin.

The backup play from Fiona Fowler and Hannah Petty almost saw them come undone as they were both keen for the ball and fumbled it to Msomi in the centre. That was the only point scored for the Thunderbirds during a seven-goal scoring spree from the Firebirds.

The rain of purple goals came off the back of hard pressure applied by Simpson and Mahalia Cassidy who forced the Thunderbirds to rework and reoffer for the ball.

This effort saw the Thunderbirds become sluggish and allowed the Firebirds to maintain front position. Three times in the third, Simpson’s eyes lit up like a Labrador playing fetch as she pounced on the numerous intercept opportunities.

Laura Geitz (Firebirds) and Cat Tuivaiti (Thunderbirds). Photo: Simon Leonard.

The Firebirds didn’t let up in the fourth quarter despite having to contend with three sets of fresh legs. Cat Tuivaiti and Abigail Latu-Meafou worked well together. However, the former Silver Fern was kept quiet by Geitz and only contributed three goals for the quarter.

The goalers’ lack of commitment to the drive for the ball allowed Geitz to get three intercepts and two deflections and Hinchliffe one intercept and one deflection in the quarter.

Aiken was moving more in the final term and even left the circle on occasion. On one such adventure out, she got a speccy deflection.

Romelda Aiken (Firebirds). Photo: Simon Leonard.

The Thunderbirds back line didn’t let up despite the large margin. Shimmin was still up attempting blocks on the shot and managed to gain a rebound. But Thunderbirds’ inability to transition the ball successfully in attack cost her side in the end.

Next week the Firebirds will be hoping to get their first ever win against the Magpies. Last time they met in Round 6, the Firebirds were only able to take one bonus point and lost the game by five goals. Given their form over the last three rounds, fans will be expecting them to take all eight points.

In an unusual move for Super Netball, the Thunderbirds will host the NSW Swifts on Friday night. Last time they met, the Thunderbirds only lost by two goals. Will they finally get their first win, in their last game of the season?

 

Queensland Firebirds 67 def Adelaide Thunderbirds 46
(15-15, 26-22, 51-36, 67-46)

Player of the Match: Caitlyn Nevins (Firebirds)
Crowd: 4,221 at Brisbane Entertainment Centre

 

Queensland Firebirds
Aiken 45/54 83%%
Tippett 22/27 81%
67/81 83%

Adelaide Thunderbirds
Nelson 33/35%
Pitman 3/5 60%
Tuivaiti 3/3 100%
Latu-Meafou 7/8 88%
46/51 90%

 

Key stats

Intercepts
Laura Geitz (Firebirds) 7
Gabi Simpson (Firebirds) 2
Hannah Petty (Thunderbirds) 2
Leana de Bruin (Thunderbirds) 2

Feeds
Caitlyn Nevins (Firebirds) 57
Gretel Tippett (Firebirds) 35
Mahalia Cassidy (Firebirds) 29

Goal assists
Caitlyn Nevins (Firebirds) 23
Gretel Tippett (Firebirds) 17
Chelsea Pitman (Thunderbirds) 16

Centre pass receives
Bongi Msomi (Thunderbirds) 27
Caitlyn Nevins (Firebirds) 25
Gretel Tippett (Firebirds) 19

 

Starting lineups

Queensland Firebirds
GS Romelda Aiken
GA Gretel Tippett
WA Caitlyn Nevins
C Mahalia Cassidy
WD Gabi Simpson
GD Tara Hinchliffe
GK Laura Geitz
Changes: Q3 GD Hinchliffe

Adelaide Thunderbirds
GS Shimona Nelson
GA Chelsea Pitman
WA Bongi Msomi
C Hannah Petty
WD Fiona Fowler
GD Leana de Bruin
GK Kate Shimmin
Changes: Q4 GS Tuivaiti, GA Latu-Meafou, C Bryce

Umpires: Tim Marshall and Tara Warner

 

A look at…

Key match up – Laura Geitz v Shimona Nelson
To quote Dan Ryan, “The first time Shimona played Laura she got an absolute schooling.” In that Round 7 outing, Nelson was costly in turnovers and soft hands and only contributed 23 goals to the scoreboard. She was out-muscled for the ball and shied away from the aerial contest.

In Round 13, Nelson still had a few handling errors, but was muscling up on Geitz and not afraid to take it to the veteran in the air. Her movement in the circle has improved over the season, and she was able to out-manoeuvre Geitz on various occasions to take clean ball.

However, once Geitz moved off the body she was able to contest the ball more cleanly, and subsequently drew less whistle. This was when Nelson became less effective.

If she was able to improve this much over seven games, it will be interesting to see how Nelson develops if she continues in Super Netball next season.

 

What does this score mean for the Firebird’s finals chances?
We know that the West Coast Fever and Giants Netball have both secured a finals berth. But there are still a lot of ‘ifs’ and ‘maybe’s’ to play out in Round 14:
– IF Firebirds take the eight points on offer against the Magpies, they may end up in second position and get two bites at the Grand Final cherry.
– IF the Firebirds can claim a win, but not every bonus point, they will be safe but have to play the minor semi-final.
– IF the Firebirds lose, then their fate in the finals will rely on the Lightning winning against the Vixens. The Vixens will need to claim at least five points (win and get one bonus point) if they hope to push the Firebirds out of fourth spot.

 

What they said

Gabi Simpson, Queensland Firebirds

That was a crucial win, but not the full eight points, what happened?
“It is disappointing not to get the eight. We wanted to come here and get the full eight points. Every single point is important going into, hopefully, finals. But the Thunderbirds came out really strong, they interrupted our flow, and we probably tensed up a bit. So, it is a good time to learn about what not to do in that starting point.

“Once we started to play more freely and changed our game up a bit, and fly at the ball, we started to put our foot down. We need to learn those lessons now, and hopefully if we are in finals, we can put that into play.”

Did it throw you off a bit, having Chelsea Pitman as goal attack?
“Yeah. It is something we haven’t seen too much before. And, she played a really great game there. She was one of their main feeders anyway so to step into that goal attack role she continued to do that.”

What would you put Romelda’s drop in percentage down to?
“Romelda has changed her game quite a lot this year. She has started to open up the post for Gretel, so her workload has gone up. To be honest, it doesn’t bother us if she misses goals. If she misses them, she gets the rebounds, and Gret’s is working her bottom off to make sure she gets the rebounds too. So, I think what they are bringing, other than the goals, is so special and that makes this team a force to be reckoned with.”

Talk us through the changes with Tara and Kim?
“Tara started the season beautifully. Kim has given another dynamic feeling to the team in this second half. They are both amazing players, so why not utilise both?”

What are you expecting from Collingwood next week?
“They love a challenge, and they love the fact that they can totally mix up the finals. We have never beaten Collingwood, so nothing about us is going to take that game lightly. We need to win that game, and we need to play very strongly because they are going to be playing with a lot of heart for Sharni.”

 

Dan Ryan, Adelaide Thunderbirds coach

That was a fantastic first quarter, but then it slipped. What happened?
“I think we played really well in the first. We tried a few different things with the lineup because we had to. We also rolled the dice on a few strategic plans we had put in place there. The girls went into it really well and came to life nicely in the first 30 minutes.

“I think against a team like the Firebirds, who are a classy outfit and full respect to them, they will gradually wear you down as the game goes on. And for us, as the game went on, obviously a few more errors crept in which resulted in two-goal plays for the Firebirds. Those plays hurt us on the scoreboard. But, I think all our players walked off the court knowing that the score wasn’t reflective of the contest.

“It was a massive improvement from us over last week. We responded really well and if we can produce some of the quality we did today against the Swifts, we are really excited about our opportunity to play the Swifts next weekend.”

Was the strategic plan putting Chelsea in at goal attack?
“Yeah, we had a few options for goal attack. But we put Chelsea in with a pretty specific role to play. But we also had strategies of how we were going to play the defensive circle and a couple of other things through the court.

“I think, at the end of the day, we lost by 24 goals to these girls last time, so we needed to try something. We have been continually searching for ways to try things throughout the season and their application to buy into and bringing it to life was pretty good. At the end of the day, we were beaten by a stronger team.”

It looked like Shimona was getting on top of Laura Geitz for some of it. How impressed are you with her development over the season?
“I thought it was amazing. The first time Shimona played Laura she got an absolute schooling and Shimona learnt an incredible amount from that game. And she was really excited about the opportunity to get back out there again. I think with Chelsea out the front and the way we played that frontline we really protected Shimona and looked after her when previously we were a little bit reckless with just throwing the ball up and hoping she was going to take it.

“So, I thought Shimona’s performance today was rock-solid. She really responded well from her last performance against Geitz. The three in front of her gave her great support and great trust. She only missed two goals so she did all that she could do for the team. She is a delight to work with and just gets better each week.”

The vocalised support from the attack end was great to see. Is it something which you have been building over the season?
“At the start of the game, we spoke about two things we wanted to embrace: one was the challenge, it doesn’t get much harder than an informed Firebirds. And secondly, the reason we do this job is for each other. So, they got out there and tackled that. They are a really united group and have stuck together through some tough and testing times. We are really starting to see that and the way they always have each other’s backs.

Bongi was a real firecracker today. She was in everything and was everywhere. She never gives up. So, when you have someone like that in your team and on your court, when things aren’t necessarily going well on the scoreboard it is even more important.”

Bongi was scrapper today and was still quite effective, especially against an in-form Gabi Simpson.
“She can go all day and is such a fighter. She loves the opportunity to be out on court and test herself. And she loves playing against Gabi. They have had some great clashes on international stages and today was no different.”

 

 

Report: Katrina Nissen
Photos: Simon Leonard