The Queensland Firebirds continued to have a troubled start to the 2019 Super Netball season, going down to GIANTS Netball 69 – 61 on Sunday.

The issues started early for Firebirds when they conceded their first centre pass to the Giants thanks to some great defensive pressure from the newest Giant, Amy Parmenter. The young wing defence looked to continue last week’s MVP performance, sticking like Velcro to Jemma MiMi. Her use of on-body defence and quick hands caused a misplaced pass from Romelda Aiken to MiMi which went sailing over the sideline.

Gabi Simpson was back in the side after missing last week thanks to a groin injury sustained during training. The Firebirds captain looked to lead by example early when she chased down every loose ball or misplaced pass. Her battle with Kim Green was physical and became like a game within a game as both experienced players looked for new and inventive ways to outplay each other.

The first mini-win was given to Simpson when she forced Green to overcook a pass to Caitlin Bassett which allowed the Firebirds to draw even at 3-3. But the Simpson/Green battle had to be segmented as Simpson load managed her injury, only managing to play half of each of the first three quarters and the full final quarter. The silver lining from the captain’s injury was the Suncorp Super Netball debut of Maddie Hinchliffe as Simpson’s replacement in wing defence.

Maddie Hinchliffe (Firebirds) makes her Suncorp Super Netball debut against Kim Green (Giants). Image: Simon Leonard

Speaking after the game about Maddie’s introduction, her twin sister Tara Hinchliffe said, “I was so excited. We knew that was the plan to bring her on. We got to have game day brekkie together at home which was exciting. I was so proud to see her come out on court. It gave me goosebumps.”

Tara said that ‘twin-tuition’ did help a little bit out on court, “We definitely felt connected, and that felt good. The dynamic worked really well, and hopefully, we can keep building on it.”

Earlier in the preseason, Maddie said that she had hopes and very little nerves about a possible Super Netball debut because she knew that “when I step out there, I know that Tara and the rest of my Firebirds family will have my back.”

Despite those extra connections, Green was still able to exploit the Firebirds’ lack of experience in defence. The 202 game veteran utilised fakes, dodges and mostly perfect bullet passes to out-manoeuvre ‘twinchliffe’ and Firebirds’ goalkeeper, Laura Clemesha.

In the Giants’ defensive end, Jamie-Lee Price joined Parmenter and Kristiana Manu’a in applying pressure high in the goal third. The trio often used ball-side positioning to move their opponents wide, thus forcing the cross-court passes.

When the ball did enter the circle, Aiken looked uncomfortable putting up shots, often dishing to Gretel Tippett, even on the penalty shots. The Diamonds goal attack put up 41 goals and had her second game in a row with perfect accuracy.

Gretel Tippett (Firebirds) takes a strong leap into the circle as Sam Poolman (Giants) tries to stop the pass. Image: Simon Leonard.

The Giants continued their structured defence into the second quarter – putting themselves between the ball and their opposition. With the Firebirds caught behind and not driving to the ball, their passes were forced high, resulting in turnovers and a six-goal Giants shooting spree.

But, when Caitlyn Nevins entered the game at wing attack (to a raucous welcome from the home crowd), she had an immediate impact. Nevins’ speed across the transverse allowed her to take the bulk of centre passes, which allowed Tippett to set up for the second and third phase.

Speaking after the game, Tippett said “It was a natural adjustment when Caity came on. I thought ‘perfect’ because it just worked so nicely. So, I just went about doing what I had to do without worrying about those sort of things (centre passes).”

Nevins also brought smarts and great vision to the game, often finding the perfect feed into her shooters. The mid-court dynamo finished the game with 30 feeds, 28 centre pass receives and only two turnovers. Despite her impact, the damage was done, with the Giants going into the main break with a five-goal lead.

At the start of the third, the Giants had a change in their shooting circle, subbing on Kiera Austin for Jo Harten who had only managed three goals in the second quarter. Austin was surprised by her injection in the game, saying she believed it was brought about because Harten was “a bit sore and a bit tired.”

Her introduction didn’t concern the Firebirds defenders, with both opting to double team Bassett and let Austin take the early shots.  This was something which Austin was more than capable of doing netting four smooth mid-range shots in her first three minutes on the court.

Kiera Austin (Giants) was comfortable shooting from mid-range. Image: Simon Leonard

Austin believes that her pairing with Bassett brings something a little different to the Giants shooting circle. After the game, she said, “I really like sweeping the front, and if I draw the play and don’t get the ball 100 times, I’ll keep doing that as long as CBass keeps getting them and shooting the goals.”

The third quarter was the best of the game for the Firebirds in terms of shooting volume. Aiken was coming out on the lead more, allowing Tippett to make stronger drives into the circle. Aiken also lifted her goal scoring rate thanks to better-placed feeds from Mahalia Cassidy and Nevins, which drew the contact calls against Sam Poolman. These extra calls frustrated Poolman who lost her usually calm demeanour.

The final quarter lifted in intensity as the Firebirds tried in earnest to get their hands on at least one bonus point, and chase down the seven-goal deficit. The Giants also lifted as they tried to go for a clean sweep of the bonus points and game.

If the Firebirds hoped that an ankle injury to Kim Green would slow down the attack of the Giants, they were mistaken, as Austin seamlessly transitioned to play outside the circle and Jo Harten was brought back on in goal attack.

Austin changed her usual smooth, floating goal attack style of play the shorter sharper wing attack style necessary for the role. Speaking after the game she acknowledged the challenges of the dual roles, “in wing attack I feel like to have to create the play, rather than observe the play as I do in goal attack. I was glad to have a crack at both today.”

Despite their best efforts, the Firebirds walked away from the game without claiming any bonus points. Interestingly, the Firebirds got their hands to ten more deflections than their opposition. However, they only capitalised on a mere 22% of their gains, to the Giants 38%. This an area which they know they will have to rectify if they hope to make it further up the Suncorp Super Netball ladder.

Tara Hinchliffe claims the match “was a very frustrating game. In the first couple of quarters, we were close to them, and then we got tired, we got slack, and we let them get to us. We need a bit more mongrel.”

Jamie-Lee Price (Giants) and Mahalia Cassidy (Firebirds) chase down a loose ball. Image: Simon Leonard

It is a quick turnaround this week for the Giants who will travel back to Queensland on Saturday to take on the Sunshine Coast Lightning in their newly revamped home court at USC Stadium.

The Firebirds will fly to Adelaide to take on the embattled Adelaide Thunderbirds. Speaking after the game about the upcoming match, Tippett had praise for the Thunderbirds new-look defensive unit, “I love watching their defensive end. Shamera Sterling is able to get her hand to any ball. It is going to be a really good challenge for us”.

 

GIANTS Netball 69 def Queensland Firebirds 61

(15-14, 18-14, 19-17, 17-16)

 

Player of the Match:   Kim Green (Giants)

Crowd: 3243 at Queensland State Netball Centre

Umpires: Helen George and Andrea Booth

 

Queensland Firebirds

Romelda Aiken 20/28 71.4%

Gretel Tippett 41/41 100%

61/69 88.4%

 

GIANTS Netball

Caitlin Bassett 50/57 87.7%

Jo Harten 12/20 60%

Kiera Austin 7/9 77.8%

69/86 80.2%

 

Key Stats

Intercepts:

Laura Clemesha (Firebirds) 3

Sam Poolman (Giants) 3

Tara Hinchliffe (Firebirds) 2

Jamie-Lee Price (Giants) 2

Amy Parmenter (Giants) 2

 

Feeds:

Caitlyn Nevins (Firebirds) 29

Kim Green (Giants) 27

Jamie-Lee Price (Giants) 25

 

Penalties:

Laura Clemesha (Firebirds) 25

Tara Hinchliffe (Firebirds) 21

Kristiana Manu’a (Giants) 20

Sam Poolman (Giants) 20

 

 

Line ups

Queensland Firebirds

GS Romelda Aiken

GA Gretel Tippett

WA Jemma MiMi

C Mahalia Cassidy

WD Gabi Simpson

GD Tara Hinchliffe

GK Laura Clemesha

Bench: Caitlyn Nevins, Maddie Hinchliffe, Amy Sommerville

Changes: Q1 Maddie Hinchliffe WD, Gabi Simpson – bench

Q2 Gabi Simpson WD then bench, Maddie Hinchliffe WD, Caitlyn Nevins WA, Jemma MiMi – bench

Q3 Gabi Simpson WD then bench, Maddie Hinchliffe WD,

Q4 Gabi Simpson WD

 

GIANTS Netball

GS Caitlin Bassett

GA Jo Harten

WA Kim Green

C Jamie-Lee Price

WD Amy Parmenter

GD Kristiana Manu’a

GK Sam Poolman

Bench:  Kiera Austin, Teigan O’Shannassy, Matilda McDonell

Changes:  Q3 Kiera Austin GA, Jo Harten – bench

Q4 Kiera Austin WA, Jo Harten GA, Kim Green – bench

 

A look at …

Firebirds’ Predictability

In the preseason, the Firebirds acknowledged that predictability could be an issue for their side and it seems their fears are ringing true. Having a mostly unchanged attacking unit for the past three-to-five seasons has given the opposition a chance to learn the Firebirds playbook.

Tippett’s flair is becoming easier to counteract, with many sides now able to position defenders in such a way as to draw the contact calls or deflect the feeds. Also, with the introduction of a few more aerial style defenders, Aiken’s aerial abilities are being challenged better than ever.

Last week’s surprise move of shifting Aiken to defence and introducing a moving circle paid dividends for the Firebirds and was one of their most successful quarters in terms of goals scored this season. While Laura Clemesha did have a good outing against Caitlin Bassett on Sunday, it is still interesting that Firebirds coach, Roselee Jencke, didn’t utilise Aiken’s defensive pressure again with the bonus of introducing Amy Sommerville as a far more mobile opponent for Sam Poolman.

The Firebirds attack end is going to need to adjust their feeds when they take on the Thunderbirds next week, and with their tenacious defender, Kim Jenner, out for at least another three weeks (broken finger), perhaps this is their chance to reinvent themselves.

Giants coach, Julie Fitzgerald, signalling her team to call a time-out. Photo: Simon Leonard

Giants changing mentality

Despite the game getting scrappy at times, the Giants maintained composure the best out of the two sides on Sunday. Kiera Austin says that the shift for the Giants is in the way they are focusing on the little things.

Austin admits that in the first couple of rounds Giants got caught up in the hype and got ahead of themselves and tried to do too much. She says that their coach, Julie Fitzgerald, has been calling on them to focus on “what is important now.”

This mentality of not looking too far ahead, and the clever and calculated use of time-outs, has given the Giants the ability to micro-manage each game. Each player appears to have to assumed responsibility for what they have to do on the court. Thereby focusing on their own players, and not trying to do too much, it allowed the Giants to run with their opponents, analyse and read the play so they could cover it.

The way the Giants roll-out their leads, move as a unit in defence and wind into transition seamlessly could give any team a schooling and how a well-oiled team functions.

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