Sunshine Coast Lightning vs Queensland Firebirds, Round 3, 2019.

Nicknamed ‘The Battle of The Bruce’ (in reference to The Bruce Highway that joins the Sunshine Coast and Brisbane), the always highly anticipated Queensland derby between Sunshine Coast Lightning and the Queensland Firebirds is one game that never disappoints.

Although technically a Lightning home game, ongoing construction at their home-base at University of the Sunshine Coast forced Lightning fans to make the trek to Boondall Entertainment Centre in Brisbane. And trek they did! Lightning fans appeared in droves – ready to cheer on their team.

The loss of Firebirds captain Gabi Simpson, due to a muscle strain suffered at training during the week, was a major blow for the Brisbane outfit. It was not the most ideal of starts, and this was all before they took the court against a team who last week scored a massive 25-point win over West Coast Fever. But the Firebirds are a tenacious lot, and they didn’t disappoint.

As expected, both teams ran out hard in the opening minutes trading goal for goal. With the loss of Simpson, the Firebirds were forced to reshuffle their defence line. Tara Hinchliffe started at wing defence, Kim Jenner at goal defence and Laura Clemesha at goal keeper. Clemesha stuck tight to Peace Proscovia, and seemed threatening in the opening minutes, but eventually she proved no match for the unpredictable Ugandan. One of the most difficult shooters in the competition to defend, Proscovia mixed up her play – moving around the circle, but also holding strongly near the post. With her incredibly long reach, and her ability to get up high above her opponents, she gave the appearance of plucking the ball out of the air.

The understanding between Steph Wood and Proscovia is obvious and growing every week, with Wood playing a solid support role for her goal shooter.

 

Steph Wood – total concentration. Image Marcela Massey

 

At the opposite end of the court tight defence by Phumza Maweni  saw her take a scorching intercept in the Firebirds circle in the early minutes, the turnover allowing Lightning to bring the ball down court to score and break the Firebirds rhythm. Karla Pretorius was in brilliant form. Prowling along the top of the circle, she was available to double defend against Romelda Aiken or switch onto Gretel Tippett when she entered the circle.

Terrier like in defence, chasing and attacking everything in their path, the Lightning mid-court of Laura Langman, Madi McAuliffe and Laura Scherian are a solid and reliable combination. McAuliffe worked hard to shut down opponent Caitlyn Nevins, defending every ball. She was rewarded for her persistence when the acting captain was subbed off at the half-time.

In attack, Lightning used their extraordinary speed and momentum, varying their approach to the goal. Moving the ball straight through the mid court, switching sides and using the width of the court appeared at times too difficult for the Firebirds to defend.

It was not all bad news for the Firebirds, with goal attack Gretel Tippett scoring her 1000th career goal while posting an outstanding 40/40 (100%) for the game. She is in fabulous form and her current 89 goals for the first 3 rounds puts her in good standing for  Netball World Cup selection.

As to be expected, coach Rosalie Jencke made changes in the Firebirds defence in the 2nd quarter in an attempt to slow the Lightning down. While Jenner and Hinchliffe combined well in the circle, the midcourt struggled to connect. They were being forced towards the edges of the court by the Lightning defence, and the wider angles resulted in some errant passes sailing over the side line. While it was a full court defence, Langman and McAuliffe were particularly effective slowing down the ball ahead of their circle defenders.

In the Firebirds goal circle, Aiken was drawing Maweni out to the edge of the circle, leaving Tippett with a height difference against Pretorius and room to launch into a lay up. However Pretorius is not a player to be underestimated, and secured 7 intercepts for the game.

The Lightning reeled in 17 intercepts, and transitioned incredibly quickly from defence to attack. Scherian was particularly busy, hitting the circle edge from which point she was effective in feeding the circle. With 39 centre pass receives and 37 circle feeds, she is perhaps the most in form wing attack in Australia at the moment.

With the Lightning leading by 11 goals at half time, Firebirds coach Rosalie Jencke made the astonishing decision to drop Aiken back into goal keeper and bring on training partner Amy Sommerville into GS. Although it may have seemed to be a sign of desperation by Jencke , the aim was to give some extra height and reach against Proscovia. Aiken has some experience in the defence position, having made previous cameos there in the past, and the decision  immediately paid dividends.

Not only did it fire up the Firebirds supporters from their slumber, but it appeared to totally shell-shock the Lightning. “We had a case of the yips going into that 3rd quarter, but I think the changes in both ends, with Romelda into GK and Sommerville into GS, it took us a while to get what that meant for us as a team”, said Lightning Coach Noeline Taurua.

 

Aiken was moved to GK against Proscovia. Image Marcela Massey
Aiken was influential in defence for the Firebirds. Image Marcela Massey

 

Unsure what to make of this change the Sunshine Coast struggled to make any leeway. “[In] the third quarter we were playing to protect a lead rather than build it”  McAuliffe said after the game.

The Lightning shooters struggled against the height of Aiken, with Wood having to shoot long range at only 37% accuracy for the quarter. At the other end the Lightning defence appeared a little confused by the Tippett/ Sommerville combination. While the defence concentrated on the high-scoringTippett, Sommerville was left alone out wide and was able to pocket some crucial long range shots. Sommerville’s calm and solid performance, along with Tippett’s strength taking ball high in the air  helped the Firebirds take the third quarter along with the bonus points.

The last quarter saw no changes, but if the Firebirds thought they could continue where they had just left off, they were unfortunately mistaken. The Lightning used the break to gather themselves and returned in the last quarter to play their own game. They returned to their fast transitions and speedy work down the court. Langman’s capacity as captain to steady the ship saw them working the ball patiently down the court and adding some bounce passes in and out of the circle, to avoid the height of Aiken. Wood’s performance should not be underestimated. Her shooting stats for the game were not great (60%), but she played a significant supporting role to Proscovia with 24 goal assists.

With another solid win under their belt, The Lightning are back on the road next week heading to Sydney to take on the undefeated Swifts. The Firebirds will be counting on the return of captain Gabi Simpson to snare their first win, playing at home against the Giants.

Final score: Sunshine Coast Lightning defeated Queensland Firebirds 71 – 56 (21-15, 18-13, 15-17, 17-11)

Player of the Match: Peace Proscovia (Sunshine Coast Lightning)

 

Shooting statistics

Sunshine Coast Lightning

Peace Proscovia 53/55(96%)
Stephanie Wood 18/30 (60%)

Queensland Firebirds

Gretel Tippett 40/40 (100%)
Romelda Aiken 10/15 (66.7%)
Amy Sommerville 6/8 (75%)

 

Key Statistics

Intercepts:
Karla Pretorius (Sunshine Coast Lightning) 7
Phumza Maweni (Sunshine Coast Lightning) 5
Tara Hinchliffe (The Firebirds) 3

Centre Pass Receives

Laura Scherian Lightning) 39
Steph Wood (Lightning) 18
Gretel Tippett (Firebirds) 18

 

Line ups

Sunshine Coast Lightning
GS Peace Proscovia
GA Stephanie Wood
WA Laura Scherian
C Laura Langman
WD Maddy McAuliffe
GD Karla Pretorius
GK Phumza Maweni
Bench
Cara Koenen, Jacqui Russell, Annika Lee-Jones
Changes: Nil

Queensland Firebirds
GS Romelda Aiken
GA Gretel Tippett
WA Caitlyn Nevins
C Mahalia Cassidy
WD Tara Hinchliffe
GD Kimberley Jenner
GK Laura Clemesha
Bench
Maddison Hinchliffe, Jemma Mi Mi, Amy Sommerville

Changes:
Q2 Mi Mi C, Clemesha – bench, Cassidy WD, T. Hinchliffe GK
Q3 Cassidy C, T. Hinchliffe GD, Nevins – bench, Sommerville GS, Aiken GK, Mi Mi WA, Jenner WD/GD, T. Hinchliffe WD

 

Umpires: Helen George and Michelle Phippard

Crucial midcourt defence by Langman and McAuliffe. Image Marcela Massey

 

What they said:

Gretel Tippett (Firebirds)

How much was it a blow to the side to lose Gabi Simpson today?
“She’s an integral part of our team, she’s our fearless leader and we know she would’ve given anything to have been out there today. We all felt for her and it showed by the score-line how much we missed her, I guess.”

Were you shocked to see Romelda put on the GK bid?
“Yes! Rose said she was going to try something different. She told us at half time to get out there and give it a crack. We had nothing to lose. It was a good change up.”

What did you learn about your team, seeing you had to throw up different combinations today?
“Never give up. A bunch of young girls coming up and they gave 110% and I was just so proud of them. They still have a lot to work on and a lot to learn, but yeah, I was really proud of them.”

Romelda Aiken (Firebirds)

What was said at half time?
“We had to go out and play our game of netball, which is fun and assertive. We were a little too tense out there on court.”

The big talking point today was you playing in GK. How was that?
It was so much fun! It was really fun. I started playing netball at GK, and I’ve played there a little bit internationally and at training. It was just so good to be able to do something else to contribute to what we were doing out there on court. I loved it. It was so much fun.”

What are your thoughts on The Firebirds overall performance today?
“I thought we started out a little bit slow today, but knowing our team, we know what we’re capable of and we just need to build on that confidence and resilience out on court because once we get that together and get going, we are unstoppable. We just need to keep reminding ourselves of that at the start of every quarter.”

Was Gabi Simpson missed on court today?
“Yes, she was missed. We love having Gabi out there – she’s our leader and I think we were impacted by her not being on court, but she contributed so much from the bench. So, we look forward to having her back on court next week, learning from this and moving on to the next game.”

Noeline Taurua (coach, Lightning)

You must be happy with the result today?
“Definitely. Especially forcing some changes in their attacking end was pleasing. We had a case of the yips going into that 3rd quarter, but I think the changes in both ends, with Romelda into GK and Sommerville into GS, it took us a while to get what that meant for us as a team. I think the last 5mins of the third quarter–after our time out, –we stuck to our processes, we were able to return to our normal game of play. I think we just got caught up in a lot of things. Our defence thought there was a lot of ball coming in and we got a little fragmented, but I think coming out of time outs we do very well, and that’s something we practice a lot. I was really happy with that fourth quarter that we were able to close it up and that we were able to remain dominant.”

Peace is still getting used to you, and you are still getting used to Peace, imagine what she can do when she does settle in?
“I know, it’s amazing what she can actually do. I think there are moments there today, about half way through the 3rd quarter, start of the 4th where she goes ‘walk about’; but in saying that, she did come back and that’s really promising for her and the unit.”

Your thoughts on the defensive end today?
“I always thought, defensively, we need to shut down the amazing attacking end of the Firebirds, as we are as well, and it was going to come down to who was going to get the extra ball. The thing I like about us, is that I think we play really skilful, nice netball. We are contesting the line and getting our bodies around. This is something we pride ourselves on and I thought when we did that, we were a great unit. We just need to keep plugging away and keep progressing one week to another.”

Thoughts on next week against Sydney Swifts?
“We’re still only in Round 3. Everyone wants points. I just saw Swifts downed Fever, so that’s going to be a doozy, but we take a lot of heart about our combinations starting to gel quite nicely in attack and the defence end because we’ve got a big one next week.”

You’ve already spoken a lot about Peace and her numbers speak for itself. Is one of those qualities of her as a player is that she makes those around her look good? Some of those passes she pulls in?
“Yes, one good case about her is that she’s really strong in the air and she’s got great heart and some of those passes I thought were a little bit off field, but she pulls them in. I’m not too sure what her shooting game was, but I think it was very high as well. When she’s very strong and she’s very confident in herself, she’s unstoppable, I believe. And as the competition goes along, and this is really only the second round that she’s had good court time, hopefully by the end we reap the rewards with what she really can do in this competition and I’m looking forward to that.”

Peace Proscovia (Lightning)

Congratulations on being MVP, how did you find the game today?

“Every single week is a different week for me and it’s everyday I have to think of a different strategy to play against defenders, because I cannot deny, they are very good defenders. Winning was a very amazing thing for me and winning the MVP only motivates me to work harder.”

How did you find Romelda Aiken when she came to play on you?
“Well, I can confess, that from the start it was a hard one! I didn’t know how to go around her and eventually I had to figure my way around her, but the most important thing that kept us in the game was the midfield that kept us connected. They kept swinging the ball until we got it right.”

Forty goals last week, 53 goals this week – how much better can you get? Are you just scratching the surface? How well is your form progressing?
“Well, I can see I’m doing well, but that’s not my comfort zone. Every single week is a different week. Every single day is a different day that I have to wake up and work hard because I know the rest of the defenders are not going to give it easy to me. I’m aware of that, which is very important. So, I will take every game the way it is and just keep moving forward.”

What did Noelene have to say at ¾ time?
“She just told me that she had trust in me and believed I could do it, just to stick to what you know and just do what is right for you. I had to get back into my ‘island of paradise’ that no-one else can know and play right there.”

Maddy McAuliffe (Lightning)

Thoughts on the game today?
“We knew The Firebirds last few weeks had a really strong first half and they were going to come out hard and we were prepared for that and just went above and beyond. We were just really smart with the ball and we were lucky to turn over a bit of it. Third quarter we were playing to protect a lead rather than build it, and we got a little bit hesitant and luckily we got out it in the fourth and we didn’t let it stay for too long. We were really happy to pick up the 3 bonus points.”

Your thoughts on Romelda Aiken going into defence?
“Romelda Aiken doesn’t go into GK too much, and a massive credit to both our defence inside circle and our attacking end in forcing that change because they needed to try something different and I thought she was fantastic in keeper. It maybe took us a little bit longer to adjust, not only in attack, but also to our new moving circle.”

Thoughts on your defensive processes?
“As a team we really work on our defensive structures and really working on a defensive unit and that’s all 7 of us and not just the 4 of us at the back. So, we were really happy to get some intercepts in there and to turnover the ball and attack could convert it into a goal.”

Thoughts on the mid court combination of yourself, Scherian and Langman today?
“I think we’ve really formed a good combo in that mid court. It probably took us that first week to get that in the pre-season because even in that first year when it was the 3 of us, we played different positions together, so I think we’ve built that connection really well and work well both in defence and attack quite effectively. Langman and Shezza [Scherian] are speedy units, so I’m trying to keep up with them there, and they’re also really strong, so it’s good to try and match them in the mid-court as well.”

Tippett shot 40/40. Image Marcela Massey

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