The Queensland Firebirds christened their new home court at the Queensland State Netball Centre, with a thrilling 57-all draw against the Collingwood Magpies.

The Firebirds started the game shakily and gave up two early turnovers by way of basic handling errors, however they were able to win the ball back thanks to their stifling full-court defence.

The Firebirds defensive tone was set by their young backend defenders, Tara Hinchliffe and Kim Jenner, who turned it on for the rowdy home crowd. The duo pocketed six intercepts, nine gains and five deflections for their 60 minutes.

 

Image: Kathy Bartolo

 

After only three minutes and thirty seconds of play, the Magpies were dealt a blow: while jostling for the ball Magpies’ Nat Medhurst was on the receiving end of Hinchliffe’s shoulder. The 222-game veteran was forced to leave the court to receive stitches to her bloodied upper-lip.

In her absence, former training partner Gabi Sinclair was brought on at goal attack. Sinclair was confident shooting three-from-three from mid-range. But the Magpies attacking end was sluggish and without Medhurst’s cool head and game smarts, many of the passes were forced into the circle, resulting in turnovers.

The battle between Caitlyn Nevins and Ash Brazill was feisty. Brazill wasn’t afraid to draw the umpires’ whistle as she attempted to stifle every pass sent to Nevins, with the frustration showing on the diminutive wing attack’s face. The extra attention saw Nevins fumble crucial ball in the pocket. At the end of the first she was benched, and Jemma MiMi was brought on as her replacement.

Brazill was humble when speaking about the change and wasn’t willing to take the full credit. “It is always a goal of Kim (Ravaillion) and I, to get one of our midcourters sent off. It is a duo thing. I was shocked to see her sent off, but I wasn’t surprised to see her come back on. Caitlyn is an unbelievable player and sometimes you have to be switched on mentally more than physically to try and outrun her.”

The second quarter saw the Firebirds get their tails up as they confidently swung the ball across the court with speed and little disregard for the opposition. Many a time the Magpies were left flying for an attempted intercept as the ball sailed over their heads.

Geva Mentor was kept unusually quiet by Romelda Aiken who was perhaps showing she didn’t want to warm the bench this weekend. The Firebirds stalwart was displaying dexterity in her footwork and was even found taking confident passes outside the circle. With each venture out she took Mentor with her, leaving valuable space free for Gretel Tippett to blitz into the circle to take a pass under the post.

Firebirds captain, Gabi Simpson, was also winning her battle with Kelsey Browne in the first half. She matched pace with Browne and kept her off the circle enough so that the wing attack only had 11 goal assists in the first 30 minutes of play.

Jenner and Hinchliffe switched position but still continued to smother all Magpies’ high ball into the circle, and when sending the ball into transition were instrumental in getting the ball quickly to their scoring end.

Speaking after the game, Nissan Player of the Match, Jenner, said she enjoyed the match. “It was fun. There were so many worthy players on the court. Every one of our defenders were able to get hand to ball and our attackers made it look easy.”

The quarter-for-quarter switch between Hinchliffe and Jenner was intentional. Jenner confirms that it was something practiced at training and which we may see more regularly. “It was something different and gives them (opponents) something to think about.”

During half-time the Magpies discussed accountability, with Brazill confirming the players were talking openly and honestly about what they thought each other needed to do to get back into the game. “We are a unique and honest group. It can sometimes be confronting but it is good that we can say it before coaches can say it to us.”

The candor sparked a Magpies’ fightback in the first three minutes of the third term.

Defensively, Mentor and April Brandley adjusted their positioning to come off the body. And, by protecting the space in front of the post, Brandley was able to force Tippett into an offensive contact as she attempted to squeeze in between her defender and the upright.

The defensive adjustment into a floating style also gave Mentor her second intercept for the game as she picked up a ball just outside the circle.

 

Image: Kathy Bartolo

By the fourth unanswered goal the Firebirds, unsurprisingly, called a time-out. On resumption, Gabi Simpson did what she does best and won the ball as it was flying over the sidelines. But it wasn’t enough to spark a full momentum shift.

Despite being a better physical match for Brazill, MiMi began to make costly unforced errors as she earnestly tried to hold on to the ball for her side. By five-minutes into the third, Brazill had forced her second wing attack to the bench, with Nevins re-entering the fray.

As the intensity of the game increased and the scoreline drew closer, the physicality of the match returned with gusto. Tippett was pinged for near-consecutive offensive contacts and she was issued with a warning following an AFL style mark on Brazill.

Kelsey Browne was also cautioned for a deliberate contact which resulted in the penalty being advanced.

Despite the extra whistle, the Magpies adjusted best and were able to convincingly win the quarter by seven goals setting the stage for a thrilling final quarter.

Speaking after the game, Gabi Simpson, alluded that her side failed to adjust to the extra whistle and intensity of the game. “I think it is important that we stay cool and calm under pressure, whether it be defensive pressure or umpire pressure. We continue to grow in that area, and I think it is something that we need to keep adapting too. And, the more we build into the season, the smarter we will get, the more growth we will have.”

The final quarter went mostly goal-for-goal and the 4,578 strong crowd rode each pass, shot and call with agonising vocalisation.

As the tension built, second and third phase play became laboured as both sides were finding it hard to penetrate their attacking thirds.

This pressure-cooker atmosphere saw the Firebirds begin to play with nerves, none more so than Aiken who reverted to teasing the 3-second rule with each shot.

By comparison, the Magpies were playing with desperation, rushing each centre pass in the hope of causing a turnover to break the tie.

Both sides appeared relieved when the final whistle came. Simpson confirmed that she was proud of her team for maintaining composure and putting up the fightback. “It is exciting and scary that we still have a ways to go.”

Speaking after the game, Ash Brazill said that, “A draw is still better than a loss. We still get points on the board. I think for us making a comeback it is the positive to take out of it.”

The Firebirds will search for their first 2019 season win next week when they take on the Sunshine Coast Lightning at the Brisbane Entertainment Centre. The BEC is the Firebirds former home court so they are hoping for a vocal crowd again.

The Magpies are on the road again in Round 3 and will face Giants Netball at Quaycentre.

 

Queensland Firebirds 57 tied with Collingwood Magpies 57

(15-13, 32-24, 43-42, 57-57)

 

Player of the Match:   Kim Jenner (Firebirds)

Crowd:4,578 at Queensland State Netball Centre

 

Queensland Firebirds

Romelda Aiken 31/39 79%

Gretel Tippett 26/27 96.3%

57/66 86%

 

Collingwood Magpies

Shimona Nelson 42/47 89.4%

Nat Medhurst 10/12 83.3%

Gabi Sinclair 5/5 100%

57/64 89.1%

 

Key Stats

Intercepts:

Tara Hinchliffe (Firebirds) 5

Geva Mentor (Magpies) 2

Goal Assists:

Kelsey Browne (Magpies) 23

Mahalia Cassidy (Firebirds) 17

Nissen Net Points:

Mahalia Cassidy (Firebirds) 82

Romelda Aiken (Firebirds) 67

Kelsey Browne (Magpies) 61.5

Gretel Tippett (Firebirds) 61.5

 

Line ups

Queensland Firebirds

GS Romelda Aiken

GA Gretel Tippett

WA Caitlyn Nevins

C Mahalia Cassidy

WD Gabi Simpson

GD Kim Jenner

GK Tara Hinchliffe

Interchange: Q2, WA Jemma MiMi, GD Tara Hinchliffe, GK Kim Jenner, Q3 GD Kim Jenner, GK Tara Hinchliffe, WA Caitlyn Nevins, Q4 GD Tara Hinchliffe, GK Kim Jenner then GD Kim Jenner, GK Tara Hinchliffe

 

Collingwood Magpies

GS Shimona Nelson

GA Nat Medhurst

WA Kelsey Browne

C Kim Ravaillion

WD Ash Brazill

GD April Brandley

GK Geva Mentor

Interchange:  Q1 GA Gabi Sinclair, Q2 GA Nat Medhurst

 

Umpires: Tim Marshall and Emma Donaldson

 

A look at …

The potential in the Firebirds’ young defence

The game smarts shown in this match by Tara Hinchliffe and Kim Jenner appeared wise beyond their years. Both players showed keen observational skills and were able to adjust to the momentum changes and oppositional changes in the game.

Gabi Simpson has no doubt that both Firebirds defenders will be future Samsung Diamonds saying, “Every ball, every centre pass, every call against them they take a lesson and then they put it into action. They are so special. They know how to win ball at crucial times. They have a yearning to improve and when you see that it is special.”

“This is just the start for them. They will make sure they improve each game. They are hard on themselves. They are going to continue to unfold this season and for many years to come.”

 

The advantages for the Firebirds finally having a home court

Since their inception, The Queensland Firebirds have been transient. They never had a day-in-day-out training venue, and often had to work their games around other events taking place at the Brisbane Entertainment Centre.

So, for the side to now have a ‘home’ where their team photos can stay permanently affixed to the walls is exciting for Gabi Simpson. She says that the atmosphere at today’s home game was next to none and believes that Firebirds’ fans are the best fans in all the league.

Speaking while signing hats for eager young fans Simpson says, “This stadium wasn’t just built for the ten players on court. It was built for the fans. They are so special to us and we want them to feel like one big community.”

 

Some of the team behind the grand opening of the Queensland State Netball Centre. Image: Katrina Nissen

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