The Adelaide Thunderbirds have achieved multiple wins in a season for the first time in Suncorp Super Netball history, defeating the Queensland Firebirds by three goals at Priceline Stadium.

It was a lucky escape for the home team who, despite entering the final break with a seven-goal advantage, watched their lead unravel in a disastrous start to the fourth quarter.

The injury-ravaged Firebirds came out of the clash even worse for wear, with midcourter Mahalia Cassidy sustaining a suspected ACL injury in the opening quarter.

The visitors gained an early two-goal advantage through a held ball call against Chelsea Pitman, but an intercept to Shamera Sterling won the turnover back. Adelaide had a three-goal lead when Cassidy fell down in the Firebirds’ attacking left pocket.

For a team that entered the match without their starting goal defence (Kim Jenner) and goal shooter (Romelda Aiken), the loss of Cassidy was another blow to the Firebirds’ depth. It is a crueller result for Cassidy, who previously sustained an ACL injury in a 2017 training session.

Maria Folau surveys her attacking options. Photo: Liam Hughes.

The Thunderbirds would hold their narrow lead for the remainder of the quarter. Sterling and Layla Guscoth were double teaming Gretel Tippett, leaving training partner Amy Sommerville to utilise the space around the circle edge. Tippett was driving the baseline well, while Sterling got her hands to plenty of defensive ball, creating a great contest in the circle. The Firebirds capitalised on the final centre pass to keep the margin at two, but the Thunderbirds snagged the first bonus point.

The teams traded throwaway passes to start the second quarter, until an intercept by Guscoth allowed the home side to steady first. A misdirected bounce pass by Pitman across the circle was turned over, but a miss by Sommerville was rebounded by Sterling. Another poor pass by the Firebirds sailed out of court to signal a five-goal lead for Adelaide, and a timeout for the Firebirds.

During the timeout, Firebirds coach Roselee Jencke substituted replacement player Abigail Latu-Meafou into goal shooter. Latu-Meafou (who previously played for both the Firebirds and Thunderbirds) provided more movement in the circle, and drew Sterling’s attention. As the Firebirds adjusted to the change, Sterling gained the ball once more, and Maria Folau delivered for a seven-goal buffer.

A poor pass from Pitman was eaten up by Laura Clemesha, who also rebounded a miss by Folau minutes later. A pick-up by Tara Hinchliffe narrowed the margin back to four, but a late out of court call let the Thunderbirds restore their half time buffer to five.

At the main break, Sterling had three intercepts and three rebounds to her name, while Sasha Glasgow (18/20) was impressive in attack with three offensive rebounds. The Firebirds’ standout was Gabi Simpson (two intercepts, three gains), who was on the tip of several circle edge balls.

Firebirds replacement player Abigail Latu-Meafou gave Shamera Sterling something new to think about. Photo: Liam Hughes

Mimi intercepted the ball to begin the third quarter, but a pass from Tippett to Latu-Meafou was too strong and blitzed out of court. The Thunderbirds attacking end seemed congested, with players running into the same space around the circle edge. A deflection by Guscoth was backed up by Kelly Altmann, but another intercept by Clemesha halted the Thunderbirds’ momentum. Adelaide responded by calling a timeout, and switching Hannah Petty into centre.

Simpson’s consistent pressure was rewarded when she finally snatched the ball on the circle edge, yet it seemed like every time the Firebirds surged, the Thunderbirds were able to hold them at bay. Glasgow was using her mobility to win an increasingly physical battle with Clemesha, shooting truly and rebounding any attempts.

An intercept to Petty gave the Thunderbirds a seven-goal lead, which they would carry into three-quarter time. An Guscoth intercept was nullified down court with a counter intercept by Simpson, and another timeout was called with two minutes to go. Pitman won back a wasted centre pass with a loose ball chase, but an offensive contact against Glasgow in the dying seconds allowed the Firebirds to sneak one goal back.

Tara Hinchliffe and Chelsea Pitman contest for the ball. Photo: Liam Hughes

Despite the sense that the Thunderbirds had the match in control, the start of the fourth quarter stunned the Adelaide crowd silent. It was not that the Firebirds came out of the blocks; rather, the Thunderbirds made consecutive, unforced errors and the Queensland side pounced on them. Adelaide struggled off their centre passes, and their attacking congestion on the circle approach caused them to revert to the transverse line, where the Firebirds plucked an unlikely intercept.

Despite Thunderbirds coach Tania Obst calling a steadying time out, Simpson took an intercept and within the opening five minutes of the quarter, scores were levelled. Another bad pass by the Thunderbirds gave the Firebirds the lead.

Sterling rescued her team with an intercept off the Firebirds’ centre pass, enabling Adelaide to score their first goal at the halfway point of the quarter. The Adelaide crowd went from quietly stunned to nervously restless, until another Sterling intercept. The ball eventually made its way to Glasgow, who re-established a safety net of two goals for the home side. Folau scored off their following centre pass.

A miss by Folau threatened to undo the Thunderbirds, but Glasgow was dependable when it mattered, rebounding and capitalising on the ball. The Thunderbirds held on for a three-goal win, resigning the winless Firebirds to a single bonus point for their fourth-quarter efforts.

Gymnastics or Netball for Layla Guscoth? Photo: Liam Hughes

The Firebirds will have another tilt at victory next week, in a bottom of the table clash against the fast-improving West Coast Fever in Brisbane. If they are to win, they desperately need at least one of their injured starting seven players to return.

The Thunderbirds, meanwhile, travel to Sydney to play the Giants in a battle for fifth spot on the ladder.

FINAL SCORE: Adelaide Thunderbirds 54 def. Queensland Firebirds 51
(15-13, 16-13, 13-11, 10-14)

Player of the Match: Chelsea Pitman (Thunderbirds)

Adelaide Thunderbirds
Sasha Glasgow 28/32 88%
Maria Folau 26/34 76%
54/66 82%

Queensland Firebirds
Gretel Tippett 27/28 96%
Abigail Latu-Meafou 18/22 82%
(Amy Sommerville 6/10 60%)
51/60 85%

Key Stats

Intercepts
Shamera Sterling (Thunderbirds) 5
Gabi Simpson (Firebirds) 5
Laura Clemesha (Firebirds) 4

Pick Ups
Gretel Tippett (Firebirds) 5
Tara Hinchliffe (Firebirds) 3
Layla Guscoth (Thunderbirds) 3

Gains
Shamera Sterling (Thunderbirds) 12
Gabi Simpson (Firebirds) 6
Laura Clemesha (Firebirds) 5
Tara Hinchliffe (Firebirds) 4
Layla Guscoth (Thunderbirds) 3

Rebounds
Sasha Glasgow (Thunderbirds) 4
Shamera Sterling (Thunderbirds) 4
Tara Hinchliffe (Firebirds) 3

Starting Seven

Adelaide Thunderbirds
GS Sasha Glasgow
GA Maria Folau
WA Chelsea Pitman
C Kelly Altmann
WD Maisie Nankivell
GD Layla Guscoth
GK Shamera Sterling
Changes: Q3 C Hannah Petty

Queensland Firebirds
GS Amy Sommerville
GA Gretel Tippett
WA Caitlyn Nevins
C Mahalia Cassidy
WD Gabi Simpson
GD Tara Hinchliffe
GK Laura Clemesha
Changes: Q1 C Jemma Mimi
Q2 GS Abigail Latu-Meafou

What They Said

Tania Obst (Thunderbirds Coach)

On the Firebirds’ Comeback
“That just shows what SSN netball is all about – if you’re not on your game or you have a slip, teams will come back and will score and will hurt you, and that’s what happened. But I was really pleased that we were able to regroup, stand up, execute some of our centre passes, and get the ball back and score.”

On what happened in the fourth quarter
“I’ll need to have a look at that part again, but what I saw was it was our mistakes and I think it’s just the connections and the occasion, and some of the mistakes we made were maybe from our younger players and they all just came all together at once and then Firebirds get on a bit of a roll, but we were able to regroup and … ultimately, get the win.”

On whether she’s just happy to get another win
“I actually thought there was some great play. I thought some of our centre pass execution was great. Some of our through-court attack, I think, was better and can be better, but I think that we’re still playing around with a couple strategies that we want to work on. But, ultimately, we’re still learning as a team and as a group, and I actually thought what we put out there wasn’t too bad.”

On rebounding from last week’s loss to Collingwood
“I’m really pleased for the girls because they have been so close in so many games. We weren’t happy with what we did last week – that isn’t the brand of netball that we want to be known for, but we have been close in other games and this was validation that what we are actually working on at training does work.”

On Sasha Glasgow
“Look, I think Sasha … is still learning her craft down there, she’s still presenting. I think Chelsea (Pitman) and Maria (Folau) are also bringing her into the game well. Again, there’s some things that we want to keep working on with her, but I thought it was a pretty serviceable game from her.”

On Maisie Nankivell
“She did really well, we’ve been really pleased with her ability to execute the game plan, and her style of play is what we probably want there at that Wing Defence, so I thought Maisie did really well. There’s some learnings for her, but, ultimately, I think she did a pretty good job.”

On only making one change during the match
“There are times where you want to expose players to see what they can do, and if things are breaking down, I feel you need to change. I didn’t think that things were breaking down today … this is a new competition for Kel (Kelly Altmann). I think she’s running out a half really well, and we’ll keep pushing her there, and Hannah (Petty)’s entering games really well, and I thought she actually did some really good stuff and there’ll be some learning for her at the start of the last quarter, but I think they’re complimenting each other in those roles.”