Two desperate teams made the trip to chilly Canberra for the Giants’ home-away-from-home match. With dangerous “second-week blues” looming after the Netball World Cup, the desperation came from different places – the Giants anxious to hold their place in the top four, the Firebirds keen to muster some pride from a grim season. The result was a spiteful encounter that tested umpiring boundaries and resulted in a heavily-penalised clash.

Canberra has been a fortress for the Giants over the past four seasons, but coach Julie Fitzgerald approached the match with trepidation. Having managed teams full of international talent for many years, she knows better than most the impact netball’s major tournaments can have on domestic performances.

I was always really, really worried about this game. I thought it was our danger game,” Fitzgerald said. “I think often after a major tournament you know the first weeks are going to be hard … It’s draining, really tiring, and that’s why I was really worried about the second week.”

Jamie-Lee Price and Gabi Simpson tussle for the ball on the circle edge. Image: Ben Southall

Fitzgerald’s apprehension before the game was well-founded. With pride on the line for the winless Firebirds, they opened confidently, taking an early five-goal lead.

Gretel Tippett showed no signs of World Cup fatigue, dominating court play and delivering unstoppable jump passes into Romelda Aiken. The Giants were patchy, uncharacteristically fumbly, and failed to connect with their shooters.

Just as it looked like the Firebirds might push out the lead, a dramatic run of injuries continued at the AIS Arena. Following on from Kim Green’s torn ACL, Serena Guthrie’s concussion and Sam Poolman’s broken nose in previous years; Gretel Tippett suffered the Canberra Curse – copping an errant elbow from Kristiana Manu’a which split her nose and sent blood pouring over the new AIS floor.

Tippett’s departure from the court was more than untimely for the Firebirds. Abigail Latu-Meafou replaced Tippett at GA and took some time to settle. The Giants took full advantage, going on a 7-goal run to restore the balance. Jo Harten steadied the Giants with accurate long-range shooting, but the Firebirds capitalised on her first miss and subsequent errors by Jamie-Lee Price to wrestle back a two-goal lead at quarter-time.

Jamie-Lee Price flying with the ball in hand. Image: Ben Southall.

Defensive niggle from both teams became spiteful in the second quarter, Kim Jenner and Jo Harten engaging in an ugly battle of push and shove. Jenner led the tally in the unwanted statistic of penalties, amassing an incredible 32 for the match. The Firebirds are the only team to have been penalised more than 80 times in a match this season, and they have done so on four occasions.

With Tara Hinchliffe ruled out shortly before the match, there was no defensive cover waiting on the bench. With no substitute for Jenner, coach Rosalee Jencke’s instructions for her to “stay in play” went unheeded, as Jenner continued to rack up penalties.

The Giants contributed their own niggle, but reduced their penalty tally in the second half for a cleaner attack on the ball. This approach broke the game open in the third quarter, Sam Poolman flying out for two well-timed intercepts that had been set up further down court by defensive pressure from Amy Parmenter and Price.

Macy Gardner in centre for the Firebirds. Image: Ben Southall

Despite holding a one-goal lead at half time, Jencke made changes to her midcourt. Caitlyn Nevins lasted half a quarter before being dragged for sending two cross-court passes into the hands of Poolman. Jencke also benched veteran Erin Burger in favour of daughter Macy Gardner. While Firebirds undoubtedly have young talent waiting in the wings, Gardner was out-muscled by Price and found it difficult to penetrate through the goal third. Tippett resorted to sending long balls to Aiken, and the Giants pounced on turnovers.

Heart and soul of the Giants, Kim Green, was replaced at WA by Keira Austin at half-time. Austin changed the speed of ball movement and created different angles. Caitlin Bassett had only scored 10 goals in the first half, and the midcourt change opened her up for a 20-goal haul in the second half. The Firebirds defence were unable to respond, and turnovers between Aiken and a bruised and battered Tippett left an insurmountable margin of nine at the final break.

Caitlin Bassett struggles to take the ball while Laura Clemesha holds space. Image: Ben Southall.

The Firebirds battled on to win the final quarter and reduce the final margin to six, but a relieved Giants unit were happy to escape Canberra with vital points, a place in the final four and no injuries.

Giants 63 def Queensland Firebirds 57

(13-15, 15-14, 21-12, 14-16)

Player of the Match: Jo Harten

Queensland Firebirds

Tippett 23/23 100%

Aiken 30/36 83%

Latu-Meafou 4/5 80%

57/64 89%

Giants

Harten 33/39 85%

Bassett 30/32 94%

63/71 89%

Starting line ups

Giants

GS Caitlin Bassett

GA Jo Harten

WA Kimberlee Green

C Jamie-Lee Price

WD Amy Parmenter

GD Kristiana Manu’a

GK Samantha Poolman

Int: Keira Austin, Toni Anderson, Matilda McDonnell, Teigan O’Shannassy, Georgia Marshall

Changes: Q3 Keira Austin to WA

Firebirds

GS Romelda Aiken

GA Gretel Tippett

WA Jemma Mi Mi

C Erin Burger

WD Gabi Simpson

GD Kim Jenner

GK Laura Clemesha

Int: Macy Gardner, Abigail Latu-Meafou, Caitlin Nevins, Lenize Potgeiter, Macy Gardner

Changes: Q1 Latu-Meafou to GA; Q2 Tippett to GA; Q3 Nevins to WA, Gardner to C, Mi Mi to WA

Gretel Tippett was impressive for the Firebirds, despite sustaining an early knock to her nose. Image: Ben Southall

Julie Fitzgerald, Giants Coach

“I was always really, really worried about this game. I thought it was our danger game. I think often after a major tournament you know the first weeks are going to be hard, and to sit down with the points I’m very happy to come away (with a win).”

How are the World Cup players feel this week compared to last?

“I think it’s draining, I think it’s really tiring and that’s why I say I was really worried about the second week.”

On the large number of penalties

“I think we adjusted fairly well and I was happy with the discipline that we showed out there. It was a messy game because Firebirds are desperate for a win and the way they’re playing – now I’ve played them twice – I will say they deserve a win. The spirit that they’ve played with, with all that they’ve been through, I think that they’ve done really well. So we knew both sides would be fighting very hard for every ball.”

What does the change between Green and Austin give you?

“I just think they play very different games, so it’s nice for us to be able to throw out two very different players and change the game around a little bit. But I was very pleased with Kiera today I thought she did well.”

What were your defensive instructions at half time that caused the turnaround in the third quarter?

“We reminded them of what we were trying to do defensively, and I do think there was some really good unit work down that end at the beginning of the third and I think that was really important. It sort of turned the tide a little bit for us and gave us the confidence to drive on.”

Jo Harten winning player of the match for the past two weeks despite World Cup recovery

“I think Jo’s just Jo. She’s just such a fierce competitor and she’s such a brilliant player. We’ve tried to look after them as best we can so that they can come out here and play their best.”

Playing in Canberra

“I’m very proud of the team and can I say, we love coming down here! It’s become a real major fixture for us and the crowd gets behind us so much. When we were out yesterday in the associations, you can tell how much the people of Canberra love their netball, and it really is an asset for us when we get into tight situations. It’s becoming our favourite venue!”

Is the new court surface at the AIS an issue?

“There’s no doubt that the court was extremely slippery today. I understand it’s a brand new court and it was very, very slippery today but both teams are playing on the same surface.”