R13 Match Report: A win in the west puts Firebirds on top of the world

The Lorna Jane Queensland Firebirds have claimed their first win of the season, beating the West Coast Fever 68 – 62 and in the process breaking the hoodoo that has gripped the team since April and delivering fans a long-awaited win.

MVP Gretel Tippett said the team played best when everyone was relaxed and having fun and this game certainly seemed to have the flair and panache of a team enjoying its netball.

The first quarter began in scrappy style. Shooting was patchy as both Fever and Firebirds worked to convert their opportunities.

But the Firebirds were first to steady and took advantage of a couple of key Fever turnovers, edging ahead ever so slightly. Tippett’s athleticism seemed to help Potgieter find her zone and her aim zeroed in.

Just as the Firebirds found a rhythm, defending dynamo Tara Hinchliffe (GK) called an injury time-out and left the court. Romelda Aiken came on as her replacement and, to the delight of many, took part in one of the most entertaining match-ups of the season – Aiken against her fellow Jamaican teammate Jhaniele Fowler.

Undeterred, the Firebirds kept their focus and continued to carve out dominant netball.

At the first quarter siren the numbers were clear – the Firebirds had played their strongest first quarter of netball for the entire season. The score of 19 – 14 gave the Firebirds a five-point lead, their largest lead at quarter time for 2019.

But while the lead was strong, it was the seventh time this season that the Firebirds had claimed a first-quarter bonus point. It was proof of a strong start, yes, but far from a bellwether.

The second quarter was a tussle for dominance and while the Fever came back fighting hard, carving out 16 points to the Firebirds’ 14, they went into the main break three points behind, 30-33.

Potgieter and Tippett both scored 100% for the quarter, with Potgieter 9/9 and Tippett 5/5 and it was clear that the Firebirds were not going to yield this time.

At the beginning of the third quarter, Potgieter fumbled a critical ball early, resulting in a turnover that the Fever converted, followed by two more quick goals for the Fever and within moments the scores were level.

Head coach Roselee Jencke called time-out and moved Aiken to shooter, Hinchliffe returned to the court as keeper and Potgieter was benched.

This third quarter in the west felt like a High Noon moment for the Firebirds. Many times throughout the season they had held a commanding lead, only to be eviscerated by an opponent coming back stronger and harder.

Would this game be any different?

Turns out, yes. The third quarter was the time to stand tall, to face their opponents and defend their ground.

There was grim determination in captain Gabi Simpson as she rallied her troops and there was fire in general Roselee Jencke as she strategised and coordinated her soldiers to minimise the impact of the sharpshooting Fowler. Aiken and Tippett were back to their best, sending long bombs across the circle to each other to be plucked out of mid-air and dropped into the ring. And Caitlyn Nevins, the retiring triple premiership winner, delivered 22 goal-assists and 38 feeds for the match, working hard to ensure the shooting duo had enough ball to work with.

The end of the third quarter came and the Firebirds had missed the bonus point but only just, as the Fever racked up 16 points to the Firebirds’ 15. The Queensland side was still in the lead and headed into the final break two points ahead, 46-48.

With just the fourth quarter to go, fans’ hearts were in their mouths and everyone held their breath. Just 15 minutes until what could be the first win of the season, but more than that, a win that meant the end of the ‘winless’ tag, and an end to the injury curse that has dogged them all season.

Throughout the final quarter, Tippett, the young blonde from the Gold Coast who is changing the game with her layups and athleticism, seemed to be everywhere, giving Jemma Mi Mi (C) plenty of options to work with when feeding the ball through a determined Fever defense. Tippett created opportunities and working closely with Nevins and Aiken worked to keep an iron grip on the win that was in sight. And she never missed a shot all game.

In defense, Kim Jenner limited Alice Teagues-Neeld to just 4/7 for the game, ensuring the Fever was forced to rely almost exclusively on Fowler.

As the minutes ticked by, it became clear to Firebirds fans that theirs was a team not only determined to guts out a win, but also a team actually having fun playing the game. The lead edged out as the Firebirds snatched every loose ball and converted every opportunity. They grinned at each other, high-fived each other and celebrated every little success.

The quarter ended and what had maybe sometimes felt impossible in the darkest weeks of a long season was finally here – a win. It was a victory that they had earned, playing outstanding netball to capture a desperately needed win.

The final score was 68 – 62.

Score breakdown:

Q1: Fever 14 v Firebirds 19

Q2: Fever 16 v Firebirds 14

Q3: Fever 16 v Firebirds 15

Q4: Fever 16 v Firebirds 20

Suncorp Super Netball Premiership Points
Fever: 2
Firebirds: 6

Nissan Player of The Match – Gretel Tippett (Firebirds)

Fever shooting statistics – 62/72 (86%)
Jhaniele Fowler – 58/65 (89.2%)
Alice Teague-Neeld – 4/7 (57.1%)

Firebirds shooting statistics – 68/73 (93%)
Lenize Potgieter: 19/21 (90.5%)
Gretel Tippett: 30/30 (100%)
Romelda Aiken – 19/22 (86.4%)

Fever starting seven:
GS – Jhaniele Fowler
GA – Alice Teague-Neeld
WA – Ingrid Colyer
C – Verity Charles
WD – Jessica Anstiss
GD – Stacey Francis
GK – Olivia Lewis

Firebirds starting seven:
GS – Lenize Potgieter
GA – Gretel Tippett
WA – Caitlyn Nevins
C – Jemma Mi Mi
WD – Jessica Anstiss
GD – Kim Jenner
GK – Tara Hinchliffe

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