GRAND finalists Sunshine Coast Lightning proved they are a threat to be reckoned with surviving an early scare from the Queensland Firebirds to win comfortably (66-48). It was a slow start for the Lightning who struggled both in attack and defence to get going while the Firebirds burst out of the blocks to stamp their ascendancy on the match. But the Lightning were not about to go down without a fight pulling together a phenomenal final term.
The Firebirds put their disappointing 2019 season to bed early, coming out with a real ferocity and intensity that was simply unmatched by the Lightning in the first 15 minutes. Captain Gabi Simpson set the tone in the opening stanza with her pressure over the ball forcing a held ball and a subsequent goal. Converting off the Lightning’s centre pass the Firebirds made it two in a row with Romelda Aiken and newcomer Tippah Dwan finding their feet instantly and hitting the scoreboard. The defensive pressure for the Firebirds was immense as the Lightning struggled to penetrate through the midcourt before Cara Koenen eventually sunk the opener for the Lightning. As the ball pinged around goal defence Karla Pretorius injected herself into the contest with a clever intercept to draw level with the Firebirds at two goals apiece.
Determined to keep their momentum rolling the Firebirds upped the ante through the midcourt with Lara Dunkley threading the needle into Aiken and Dwan. In her first outing for the club the wing attacked seemed to have the ball on a string, able to hit the circle edge with great precision. With the attack unit humming the Firebirds pushed out to a six goal lead before Ine-Mari Venter made her way onto the court for the final five minutes of the quarter. With the super shot now in play it was Dwan that made history sinking the first of the competition. Her hot hand led the way for the Firebirds in attack while Simpson continued her merry way picking of passes at every opportunity. The Firebirds were simply carving up the court using their pace and unpredictable nature to keep the Lightning guessing and go on a tear to open up an eight goal lead at quarter time.
Struggling to find any form of rhythm up their attacking end, the Lightning threw the bibs around with Peace Proscovia coming on in goal shooter pushing Koenen into goal attack and Steph Wood into wing attack. But that did not seem to bother the Firebirds with the girls in purple seeming to have the ball on a string. The defensive pressure coming from Kim Jenner and Tara Hinchliffe was exceptional with the two forcing the Lightning goalers off balance and forcing turnovers aplenty with their read of the play and deceptively long arms. Hinchliffe was incredibly strong under the post, positioning well to collect rebounds while Jenner run amuck out the front.
Firebirds wing attack, Macy Gardner showcased her skill with ball in hand, driving into the pocket time and time again, while Dwan was having a field day out in goal attack for the Firebirds with her impressive timing and circle rotation with Aiken. Building in each facet of the game the Firebirds established a nine goal lead and did not look like slowing down until the Lightning rallied scoring three goals in a row. But the Firebirds answered the call once more as Aiken pulled out the party tricks with a unique layup style shot. Mia Stower made her way onto the court but it was her rival goal attack that got all the accolades with Wood proving to be the super shot star nailing five in a row, ultimately cutting the 10 goal deficit to a mere two at the break.
Drawing on their momentum from the second quarter, the Lightning got an early win before the Firebirds quickly answered streaming down court. They showed a good balance of speed and patience in attack with Mahalia Cassidy controlling the tempo and waiting for the options to appear rather than force them. Jenner kicked it up a gear after Wood showcased her class and range in the final minutes of the term with the defender getting hands to everything that came her way. The Firebirds suffocated the Lightning in attack and forced a wealth of missed opportunities with Sunshine Coast remaining goalless for the first five minutes of the term. Simpson continued to deliver for her side not only in defence but so too in attack with her drive through the midcourt and constantly hitting the transverse line with speed and intent.
The Firebirds made the Lightning work for every single pass as they dominated through the midcourt with their youth and speed. As the quarter went on the Lightning started to generate some better ball movement and force turnovers and hesitation in the Firebirds minds. Wood continued to do a wealth of damage from two point range, really rallying in the final five minutes to cull the margin and draw level for the first time since the opening quarter.
With the game on the line, it was the experience and class of the Lightning that shone true with Laura Langman and Laura Scherian taking the game by the scruff of the neck and taking full control in attack. Despite going goal for goal in the first couple of minutes Sunshine Coast put the foot down nullifying the Firebirds defence and forcing Jenner and Hinchliffe to swap bibs. But the Lightning kept coming exploiting the Firebirds youth with their precise ball movement, netball smarts and cleanliness with ball in hand. The momentum completely shifted despite the best efforts of the Firebirds as the Lightning capitalised on each and every turnover to run out 18-goal victors.
Aiken was the hot hand for the Firebirds sinking 26 goals from 33 attempts while Dwan showcased her skillset and excitement with 11 goals from 17 attempts, along with three goals from super shot range. Venter also proved to be a solid option to post with two goals from two point range. However it was Wood that stunned many with her accuracy to post sinking a whopping 10 goals from 11 attempts in the super shot zone, while Koenen did the heavy lifting with 34 goals from 40 attempts. Defensively Jenner had a stats-stuffing performance with five gains, two intercepts and three deflections, while Maweni and Pretorius combined for 10 gains, six intercepts and nine deflections.
QUEENSLAND FIREBIRDS 18 | 12 | 12 | 6 (48)
SUNSHINE COAST LIGHTNING 10 | 18 | 14 | 24 (66)
GS: Romelda Aiken
GA: Tippah Dwan
WA: Lara Dunkley
C: Mahalia Cassidy
WD: Gabi Simpson
GD: Kim Jenner
GK: Tara Hinchliffe
Sunshine Coast Lightning:
GS: Cara Koenen
GA: Steph Wood
WA: Laura Scherian
C: Laura Langman
WD: Maddy McAuliffe
GD: Karla Pretorius
GK: Phumza Maweni