Tag: gabi simpson

Firebirds record first win of 2021

QUEENSLAND Firebirds got their first win on the board for season 2021 downing Adelaide Thunderbirds in style, 68-57. The home side won three of the four quarters but led at every change showcasing their classy ball movement and defensive nous in what was a strong and consistent performance.

It was an even start to the game as both sides capitalised off their centre pass going goal for goal. But an intercept from goal keeper Tara Hinchliffe put a stop to that as the Firebirds went down the other end of the court to create the first break of the game. Romelda Aiken made history sinking her 2000th Suncorp Super Netball goal as the Firebirds skipped out to a handy four goal lead. Hinchliffe popped up again for Queensland but Matilda Garrett proved anything you can do, I can do better with a nifty intercept to send the Thunderbirds into attack.

The speed with which the Firebirds were playing caused all sorts of havoc for Adelaide with Shamera Sterling struggling to combat Aiken who was having a field day under the post. Her strength on the take was impressive and so was the delivery into the circle as Kim Ravaillion and Lara Dunkley released pinpoint passes. With the lead getting out to 10 goals the super shot period could not have come quick enough with Sam Gooden making her presence felt for the T’Birds with a handy two-point goal to reduce the margin to eight. The Thunderbirds started to rally as Lenize Potgieter got involved under the post cutting the margin to four goals but Kim Jenner and Hinchliffe employed some strong hands over pressure and contested each and every pass that came their way. Gretel Bueta re-entered the game this time in goal shooter, as Tippah Dwan showcased her playmaking skills out in goal attack. It was turning into somewhat of a super shot shoot-out as both Gooden and Dwan flexed their muscles from downtown.

Adelaide created plenty of opportunities throughout the early stages of the second quarter with Garrett impressing not only in defence but so too through transition. After a quiet start to the game, Sterling started to cause plenty of concern with her attacking mindset well and truly coming to the fore. The Firebirds’ defence also cranked things up as Jenner and Hinchliffe seamlessly combined to swat ball away and reel in the intercepts. The lead ballooned out to seven goals once again but the efforts of Maisie Nankivell did not go unnoticed as the wing defence forced a turnover and sparked a mini run for the Thunderbirds as they got back to within four goals.

Megan Anderson proved she was not afraid to ring in the changes in attack with Bueta, Aiken and Dwan all rotating through the circe while down the other end Rudi Ellis pulled on the goal keeper bib. An errant pass over the sideline for Thunderbirds gifted Bueta a chance to nail a super shot as things continued to tick along for the girls in purple. Hannah Petty plied her trade around circle edge to get a hand in and disrupt the attacking momentum for the Firebirds but Queensland’s flair and ball speed enabled them to extend to a 10-goal lead once more at half time.

The old firm of Ravaillion, Bueta and Aiken was hard to match for the Thunderbirds as their silky connections enabled them to keep the scoreboard ticking over. The overall defensive tenacity for the Firebirds increased as Gabi Simpson burst through for a pickup and the home side continued to motor exposing their opponents in every which way, and Georgie Horjus struggled to get into the game given Simpson was on her hammer. With the game slipping away from the Thunderbirds, Shadine van der Merwe was injected into the game and made an immediate impact with her drive through the centre and hands over pressure.

The rolling subs were well and truly alive for both sides as the Firebirds continued to tinker with the defensive line-up as Latanya Wilson also made her way onto the court for the Thunderbirds. The short, sharp passing from Queensland allowed them to weave their way through the court with their composure evident. Gooden once again turned it on with her super shot shooting sending tongues wagging and most importantly keeping her side within touching distance.

Looking for some fresh legs through the centre, Jemma Mi Mi got her time to shine with her speed and dynamic movement helping to slow the transitional speed. Dwan had a hot hand with the youngster composed to post and slotting them from everywhere. The fluidity in transition for the Firebirds enabled them to keep motoring and to build momentum, as the party tricks started to come out for the home side as Hinchliffe came screaming out for an intercept and Bueta showcased her sheer athleticism with a layup. It was a scrappy couple of minutes of play to ride out the game as Ravaillion got busy in attack to provide a steady head. In the end it was the class of the Firebirds that earned them the win.

Aiken had the ball on a string in attack for Queensland sinking 34 goals at 92 per cent while Bueta also impressed in her second game back with 18 goals, three of which were super shots. Bueta also displayed her playmaking tendencies with 13 goal assists however it was Ravaillion that really shouldered the load in attack notching up a team-high 17 goal assists and a deflection. The combination of Jenner and Hinchliffe was something to behold as they recorded nine deflections, 10 gains and six intercepts – five courtesy of Hinchliffe. Potgieter was the most proficient for the Thunderbirds nailing 29 goals from 32 attempts while Gooden dazzled from range landing six of 10 super shots. Sterling shone in defence with 10 deflections, three intercepts and six gains as Garrett also imposed herself with two intercepts.

QUEENSLAND FIREBIRDS | 22 | 16 | 14 | 16 (68)
ADELAIDE THUNDERBIRDS | 15 | 13 | 16 | 13 (57)

Queensland Firebirds:

GS: Romelda Aiken
GA: Gretel Bueta
WA: Lara Dunkley
C: Kim Ravaillion
WD: Gabi Simpson
GD: Kim Jenner
GK: Tara Hinchliffe

Adelaide Thunderbirds:

GS: Lenize Potgieter
GA: Georgie Horjus
WA: Elle McDonald
C: Hannah Petty
WD: Maisie Nankivell
GD: Matilda Garrett
GK: Shamera Sterling

2021 Stats Wrap: SSN Round 1 and ANZ Premiership Round 3

ROUND 1 of the Suncorp Super Netball 2021 season kicked off on the weekend, with West Coast Fever, Sunshine Coast Lightning, NSW Swifts and the GIANTS coming out on top. Over the ditch, the Southern Steel, Northern Stars and Northern Mystics were the winners of Round 3 of the 2021 ANZ Premiership season. We take a look at some of the standout performances and highest stats from the week.

Goals:

Fever goal shooter Jhaniele Fowler put up the most shots in the 2021 SSN season opener, shooting 55 goals from 60 attempts. The most accurate of the round goes to the Swifts Sam Wallace, who didn’t miss a single of her 49 goals. Mwai Kumwenda maintained 96.9 per cent accuracy, sinking 31 of 32 shots, including one Super Shot, which is worth two goals. Sam Gooden put up the most Super Shots, attempting 11 of them and scoring five. Lightning goal attack Steph Wood showed her dominance in setting up play with 20 goal assists, and the much anticipated return of Gretel Bueta to the Queensland Firebirds was worth it with her 17 goal assists.

Northern Mystics goal shooter Grace Nweke has again put up the most goals of the round, sinking 49 goals from just 56 attempts. Tiana Metuarau, goal attack for Southern Steel, takes out the highest percentage of the round, maintaining 100 per cent accuracy with her eight goals. She also tops the leaderboard for the highest number of goal assists at 29. Steel’s George Fisher also made quite an impact, putting up 52 shots with 48 going through the ring. Aliyah Dunn from Central Pulse kept her accuracy at 97.4 per cent, only missing one of her 39 attempts, and gaining two intercepts along the way. Shooter Ellie Bird from the Mainland Tactix pulled off six rebounds during Round 3, with Nweke just behind her on 5 rebounds.

Midcourt:

The GIANTS centre Jamie-Lee Price was a standout this week, with a massive 24 goal assists from 38 feeds. Just behind her is Lightning’s midcourter Laura Scherian, who fed 30 balls into the ring and managed 22 goal assists. Having a run in both centre and wing attack, Fever’s Verity Charles showed off her attacking skills with 18 goal assists from 33 feeds. Firebirds captain Gabi Simpson had a good run in wing defence this round, managing three gains, two intercepts and six deflections. Jodi-Ann Ward had a run in wing defence for the Collingwood Magpies, gaining five deflections, two intercepts and six gains.

Northern Mystics wing attack Elisapeta Toeava remained her consistent, reliable self during Round 3, with 39 feeds into the ring, 28 of those with a goal attempt, and 21 of those resulting in a goal. The Stars Gina Crampton was also a standout, with a massive 50 feeds and 20 goal assists. Fellow Stars mid-courter Mila Reuelu-Buchanan also managed 20 goal assists, with 43 feeds into the ring. Tactix wing defender Charlotte Elley made an impact in her game, with two gains and two intercepts.

Defence:

Fever young gun defender Sunday Aryang was a standout during Round 3, with seven gains, five deflections and two intercepts. Ever reliable Vixen’s defender Jo Weston kept them in the game with seven deflections, combining with Kadie-Ann Dehaney who was on fire with five gains for the game. Lightning’s defensive duo in Phumza Maweni and Karla Pretorius worked well together to manage two intercepts and four deflections each for the first round.

WBOP Magic keeper Temalisi Fakahokotau was a standout in the defence end during Round 3, with seven gains, three intercepts and seven defections but with no gain. Elle Temu from the Stars also managed seven gains and three intercepts, as well as three rebounds. Pulse’s defensive duo of Kelly Jury and Kelera Nawai showed off their impressive skills, both gaining four gains and two intercepts. Stars goal defender Anna Harrison topped the charts for intercepts, with an impressive four for the round, as well as four gains.

Swifts outrun Firebirds in first SSN overtime thriller

WHAT many predicted to be the match of the opening round of Suncorp Super Netball (SSN) action did not fail to grab attention on Sunday afternoon, as the NSW Swifts claimed a thrilling three goal victory over the Queensland Firebirds in overtime. With the scores locked on 64-apiece at the final siren credit to a clutch Helen Housby goal to even the ledger with a second on the clock, the Swifts used all their momentum to put on five goals to two in extra time to seal the 69-66 victory.

It was a goal for goal start from the two sides, as they fought to gain the early ascendancy and settle their combinations. Gabi Simpson was a monster early around circle edge but the Swifts remained composed in transition, opening up space well with both Housby and Sam Wallace firing. It was the Swifts’ simple but effective play that allowed the side to capitalise, and while the Firebirds were bolstered by the return of Gretel Bueta and Kim Ravaillion, the flair was not quite there early as they succumbed to an 18-13 start.

But whilst the Swifts pulled away early in the second to lead by as many as eight goals, footwork calls were made in their frontend and proved critical for the Firebirds, arresting momentum back as the switch was made with a new-look moving circle as Romelda Aiken headed to the bench for Tippah Dwan, who had already put up a super shot in the first and looked to continue that form alongside Bueta. A five goal halftime margin was testament to a momentum swing in the latter stages of the quarter, with the Firebirds trailing but rallying with a couple of later super shots on the board to ensure the Swifts did not run away with a lead.

The third quarter was all purple, as the Firebirds evened up the ledger for the first time since early in the match, before a couple more saw the Swifts scrambling for something to light a spark. The change was made out the front with Sophie Garbin rotated into goal attack, whilst Dwan continued to wreak havoc for the Firebirds and provided an excellent impact option. The Swifts’ patience with ball in hand saw them steal back the lead though, with the Garbin change proving crucial even as the super shot period began. With errors creeping in from both sides, it was intercepts aplenty across the respective back lines as Tara Hinchliffe headed out to wing defence and had an immediate impact, whilst footwork calls and miscommunication continued to be an issue out the front for both sides. The Swifts retained a two goal lead heading into the final change, although the Firebirds would not relent which set up a huge final quarter of action.

A massive final term saw neither side willing to stand down, with hard and fast physical netball played from both teams. The Firebirds midcourt was doing an excellent job of disrupting easy access to circle edge, but while the combination of Aiken and Bueta continued to fire the Firebirds just could not whittle down the margin until a Kim Jenner screamer allowed the side to capitalise and get within one. With the super shot period yet to commence, anything could happen, and that it did with a Simpson intercept translating into a Bueta super shot and one goal lead with just under five minutes on the clock. While a Swifts tactical timeout was intended to settle the side, a second Bueta super shot followed and a three goal margin extended the way of the Firebirds. But the Swifts were still not out of it, as Sarah Klau at one end was doing everything in her power to disrupt Aiken, whilst at the other it was Housby who stepped up in attack to will the side over the line, with the scoreline reading 63 apiece with a minute on the clock, before a 64-all full time score saw the match sent into overtime for the very first time in Suncorp Super Netball history.

While the momentum was all the way of the Firebirds, the Swifts had a glimpse at the win and it was once again the workrate of Klau that allowed the side to capitalise. Despite fingertips to the ball from both Ravaillion and Jenner, the Swifts continued to play their own game out the front as Wallace spilled a ball over the goal line with the side two goals up. But an over a third call showcased just how much pressure the Swifts were applying, with the side putting on a masterclass in patience, chipping the ball around to finish the game on their terms, 69-66.

The winning side won just the one quarter and overtime, but it was their ability to maintain pressure down the court and remain patient that got them over the line. Wallace starred with 49 goals at 100 per cent, while Housby (12 goals from 14 attempts) and Garbin (five from six) both played their role well. Maddy Proud and Nat Haythornthwaite shared the feeding load with 19 and 17 assists respectively, while Klau (five deflections, two intercepts – both in the dying stages) and Maddy Turner (five deflections) were not at their best but certainly gave the Firebirds attack a run for their money. For the Firebirds, Aiken (39 from 47) and Bueta (16 from 17) showcased just how well they combine together even after Bueta’s season away, while Dwan had an impact with three super shots to match Bueta and Housby (both three from four) for distance. Bueta ruled the roost with 17 goal assists while Simpson impressed with three gains from two intercepts and seven deflections.

QUEENSLAND FIREBIRDS 13 | 17 | 15 | 19 | 2 (66)
NSW SWIFTS 18 | 17 | 13 | 16 | 5 (69)

STARTNG SEVENS

Firebirds:

GS: Romelda Aiken
GA: Gretel Bueta
WA: Lara Dunkley
C: Kim Ravaillion
WD: Gabi Simpson
GD: Kim Jenner
GK: Tara Hinchliffe

Swifts:

GS: Sam Wallace
GA: Helen Housby
WA: Nat Haythornthwaite
C: Maddy Proud
WD: Paige Hadley
GD: Maddy Turner
GK: Sarah Klau

Picture credit: Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images

Family first Firebirds ready to pounce

IT has been a homecoming of sorts for midcourt star Kim Ravaillion, with the highly talented midcourter returning to where it all began, signing with Queensland Firebirds for the 2021 season. A former premiership player with the Firebirds, Ravaillion will be hoping to replicate those highs once again this year.

“It definitely feels like I’m back at home with the purple family, so it’s going to feel really nice putting the purple dress on and playing out in front of the home crowd on Sunday,” Ravaillion said.

After giving birth last year to daughter Georgie, this will be Ravaillion’s first season back plying elite netball since 2019. The midcourter is raring to go, stating that she is stronger than ever – an ominous sign for rival teams.

“If anything, you’ve got more of a shield on you because you’re a mum and you don’t really care about yourself as much – you’re more looking after your little baby. I feel like I’ve got another layer of thick skin on me.”

A lot has changed since Ravaillion last took the court for the Firebirds, both in a playing sense and a physical sense. Instead of being that bright-eyed and bushy tailed developing prospect, Ravaillion is now one of the more experienced and senior names in the squad.

“(It’s) like the same but different in so many ways. The feeling is the same ,as in I love the club and the people and the feeling at the Firebirds, but I’ve come back as an older player,” Ravaillion explained. “I’m not that young player I was four years ago and, you know, when Laura Geitz and Clare McMeniman at the time were kind of looking after us.”

“Now I’m back in, wearing their shoes, so it’s a different role, but it’s been really nice and rewarding watching all the young guns just train so hard, so it’s been really good.”

As a new mum and one of the more senior members within the side, given the number of young and developing players in the 10 player squad, Ravaillion has taken it upon herself to be a leader and encourage the players around her to follow in her footsteps.

“I find it quite easy, if anything I just kind of lead by example and go about my business. It’s not like I’m doing anything different. I think being a mum you’ve kind of got that nurturing side as well, you want to make sure everyone’s doing alright.”

“So it’s been easy, I don’t have to change anything. I just kind of lead by example is what my coach would tell me to do. I just go in and train really hard and hopefully the girls come along with me.”

The rigours of childbirth are no easy feat, let alone doing it from another state away from your loved ones. But the challenge is one that the Australian Diamond is more than capable of stepping up to.

“It’s so amazing, the female body and how it can go through all that trauma of giving birth and then it’s not bouncing back – I guess you have to do hard work before, whilst you’re pregnant and then the hard work after. It’s just amazing to see how I feel. My body’s stronger than what it was before I gave birth. So it’s been challenging to get back to full fitness, but I’m a competitor so I just love pushing myself to my limit, it’s been fun.”

The preseason games have also been crucial for the Firebirds’ squad development, coming together nicely ahead of Round 1.

“We’ve had a couple of practice matches and we’ve literally done everything we’ve worked on out of training, against opposition. Now it’s just trying to find that balance and really bring it to our opposition in the real game,” Ravaillion said.

I think we had a really big match against the Lightning last week and we’re kind of “alright, yep”, we all feel confident in our game plan and it’s just sticking to that game plan on Sunday.”

With new coach, Megan Anderson at the helm, the Firebirds have adopted a bit of a different style of play out on court, however Ravaillion was relatively coy in not revealing too many trade secrets.

“Well that’s a secret! I guess just playing with smarts. We want to start well, so that’s going to be our starting point. We just want to continue to get better each and every game and we just want to really focus on our defence and all of our structures, and making those combinations really strong, and hopefully getting stronger by the end of the season.”

The fancy-footed midcourter is not the only one returning from giving birth, with fellow star, Gretel Bueta also rejoining the squad. Balancing motherhood and a life as a professional athlete is no easy feat, however Ravaillion paid homage to the care and consideration from Anderson when it comes to looking after herself and Bueta upon their return.

“She’s awesome! I guess Megs kind of understands this more than anyone because she’s played the game at a professional level and she’s also got kids of her own. So, Megs has been so great in supporting both Gretel and I have in being mums with our kids, and, you know, if we’re tired one morning and we can’t put in 100 per cent, we just have to have that conversation with her and she’s very understanding.”

“You know, just take a break and come back and give us your full self,’ Ravaillian explained. “So Megs has been awesome and her approach to coaching is very calm and she doesn’t really show too much emotion, she just says it how it is, which is what we love and she’s been great so far.”

Anderson was not the only one Ravaillion credited for her return to elite netball, with the 27-year-old highlighting the influence her mother has had on enabling her to live out her dream as a netballer and mother.

“I’m very fortunate to have my own mum come and support me and look after my daughter. It probably would have been very difficult if I didn’t have her, being interstate away from my partner, so it takes a village as they say.

“It has its rewards and has disadvantages, it’s not all smooth sailing so we’ve just managed to get the balance right and mum’s been an amazing help for me in order to help me to continue to chase my dream, so I’m very lucky to have her.”

Ravaillion will join the likes of spearhead and captain Gabi Simpson in the midcourt along with up-and-coming youngsters Jemma Mi Mi and Lara Dunkley as the purple army endeavour to push ahead and build on their 2020 season.

“I’m loving it, loving the challenge and the girls both bring something very different, and it’s awesome being put on with Lara Dunkley and the way that she plays and having to adapt my game and vice versa when,Jemma Mi Mi comes on and how she plays.

“But it’s all about reading who you play with and working to their strengths and also mine.”

The Firebirds’ 2021 campaign commences on Sunday, when they take on the NSW Swifts at Nissan Arena at 1:00pm.

2021 SSN Preview: Round 1

THE Suncorp Super Netball (SSN) season kicks off this Saturday, with Round 1 shaping up with some exciting matches across the board. Audiences will see some familiar faces as well as a number of newbies take to the court, with the opening game a grand final replay showdown.

Melbourne Vixens vs. West Coast Fever
Saturday, May 1 @3:00pm

In this 2020 grand final rematch, both teams are expected to come out fighting in a huge Round 1 clash. Fever have had a rough week in the lead up to this game, as Perth went into a three-day lockdown over the weekend and their plans were thrown into disarray. However they will now land in Melbourne on Friday, and have been training in closed quarantine conditions. Fever also start the season on negative 12 points after serious salary cap breaches in previous seasons, which means they really need every win on the board to make their season count.

A key match-up to watch will be between Fever shooter Jhaniele Fowler and Vixens defensive duo Emily Mannix and Jo Weston. Fowler is an absolute powerhouse under the ring, with her height and strong hold making life difficult for her opponents. However, she may just be put to the test with Mannix and Weston, who have a great understanding of each other in the circle. Weston’s long arms and willingness to hunt make her dangerous for attackers, and Mannix’s hold over the ball and ability to jump creates a problem as well.

With Liz Watson out for the season with a foot injury, and the retirement of Caitlin Thwaites and Tegan Philip at the end of last season, the reigning premiers might not be up to the same level they were at last year. Mwai Kumwenda is the only remaining shooter, now joined by Ruby Barkmeyer and former Fever player, Kaylia Stanton, who will be looking to put her best foot forward in her new colours. They will have their work cut out for them against a strong Fever defensive unit in Courtney Bruce, Stacey Francis, Olivia Lewis and youngster Sunday Aryang

Collingwood Magpies vs. Sunshine Coast Lightning
Saturday, May 1 @7:00pm

Finishing on the bottom of the ladder at the end of 2020, the Magpies will be looking to have a better season this year. With Nicole Richardson appointed as their new head coach, and the return of guns Ash Brazill and Kelsey Browne from injury, the season may be looking up. Lightning only just missed out on a place in the grand final last year, and actually finished in second spot on the ladder, so they will be fighting hard to make sure they do not miss out on that opportunity again.

All eyes will be on the midcourt as Laura Scherian and Brazill are likely to go head to head. Brazill missed all of last season, sidelined with an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury sustained during an AFL Women’s match, so she will be eager to get back on court. As a strong, fast-paced player, she will certainly be an interesting match for Scherian, who steps up this season after the retirement of New Zealand great, Laura LangmanCara Koenen will have her work cut out for her on Magpies veteran Geva Mentor, while new Lightning captain Karla Pretorius will hope to start her season on a high.

Queensland Firebirds vs. NSW Swifts
Sunday, May 2 @1:00pm

The Swifts were a strong but inconsistent team last year, and will be looking to push past that coming into Round 1. However, having just missed out on a finals outing last season, the Firebirds will be hungry for a few more wins this year. Sporting an amazing lineup, they welcome back Gretel Bueta after having a baby, and are joined again by Kim Ravaillion, who most recently played with the Magpies before also having a child.

A key matchup in this game will be Swifts’ Sarah Klau and Firebirds’ Romelda Aiken. On the Australian Diamonds international team as one of the developing defenders, Klau has an amazing ability to read the ball, and at 190cm, is a real challenge for her opponents. However, at 196cm, Aiken’s height and ability to take those long, obscure passes will really give Klau a run for her money.

Klau is joined in the defensive end by Lauren Moore and Maddy Turner, while Aiken will work alongside Bueta and young gun Tippah Dwan, who took the SSN by storm in her debut season last year by sinking super shots left right and centre. Both sides have incredibly versatile midcourts with Lara Dunkley, Jemma Mi Mi, Ravaillion and Gabi Simpson all formidable forces for the Firebirds while for the Swifts Paige Hadley, Maddy Proud, Natalie Haythornthwaite and Tayla Fraser are reliable through the centre third.   

Adelaide Thunderbirds vs. GIANTS
Sunday, May 2 @3:00pm

Neither the GIANTS nor Thunderbirds had a stellar season last in 2020, both ending up in the bottom three of the ladder. The GIANTS came under a bit of fire last year after benching Diamonds captain Caitlin Bassett for the majority of the season, and losing her to the ANZ Premiership’s Waikato Bay of Plenty Magic.

It will be interesting to watch the matchup of GIANTS captain, Jo Harten and Thunderbirds defender Shamera Sterling. Sterling had a slow start to last season, but as the games went on, she pushed harder, and showcased her spectacular jump and defensive skills. Harten is a strong shooter, with fast footwork skills and an ability to set up play in the circle. While she was not a fan of the super shot last year, she still managed to use it to her ability, pairing well with Kiera Austin out the front.

With Kate Shimmin heading to Lightning, the Thunderbirds have brought in Jamaican Latanya Wilson, who played in the Vitality Netball Superleague last season. She has been described as a ‘hunter’ on the court, and will be a great asset to the Thunderbirds defence end. The GIANTS have a different defensive setup with Amy Parmenter and Jamie-Lee Price creating the physical midcourt to create turnover ball before it hits the goal third.

2021 SSN Season Preview: Queensland Firebirds

THE Suncorp Super Netball (SSN) season has swung around once again with teams shaping up for an exciting year of netball. Having played through a global pandemic last season, the 2021 campaign will be hoping to restore a bit of normality to the netball world as the eight sides compete for that all-elusive premiership.

Coach: Megan Anderson
Captain: Gabi Simpson
2020 finish: 5th

A much-improved Firebirds outfit graced the court in 2020, stepping up from their 2019 wooden spoon award to take the competition by storm last year and well and truly prove they would not have a repeat performance. Even with the absence of Gretel Bueta all season, the side continuously proved they were capable of doing the unthinkable, testing all the top sides and retaining the mantle of defeating the two eventual grand finalists in premiers Melbourne Vixens and runners up West Coast Fever. Factor in their exciting developing talent, and the Firebirds were a formidable force to be reckoned with each round.

2021 predictions/expectations:

The Firebirds will boast a bolstered midcourt as Kim Ravaillion makes her long-awaited return to the purple dress, while Bueta also rejoins the fold in the goal circle in a huge grab for the Firebirds, and the acquisition of new coach Megan Anderson could change up how they go about their game and set things in motion. Whilst the new-look outfit already appeared to be a huge challenger last season, there is no doubt its returnees plug the holes in the side – if any – whilst still retaining the Firebirds’ slick movement and boosting experience across the court. Romelda Aiken added fresh strings to her bow last season and is sure to step up once more, whilst the retention of former training partner Tippah Dwan adds an extra prong to an already formidable attack line. Factor in the high-power defensive lineup led by Kim Jenner and the consistency of Gabi Simpson, and the side has very little weak spots to speak of. Whilst the Firebirds proved to be a highly agile side last season, expect them to lift a notch this year with the return of their familiar faces, whilst also retaining the services Jemma Mi Mi and Lara Dunkley through the midcourt, with both able to offer different attacking options through the centre.

Key player to watch:

A newcomer to a Firebirds leadership role this year is Tara Hinchliffe, with the incredibly underrated defender stepping up to the challenge and sure to lead from the back. Whilst the plaudits typically go to Jenner and her sometimes heroic efforts in the backline, there is no doubt Hinchliffe’s workrate is what allows Jenner to get the job done so well. Factor in the efforts of Simpson around circle edge and Ravaillion’s defensive mindset and workhorse attitude in centre, and this season is Hinchliffe’s time to shine as the defensive unit steps up a notch around her. A hard worker with great spatial awareness and continuously improving elevation over the shot, Hinchliffe rarely skips a beat.

Team list:

Romelda Aiken
Gretel Bueta
Tara Hinchliffe
Kim Jenner
Jemma Mi Mi
Gabi Simpson
Lara Dunkley
Rudi Ellis
Tippah Dwan
Kim Ravaillion

2021 Constellation Cup: Game 1 – Ferns kick series off with a win

THE Silver Ferns got their Constellation Cup campaign off to a strong start clinching a four-goal victory against the Diamonds in Game 1 of the series (49-44). It was the first time Australia had played an international game since October 2019, with the signs somewhat obvious as the connections struggled to fire, while three debutants also made their way onto the court throughout the encounter. Boasting speed and tenacity, the Ferns worked their way through the Diamonds’ physicality to steadily increase the lead and while Australia mounted a comeback in the final term it was not enough to knock the reigning World Champions off their perch.

New Zealand put their foot down quickly in the opening term with Noeline Taurua’s words echoed across the court “cut and drive” as each player worked in overdrive to reposition and attack the game. The connection between Maia Wilson and Ameliaranne Ekenasio was on song straight with Wilson commanding the ball and despite a couple of early misses still remained strong under the post. Her added versatility and movement kept the likes of Courtney Bruce guessing down back, while Jo Weston had her work cut out for her against Ekenasio, was doing a power of work to bring the ball down into the attacking third – if not to shoot it herself but dish off to Wilson.

In her debut performance, it was Kiera Austin that took the lead in the attacking third for the Diamonds with the young goaler posting the first two goals of the game before spearhead and Australian captain Caitlin Bassett landed her first goal of the game a tick before the four-minute mark. With new connections aplenty in the Australian front end, it took a while for the side to settle in and create a rhythm with congestion being a main problem as Sulu Fitzpatrick closely marked Bassett inside the circle. The Australian side were unable to ease the ball into the goal circle and were often forced to flick the ball around instead of looking straight into Bassett holding under the post.

Holding a four-goal lead at quarter time, the Ferns went into the second term unchanged with Ekenasio and Wilson sharing the load under the post to keep the defenders guessing. The Diamonds ate into the margin with Bassett and Austin reading the space well to get back within two before the Ferns once again put the accelerator down. The ever-reliable Liz Watson started to warm into the game but was well covered by Sam Winders with the wing defence going toe-to-toe both on circle edge and through the midcourt to really put Watson through her paces and smother her every move.

In her first official start for the Ferns, 31-year-old Claire Kersten was proving to be a menace through the centre showcasing her defensive and offensive attributes while Gina Crampton continued to shine up against Diamonds returnee Gabi Simpson. A tried and tested wing defence, Simpson struggled to generate her normal impact, drawing a lot of attention from the umpire and causing a slight disjoint in the defensive unit. Accuracy started to waiver for Austin with the goal attack converting at 57 per cent the lowest of any shooter on court while the Ferns seemed to remain steady despite the defensive change of Bruce out to goal defence and Sarah Klau onto goal keeper. Klau injected an added bit of height in the goal circle while Bruce’s move out provided stronger hands over pressure and aerial presence to nullify the quick ball movement of the Silver Ferns.

Reducing the lead at half-time to three goals, new head coach Stacey Marinkovich continued to tinker with the line-up as Weston re-entered the game out in wing defence while Verity Charles made her debut in wing attack. Charles’ influence was undeniable, lighting up the court with her energiser bunny style of play and give and go in the attacking third. Her mentality was clear, turn and deliver into Bassett under the post, with her injection altering the overall flow of the attacking third as the Diamonds played with more confidence. Charles combined seamlessly with Watson out in centre with the midcourt duo finding more space and penetrating circle edge.

More laboured in attack and struggling to combat the speed in the Diamonds frontend, Karin Burger made her way onto the court for New Zealand. Utilising her long arms and fancy footwork, Burger wasted no time having an impact out in goal defence as Jane Watson switched back into goal keeper, giving a glimpse of what the upcoming Tactix line-up will look like this season. The match-up between Watson and Bassett did not disappoint with the Ferns defender using her footwork and constant bodywork to offset the Diamonds captain. However that was only short lived as Taurua once again changed the defensive structure. With the Diamonds making a few changes across the board the steady head of Ekenasio came to the fore with the Ferns captain nailing six goals for the term at 100 per cent accuracy, while Wilson only missed the one goal making the most of their chances as they skipped out to a nine-goal lead heading into the final change.

Looking for answers in attack, the Diamonds made another change in the form of a third debutant – Cara Koenen. The Sunshine Coast Lightning prodigy pulled on the goal shooter bib and impressed with her timing along the baseline and strong holds to combat the likes of Watson, Burger and Fitzpatrick down back. The partnership between Koenen and Austin took no time to click with the two rotating well under the post and boasting a 100 per cent accuracy to take out the fourth term. Australia managed to reduce the deficit nailing four consecutive goals opening up the attacking third with their decisive movements. The Ferns on the other hand, slowed down unable to move the ball with the same level of conviction they had throughout the opening three quarters but did enough to withhold the fast finishing Diamonds.

Crampton starred with her circle edge work, pinpoint passes and all round class to earn Player of the Match honours amassing 19 goal assists, 14 centre pass receives and three pickups. Wilson was a rock under the post with 31 goals from 40 attempts at 77 per cent while Ekenasio converted at 78 per cent thanks to her 18 goals. Watson was a key cog in defence with three gains, one intercept and six deflections. Bassett led the charge with 19 goals from 21 attempts at 91 per cent with Austin also proving herself in her debut performance with 18 goals at 75 per cent. In her sole quarter on court Koenen did not miss a shot with seven goals straight while Bruce was a menace in defence collecting eight gains, seven deflections, five rebounds and two intercepts.

2021 Constellation Cup preview: Ferns and Diamonds suit up for first time since 2019

INTERNATIONAL netball finally returns for the trans-Tasman nations this afternoon, as the Australian Diamonds and New Zealand Silver Ferns hit the court for the first time in well over a year, and gear up for a huge four-match Constellation Cup series. Whilst the series is usually hosted evenly between the two nations, due to ongoing COVID-19 restrictions and state-wide quarantine negotiations, all four encounters between the two nations will be hosted on New Zealand soil, giving the Silver Ferns a huge leg-up on the competition. That being said, with two weeks in quarantine and the past 12 months spent wondering, Australia will be raring to go with a new-look side and plenty of exciting talent to showcase after a frustrating 2020.

Read our predicted Constellation Cup starting sevens HERE.

Expect plenty of argy bargy between the two nations in the first outing of the series, as two very different looking squads face off for the first time and look to gain the upper hand early. Whilst both sides boast a number of stalwart figures across the court, plenty of young guns will also be looking to try their hand on the international stage and gain their maiden cap. Expect Caitlin Bassett to have first dibs on goal shooter for Australia and shape up against the ever difficult Jane Watson, with the two having some huge tussles over the years and unlikely to give an inch on court. Expect Kiera Austin to take out the starting goal attack position alongside Bassett, given she has the next most experience with the green and gold squad compared to her fellow young goalers, although she will well and truly be put through the ringer by the classy Watson, Karin Burger and Sulu Fitzpatrick with all three difficult to take on and providing plenty of variety down back given their respective strengths. Realistically, with so much youth in the goal attack position for the Diamonds, if Watson can shut down Bassett, then New Zealand could have a real chance of getting on top of Australia early.

Through the centre, expect the Diamonds to look to exploit the absence of Laura Langman, with the retired champion leaving a position open for the likes of Shannon Saunders and Claire Kersten to battle for the start. Expect the starting centre for Australia to be between Liz Watson and Kate Moloney, with all the Diamonds listed midcourters strong in their own right but a number arguably more potent on the wing than across the full court. Australia’s centre could potentially be based around who starts for New Zealand, and with a number of other midcourters at their disposal expect plenty of rotation across both sides through one of the most contested spots on court. Liz Watson can thread the needle to anyone in the goal circle, and whilst the ever-versatile Burger is likely to start inside the circle for New Zealand, her long arms and party tricks could go a long way to propelling ball forward for the Ferns out in wing defence where required. Versatility-wise, both squads have plenty of depth at their disposal with eight and seven midcourters respectively, making for an intriguing contest with both sides able to adjust accordingly and really flesh out their ideal midcourt across the four matches.

At the other end of the court, expect a tight battle as the Diamonds defenders and Ferns goalers are realistically both nations’ most settled and reliable units across the court given their experience. Courtney Bruce and Jo Weston are as difficult as they come in Australia’s defence, and factor in livewire Kim Jenner – who could earn her first Diamonds cap – and the cleanliness of Sarah Klau, and the Diamonds will be really difficult to contend with down back. But the Ferns have plenty of strengths of their own, as captain Ameliaranne Ekenasio and Maia Wilson look to continue their excellent connection as Monica Falkner and Bailey Mes return to wreak havoc for New Zealand. With so much firepower and physicality shaping up in the goal circle, there is no doubt this end of the court is the one to watch given the tried and true connections for both nations.

Overall, expect a fairly even contest across the board and do not be surprised if the four wins are split down the middle given how much both sides can change depending on who gets the starting bib in each position. Expect tight tussles in each and every position, and for the Diamonds to take advantage of the cancelled crowds which should realistically even the playing field a fraction. Both sides have plenty to prove after such a disrupted year, so will want to really put on a show.

SQUADS

New Zealand

Attack: Ameliaranne Ekenasio, Maia Wilson, Bailey Mes, Monica Falkner
Midcourt: Gina Crampton, Claire Kersten, Sam Winders, Shannon Saunders, Kimiora Poi, Whitney Souness, Maddy Gordon
Defence: Karin Burger, Jane Watson, Sulu Fitzpatrick

Australia

Attack: Caitlin Bassett, Kiera Austin, Sophie Garbin, Cara Koenen, Tippah Dwan (invitee)
Midcourt: Liz Watson, Jamie-Lee Price, Maddy Proud, Kate Moloney, Gabi Simpson, Jess Anstiss, Paige Hadley, Verity Charles
Defence: Courtney Bruce, Jo Weston, Sarah Klau, Kim Jenner, Tara Hinchliffe (invitee)

2021 Constellation Cup: Hypothetical starting 7

THE Constellation Cup is only days away and with that comes speculation on what both New Zealand and Australia’s potential starting sevens could look like. With a couple of key figures missing for both sides with Gretel Bueta, Steph Wood and Emily Mannix out for Australia and Katrina Rore unavailable for New Zealand, it provides an opportunity for some new names to take the next step up. Here are our potential sides:

Australian Diamonds:

GS: Caitlin Bassett
GA: Kiera Austin
WA: Liz Watson
C: Paige Hadley
WD: Gabi Simpson
GD: Jo Weston
GK: Courtney Bruce

With a relatively inexperienced shooting circle it is expected that Diamonds captain and lynchpin Caitlin Bassett gets the nod in the goal shooter position. A key figure under the post with her clever holds, accuracy to post and strength on the rebound, it would be remiss to not give Bassett the start given her ability to dictate the flow inside the circle. She is likely to partner with the likes of Kiera Austin given the two played domestically together at the GIANTS, and the young goaler is realistically the next most experienced in the proposed squad. Austin is a smooth mover who boasts impressive vision to read the play and slot seamlessly into the space to constantly create attacking forays. With good timing and an ability to shoot from range, Austin is an exciting prospect looking to get her first international cap.

Through the midcourt the Diamonds have a plethora of options and have a wealth of versatility with each player able to effectively ply their trade in a variety of positions. Arguably the world’s best wing attack in Liz Watson is set to take the starting position for the Diamonds to provide that steady head in attack with her class with ball in hand a significant factor. Watson is a real figure of consistency, often working in overdrive to weave the ball down the court much like Paige Hadley, who slots into centre. Hadley can switch between a defensive and attacking mindset in the blink of an eye while her high level of endurance is undeniable. Hadley is cautious with ball in hand, renowned for her gut running and endurance rather than her flashy skills. In at wing defence is Gabi Simpson who re-joins the fold after some time on the outskirts. With plenty of experience and an uncanny ability to pick off passes, Simpson is a real livewire across both the defensive and midcourt units. Strong through transition and quick on her feet the wing defence is never far from the action, shutting down her opponent and most importantly winning ball back for her side time and time again.

Speaking of defence, we have gone with the tried and tested duo of Jo Weston and Courtney Bruce at the last line. Weston is an integral member in defence often using her long arms and lean over the shot to intimidate her opponents while her read of the play puts her in good stead to take frequent intercepts. In at goal keeper, Bruce is a highly physical opponent that works her player over with her constant movement, fancy footwork and read of the play to swat away passes with ease. The defensive combination has become well known for their ball-hunting abilities and skillset to put up strong defensive walls for opposition sides, a feat they will be hoping to employ against the Ferns.

Given the likely new connections in attack it is imperative for the Diamonds to have some form of stability down back to ensure the goalers are given the best opportunity to fine tune their partnership and build scoring pressure. With strength through the midcourt expect the Diamonds to bring the ball down the court with speed and use their experienced players to hold down the side when times get tough.

New Zealand Silver Ferns:

GS: Maia Wilson
GA: Ameliaranne Ekenasio
WA: Gina Crampton
C: Shannon Saunders
WD: Sam Winders
GD: Karin Burger
GK: Jane Watson

The goal circle has a mix of youth and experience as Maia Wilson takes out the goal shooter role. Still only young, Wilson has elevated her game in the past year with her increased movement, impressive timing and overall volume and accuracy a couple of notable features. A strong and commanding presence under the post, Wilson has also proven that she can shoot from range and complement the likes of Ferns captain Ameliaranne Ekenasio. The goal attack has speed and cleanliness to boot while her timing along the baseline is second to none. Silky smooth with ball in hand, Ekenasio has an innate understanding of when to flick the ball around or take the shot with her long bomb shooting under pressure a major element in her game. The two are steadily building a strong combination with their quick movement and overall netball nous which are set to cause problems for the Diamonds.

With Laura Langman out of the picture following her retirement it will likely be Shannon Saunders that steps up to the plate and guides the side through the midcourt. Whilst not the quickest player out on court, Saunders offers a sense of reliability and surety through the middle with her careful approach through the centre. Boasting more defensive tendencies, Saunders will complement the likes of partner in crime Gina Crampton who uses her quick footwork to dance around circle edge and feed the ball into the goalers. With excellent vision and timing, Crampton is an easy selection – plus her experience with Saunders makes it almost a no-brainer for the Ferns. Returning to the Ferns squad is Sam Winders with the wing defence poised to take the role given her expertise in the position. With speed to burn, impressive timing and strong transitional play Winders could provide that link between attack and defence.

Karin Burger is the likely starter in at goal defence with the highly versatile defender able to take advantage of her long limbs and employ some strong hands over pressure on the shot. She is deceptively quick given her height, covering the court well to shut down the drive of the attackers while she is a real menace in the air thanks to her excellent leap and timing. She will likely partner with Jane Watson and allow the goal keeper to do what she does best, provide a commanding presence down back. Boasting versatility to change from a holding defender to a moving one, Watson is a real general down back who constantly repositions and uses her rangy arms to force turnovers and create doubt for opposition attackers. She can gobble up intercepts with relative ease and create a wealth of pressure through her movement.

Only naming three circle defenders in the squad, the Ferns will likely opt for the experienced duo to allow for the new connections in the midcourt to flourish. They also welcome back a couple of familiar names in attack who despite having experience are returning from injury so may be eased into the workload.

Dwan excited about Diamonds opportunity

AFTER taking the Suncorp Super Netball (SSN) competition by storm with the Queensland Firebirds in 2020, youngster Tippah Dwan earned herself a call-up to the Australian Diamonds as a training partner. Still relatively new to the elite system, Dwan is still coming to terms with her rapid rise into Diamonds contention, which involved selection to the extended Constellation Cup squad in New Zealand next week.

“It’s pretty surreal actually. Coming off just my first year in SSN, I just think it’s a huge honour to be able to come and even train with the girls which is amazing, but to go on and tour with them already is really crazy. So I’m really happy about it,” Dwan said.

The progress came hard and fast for Dwan, with the young goaler missing the entire 2019 SSN season with a foot injury before becoming a household name in 2020 credit to her silky movement, range inside the circle and confidence to go to post.

“I thought it was crazy to even be able to play last year, after not playing for pretty much a full year in 2019. And so I think I just took the opportunity as I went and it paid off in the end,” Dwan explained.

“I think that I learned a lot from last year even from my first game to my last game, my game really progressed and I got a bit more comfortable in the league which was good, and I think just coming into the squad again, I’ll be able to play with different people and gain a lot of experience from them too.”

Gifted with an opportunity to develop her craft, Dwan has big plans for the future identifying this experience as a crucial stepping stone that will provide her with not only a chance to mix it with the best ,but most importantly an environment to learn in.

“I just want to keep maintaining and progressing my netball game, so I have a lot to learn and I think being a part of squads like this is where I’m going to do it – so just keep on learning.”

“Right now we’re just doing a lot of training which has been good and that’s the biggest reason that I’m here. I just want to be able to train with the girls, the best in Australia, so I’m just taking it day by day and really soaking in that opportunity that I get. If that presents something else I’ll be happy about that, but I’m just happy to be here.”

“I’m just really grateful that I can train against the best for these few weeks and then hopefully I can take a few tricks from them and put it into my game this year.”

At opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to experience and exposure ,being under the wing of Caitlin Bassett has provided Dwan with a fountain of knowledge and encouragement to progress her game.

“I always remember watching her (Bassett) as I was growing up, so it’s kind of surreal that I am now on a tour with her,” Dwan said. “I think she has so much knowledge and I can tell just from speaking to her and the more we train together, the more I just learn from her and really just taking her leadership and try to put that into my own game.”

“She’s just very kind and if I make mistakes, she’s like ‘oh that’s alright’ like, ‘at least you had a look at it’ and stuff like that so she’s been really encouraging.”

Drawing upon experiences with the Firebirds at a domestic level, Dwan noted some of her development throughout last season heading into the Diamonds campaign with her netball smarts a key focus, suggesting that utilising her own strengths was as much as a focus as opening up opportunities for her teammates.

“I think just being a lot smarter with my gameplay and playing to my strengths, I think,” Dwan said. “At the start of the season a little bit I played for other players and trying to set them up, but just trying to put my game into how we played last year. I think that’s where I really progressed and tried to find my rhythm in the team.”

With her game smarts continuously evolving, an area Dwan wanted to knuckle down on in her time with the Diamonds camp was to add further versatility to her game to become a more prominent threat in the attacking third.

“Just being able to be versatile, so training against so many different people in the tour right now is a really good opportunity just to play with different people and try to make my game present well to them. So maybe just try to be a more dominant goal attack there, and then finding my job and just doing that well first.”

Dwan is one of four Queensland Firebirds representing the Diamonds in the upcoming Diamonds tour, highlighting the number of exciting players who have come through the Queensland system. Gabi Simpson and Kim Jenner both got the nod in the 14-player squad while Tara Hinchliffe joins Dwan as an invitee on the extended list.

“I am very grateful that they’re here, I think especially because me and Tarz (Hinchliffe) came in together as invitees it really made me a little bit calmer about the whole thing and not coming out by myself, which was good.

“Me and Tarz didn’t have too much notice coming into the tour, but they really just reassured us and said we’re ready to go. Gabs (Simpson) gave us a little present, and she was so happy for us.”

Despite only having short notice to prepare for the tour over to New Zealand, Dwan said that played into her favour as it did not allow her time to dwell on the news.

“I had a few weeks notice before coming into camp. So, I think that was actually a good thing not having too much time to think about everything and try and get a little bit nervous about going so that was one of the positives about it, but we have been doing a little bit of training before that just with the ‘Birds, which was good so I felt ready to come in.”

The trek to New Zealand did not come without its obstacles though, with the Diamonds forced into a mandatory quarantine in order to comply with the COVID-19 restrictions. Lucky to escape quarantine in the SSN season due to already residing in Queensland, the 21-year-old admitted she was a little bit nervous to do the two-week quarantine alone.

“A lot of the girls have given us their experiences because a lot of them had to do the two weeks and they came to Queensland, so when I heard that we had to quarantine I was a bit nervous about it all,” Dwan said. “But I think just the fact that we can train together and still see each other every day is a really good thing being in our own little bubble on court, rather than just being stuck in a room by ourselves for two weeks.

“I think they really coordinated it well and it just feels like normal, like we go, come back, train and then come back and eat so it’s pretty good.”