IN a game the Queensland Firebirds would probably rather forget, Melbourne Vixens showed their dominance across all areas of the court, and bench, coming away with a massive 78-50 win. Despite their fantastic opening quarter against the Lightning last weekend, the Firebirds were not able to string together a consistent performance against the classy Victorian side. The Vixens put on a clinic – and if they produce a game of this quality every match will be a premiership contender this season.
The first few minutes of the opening quarter were fairly even, as both teams sized up their opposition and started to find their way into the game. Jemma Mi Mi took the court for the first time in 2020 after missing last round with a calf complaint and was joined by debutant and goal keeper Rudi Ellis. The matchup between Firebirds captain Gabi Simpson and powerhouse wing attack Liz Watson provided plenty of excitement with the two engaging in a fantastic tussle from the outset. It felt like the Firebirds attack end were trying to find their feet, and the combination between youngster Tippah Dwan and Romelda Aiken is showing signs of promise. In the Vixens attack end, the combinations and experience made for a formidable front line who got into a rhythm as the quarter progressed and started to make their intentions known for the match. Caitlin Thwaites showcased her versatility playing out in goal attack and not skipping a beat with her clever feeds into the circle and drive to post.
Vixens showed great patience in all areas of the court, and the experience of their Diamond-stacked side really came into play. Despite this, the Firebirds mounted defensive pressure through the midcourt, led by Simpson who, as always, was getting herself in everything. The inexperience of the Firebirds lineup became clear as a few silly errors through the midcourt crept into their game, and were punished by the bullet feeding and vision of Watson at the other end. Ellis was making her mark in her first SSN game, showing off her impressive leap and rangy limbs by picking up two rebounds on the trot. Vixens managed to take control towards the end of the first term as they cleared space easily and balanced the court, maintaining composure and staying in control on transition play, ending the quarter with 16 goals to the Firebirds’ 13.
The Vixens gathered momentum after the break and as their confidence grew, so did the scoreline. Tegan Philip came on for Thwaites and was zipping around the goal circle leaving Kim Jenner for dust. It was clear that all seven Vixens on the court were doing their job, with Watson, in particular, putting on an outstanding show. Firebirds were letting the Vixens derail them slightly, and their passing accuracy was starting to falter under the defensive pressure of the Vixens. The youth and inexperience of the Firebirds was being exposed by the fluency and timing of Mwai Kumwenda and Phillip, and Firebirds were forced into taking a time out to try and stem the flow of the Melbourne side.
The defensive trio of Emily Mannix, Jo Weston and Kate Eddy starred, running rings around the Firebirds attack end as the Vixens extended their lead to 10 goals. Unfortunately, for the Firebirds, as the Vixens went from strength to strength, the Queensland team looked disordered and on top of each other. Their only saving grace was the tried and tested route over the top to Aiken, which allowed them some access to post through the wall of green dresses. In the final five minutes of the quarter, things got even worse for the Firebirds, who could not find their accuracy from the two-goal range. The Vixens shooters were slotting them from everywhere making the most of the super shot as the game really started to slip out of the Firebirds control. Even with Watson taking a rest on the bench, the Vixens were still way too good, winning the quarter by 21-8 and taking a huge 16-goal lead into the half-time break.
This really set the tone for the remainder of the match, as the Vixens really put the foot down. Mi Mi came into the centre position with Mahalia Cassidy out at wing attack, and the Firebirds shuffled the pack almost constantly in the third quarter to try and find the right combination. Their small errors were costing them, and in contrast, the Vixens were doing the little things well and enjoying the chance to play with freedom. They were both rapid and careful with possession, maintaining their structures in both attack and defence. In an unusual move, Simpson came into goal defence in hope to nullify the Philip with her tagging style and aerial presence. The change however left the Firebirds without their experienced leader in the midcourt with the youngsters unable to penetrate through the Vixens defensive pressure as the Melbourne based team pushed out to a 25-goal lead.
With the score blown out to 57-32, the Vixens continued to utilise their bench players, including Jacqui Newton in at goal defence. The Vixens had only had nine turnovers in three quarters of netball, proving just how clinical and well-drilled they were throughout the game. Tayla Honey was particularly impressive, demonstrating smart footwork and accurate feeding ability. For the Firebirds, no third was really clicking for them in terms of connections, even with the typical combination of Kim Jenner and Tara Hinchliffe down back and Simpson back in wing defence. Both teams made good use of the rolling subs rule throughout the fourth quarter, testing out combinations and connections. Towards the end of the game, Ine-Mari Venter slotted an impressive three super shots in a row, which although too late for this game, gives her valuable experience for future rounds. Thwaites sunk a final devastating super shot after the buzzer, meaning the Vixens pushed the score out to 78-50.
The Vixens will be glad their starting seven earned themselves a rest on the bench, especially when they come up against Lightning in a few days time. They proved their premiership potential and kept the Firebirds to their equal lowest score of all time. With shooters making 90 per cent in normal play, and slotting 13 from 19 super shots, the Vixens were unstoppable. They also managed to rack up seven intercepts to the Firebirds one. The Firebirds lacked experience compared to the Vixens but will be hoping to bounce back with a win against the Magpies in Round 3.
Queensland Firebirds 13 | 8 | 11 | 18 (50)
Melbourne Vixens 16 | 22 | 19 | 21 (78)
GS: Romelda Aiken
GA: Tippah Dwan
WA: Jemma Mi Mi
C: Mahalia Cassidy
WD: Gabi Simpson
GD: Kim Jenner
GK: Rudi Ellis
GS: Mwai Kumwenda
GA: Caitlin Thwaites
WA: Liz Watson
C: Kate Moloney
WD: Kate Eddy
GD: Jo Weston
GK: Emily Mannix