Firebirds triumph in ‘absolute arm-wrestle’
AFTER uncharacteristically missing last year's Suncorp Super Netball finals, the Queensland Firebirds announced their return as a legitimate title contenders in 2018 with a surging 59-55 victory over the Melbourne Vixens on Saturday.
The Firebirds followed their stirring "Sunshine Shootout" victory over the reigning champion Lightning last week with a gutsy triumph over the previously undefeated Vixens at Melbourne's Hisense Arena.
Queensland banked the four premiership points plus three bonus points to reinforce its place in the top four and set up a bumper clash with the GWS Giants next weekend.
The Firebirds - who welcomed back Laura Geitz from a back injury - only got better as the game wore on and finished over the top of the Vixens with a ruthless 16-11 fourth quarter.
Goalshooter Romelda Aiken hit 40 goals from 47 attempts and goal attack Gretel Tippett added 19 goals.
Vixens duo Mwai Kumwenda (29/32) and Tegan Philip (26/29) were starved of the ball in the closing stages by the suffocating Queensland pressure.
The visitors had a sloppy finish to the first quarter, with the Vixens scoring six of the last seven goals in the opening term to establish a 17-14 lead after Queensland was guilty of committing too many turnovers and giving away too many penalties.
But the purple powerhouse improved their discipline, upped their defensive pressure and closed the gap to two goals by the main break.
Queensland then claimed its first bonus point from a third quarter for the season when they embraced the instructions of captain Gabi Simpson, who had urged her players to "rip in'' and dominate the increasingly physical battle.
The Vixens won last year's minor premiership but flopped in the finals, losing both matches to go out of contention in straight sets.
They eventually cracked again after Queensland applied finals-like pressure on the home team after half-time.
The Firebirds edged to within a solitary goal by the last change and they came out with all guns blazing in the fourth quarter.
Queensland's 6-2 burst to start the last term forced the Vixens to call a time-out, but it had little impact as the Firebirds went on a 4-1 run after the break in play to all but secure back-to-back wins.
If not for a second half collapse against the Swifts in round one when they lost on the buzzer, the Firebirds would be undefeated after three rounds.
Firebirds coach Roselee Jencke said her defenders set the tone for Queensland.
"Our defensive pressure all over the court was excellent, particularly in that fourth quarter ... that really started to tell on Vixens," she said.
"We were able to capitalise on that. We managed to finish off in the last quarter really well.
"It was a real tussle ... an absolute arm-wrestle."