Romelda Aiken of the Firebirds and Geva Mentor of the Lightning
Romelda Aiken of the Firebirds and Geva Mentor of the Lightning Chris Hyde

Firebirds show heart in snatching draw

NETBALL: Queensland Firebirds captain Gabi Simpson says the heart of the reigning champions can still never be questioned after they snatched a thrilling 56-all draw with the Sunshine Coast in the Suncorp Super Netball season opener at Boondall on Saturday night.

The Lightning appeared on track for a stunning upset victory in their first-ever match when they led by seven goals early in the fourth quarter.

But the Firebirds were not to be denied and stormed home to level the scores with four minutes left on the clock.

The teams were locked together at 55-all inside the last 60 seconds when Lightning star Caitlin Bassett (48 goals from 51 attempts) put the visitors in front.

The Firebirds patiently moved the ball up court before Romelda Aiken (40 goals from 52 attempts) equalised with just seven seconds remaining.

The spine-tingling result in front of 5973 spectators at the Brisbane Entertainment Centre instantly and emphatically breathes life and credibility into the new Queensland derby.

With Firebirds legends Laura Geitz (pregnant) and Clare McMeniman (retired) watching from the VIP section, the Firebirds were not about to surrender lightly.

 

Cara Koenen of the Lightning passes during the round one of the Super Netball match  at Brisbane Entertainment Centre
Cara Koenen of the Lightning passes during the round one of the Super Netball match at Brisbane Entertainment Centre Chris Hyde

"It's the first game and the thing that we proved just then is that we have the heart that we've always had and that fight. That's what we pride ourselves on,'' Simpson said.

"It's a starting point but you can't buy the heart. You can learn everything else but you can't learn that.''

Lightning captain Geva Mentor never thought the visitors were safe from a Firebirds comeback and was proud that the Sunshine Coast was so competitive with the purple powerhouse.

"In the game of netball, you can't be set on your laurels until that final whistle is gone ...(but) we showed some really promising things we can take on to next week,'' she said.

"It's our first game. They are last year's premiers. They are probably one of the most successful clubs that we've seen in Australian domestic history.

"For us to come out and show that grit and show where we are at is just fantastic for the girls.''

The Firebirds had four survivors from last year's title-winning side on court.

The post-Geitz/McMeniman era was always going to include some rough patches for the Firebirds who need to find a long-term and high-class answer at centre after the season-ending knee injury to Mahalia Cassidy further depleted the squad.

This is a new model compared to the relentless machine that claimed unprecedented back-to-back trans-Tasman titles in 2015-2016

But they still refuse to quit.

The Lightning powered to a 29-24 halftime lead after overcoming a nervous start.

The Firebirds raced to a 5-0 lead in the opening minutes with the Sunshine Coast guilty of committing a number of turnovers.

Gretel Tippett and Aiken were on fire from the opening pass but they went cold soon enough as the surging Lightning closed the gap and trailed by the solitary goal at quarter-time.

News Corp Australia


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