The first Queensland derby in the new Super Netball competition has ended in a draw between the Queensland Firebirds in their season opener against the Sunshine Coast Lightning.
The Firebirds, last year’s trans-Tasman champions, managed to salvage a 56-56 result on Saturday night at the Brisbane Entertainment Centre.
After being down 29-24 at halftime and by as many as seven points early in the final quarter, the Firebirds levelled with four minutes remaining and seven seconds were on the clock when Romelda Aiken tied it up once more.
Caitlin Bassett’s accurate shooting proved key to the Lightning’s shock early lead as she nailed 23 perfect shots in the first half on her way to 48 from 52.
Jamaican international Aiken was less reliable at the other end, finishing with 38 from 50 but crucially held her nerve when it mattered most in the dying moments.
The new franchise made an inauspicious start as the Firebirds took a 5-0 lead but scored the next three and were just a point down at the next break.
The second quarter was all Lightning with former New Zealand international Laura Langman a dominant force at centre.
The Firebirds tried to curb this by moving Caitlyn Nevins to centre for debutante Kristen Oxenford, but it had little effect as the Lightning continued their dominance until the thrilling finale which brought the almost 6000 fans to their feet.
Lightning skipper Geva Mentor chose to focus on the positive performance rather than the agonising denial of a famous victory.
“For us to come out and show that grit and show where we are at is just fantastic for the girls,” Mentor said.
“It’s our first game and they are probably one of the most successful clubs that we’ve seen in Australian domestic history.”
Firebirds captain Gabi Simpson feels their late comeback shows they retain their trademark fighting spirit, despite the absence of last year’s on-court leader Laura Geitz.
“We have the heart we’ve always had, and that fight, and that’s what we pride ourselves on,” Simpson said.
“You can learn everything else but you can’t learn that.”