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Opinion

Queensland Firebirds season preview

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29th April, 2021
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The Queensland Firebirds won four of their last five matches in 2020 to finish in fifth.

The Firebirds have two big inclusions in 2021. Gretel Bueta and Kim Ravaillion both return to Super Netball after giving birth. Ravaillion also returns to the Firebrids after a stint with Collingwood. Ravaillion will help fill the gap left by Mahalia Cassidy, who has joined the Sunshine Coast Lightning.

Bueta has used her previous basketball background to introduce changes to the way goal attack is played, one of which is scoring via a lay up, which netball traditionalists may not be happy about, but it certainly brings a new dynamic to the game.

Bueta is an incredible athlete and in the past has complemented Romelda Aiken inside the attacking circle. Bueta has twice been named in the Super Netball team of the year and is also a past winner of the Liz Ellis Diamond, the highest individual accolade in Australian netball.

The Firebrids use Jamaican Romelda Aiken’s size to their advantage at goal shooter, with a lot of lob passes used to position Aiken under the post. Even if Aiken misses, she is more than likely to get the rebound.

Aiken took the most offensive rebounds in Super Netball in 2020 with 110, an amazing 42 rebounds ahead of Jhaniele Fowler in second.

Aiken was also second for goals in 2020 with 583. Aiken was awarded the Laura Geitz Medal as the Firebirds’ most valuable player in 2020, an award she won for a record eighth time.

Romelda Aiken

(Photo by Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images)

Tippah Dwan’s emergence in 2020 was one of the highlights of the season. Dwan filled Bueta’s shoes with aplomb. Dwan scored 184 goals during the season and was equal fourth for super shots scored in 2020 with 46. I am looking forward to see how new coach Megan Anderson rotates Dwan and Bueta to maximise their strengths.

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In the midcourt, Ravaillion will bring her experience. Ravaillion made her debut for the Queensland Firebirds in 2013. Ravaillion played in premierships with the Firebirds in 2015 and 2016. At one stage, Ravaillion was one of the first picked in the Aussie Diamonds squad and was a member of a World Cup-winning squad.

Ravaillion has been included in the Firebirds’ captaincy group. No doubt Firebirds members and fans will be looking forward to seeing Ravaillion running around again in the Firebirds’ midcourt.

Captain Gabi Simpson is considered one of the best defensive midcourt players in the world. Simpson was also a member of the Firebirds’ back-to-back championship wins in 2015 and 2016. Simpson was awarded the Liz Ellis Diamond award in 2017. Simpson leads by her actions.

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Lara Dunkley joined the Firebirds from the Vixens in 2020. Towards the end of the season, Dunkley made the Firebirds’ wing attack position her own and was selected in the Australian development squad. Dunkley comes from a sporting family with her father and two brothers all playing AFL.

Jemma Mi Mi rounds out the Firebirds’ midcourt. Watch for Mi Mi’s speed and footwork. Mi Mi has been with the Firebirds for a number of years and has plenty of Super Netball experience. So the Firebirds’ midcourt will not lose anything when she comes onto court.

In the defensive circle, young guns Kim Jenner and Tara Hinchliffe – who are in their fourth seasons with the Firebirds – will continue to develop both individually and as a combination. During 2020, Jenner won three match MVPs, was runner-up in the Firebirds’ MVP award and was awarded the Firebirds’ members player of the year.

During the 2020 season, Hinchliffe had 50 deflections, 25 rebounds and 18 intercepts. Hinchliffe was previously captain and MVP of the Queensland under-19 team. Hinchliffe was also named in the 2020-21 Australian development squad along with teammates Dunkley, Dwan and Mi Mi. Hinchliffe has been named as the Firebirds’ vice-captain in 2021.

Generic netball

(Photo by Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images)

ANL premiership-winning defender Rudi Ellis returns for her second season with the Firebirds. Ellis was previously a training partner with the NSW Swifts and Melbourne Vixens. Ellis has also been part of Australian squads at under-age levels.

It will be great to see the careers of these young defenders continue to blossom and they could be the core of the Firebirds’ team for the best part of a decade.

The Firebirds’ training partners include shooter Mia Stower, defender Ruby Bakewell-Doran, wing defence Hulita Veve and centre Macy Gardner.

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Likely starting seven: Jenner, Hinchliffe, Simpson, Ravaillion, Dunkley, Bueta, Aiken.

Prediction
After a brilliant finish to last season, the return of Gretel Bueta and Kim Ravaillion, the emergence of Tippah Dwan and the continued development of their defensive circle, the Firebirds should return to finals action in 2021.

Predicted finish: third.

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