Queensland Firebirds Squad Analysis
And so, we come to the big 3 – the Magpies, Giants and Firebirds – our model suggests that, statistically, there is an exceptionally high probability that the 2017 premier will come from these three sides. To start with, we look at the reigning back to back champs – the Queensland Firebirds. It is easy to look at the Firebirds players that have departed and write them off. How can a side that loses three Aussie Diamonds - Laura Geitz, Claire McMeniman and Kim Ravaillion possibly hope to remain competitive? Looking at what the Firebirds have lost though ignores what remains – and that is still an exceptionally impressive, well rounded netball team.
The Firebirds strength is indisputably their shooting circle. In Goal Shooter Romelda Aiken, the Firebirds boast the clear number 1 ranked player in the statistically most important position on court. After struggling a touch through the first half of 2015, Aiken is riding a spectacular 18 month run of form which has ultimately led the Firebirds to two premierships. Aiken’s shooting percentage is not as high as other shooters, and her 26 misses in the Grand Final was easily the most missed shooting attempts by any player in 2016. However, such is her rebounding ability, often the missed shots don’t matter for Aiken and indeed one of the key reasons they won that 2016 premiership is that Aiken offset her 26 missed shots with an incredible, season high, 19 rebounds! Plus like Mwai Kumwenda from the Vixens, Aiken has such incredible athleticism that the mid-court can throw passes to her that only Aiken can haul in leaving many a defender helpless. Joining Aiken in the front court is the ever-improving Gretel Tippett. The rise of Tippett has been meteoric since shifting to the Firebirds in 2015 and she recently took the Diamonds starting GA bib from long-term incumbent Nat Medhurst. Youngster Abigail Latu-Meafou will back the pair up and whilst is unlikely to get a great deal of court-time, she will no doubt learn plenty from working with Aiken and Tippett.
The mid-court of the Firebirds remains an area of strength even following the departure of Diamonds Centre Kim Ravaillion. The Wings are well covered with new skipper Gabi Simpson the highest rated WD in the country by the TipBetPro model. Meanwhile, late bloomer Caitlyn Nevins is an inspiration to talented netballers everywhere that may have thought they missed their shot. Nevins, 29, only found a regular starting spot as a 27 year old Wing Attack in 2015 but has quickly shown that she is far superior to the average “rookie” with outstanding performances eventually earning a call-up to the national squad. Just who will take the crucial Centre bib is the biggest query over the Firebirds. Will they trust inexperienced young guns Mahalia Cassidy or Jemma Mi Mi or will Caitlyn Nevins shift into the Centre bib. With some encouraging performances off the bench last season, we would expect Cassidy to get first shot in the mid-court, although the Centre position holds more responsibility than the WA bib where she often played in 2016 so it may be that Nevins moves into Centre.
Defence is the biggest area of concern for the Firebirds and ultimately why we rate them below the Giants and Magpies as premiership chances. Kate Shimmin is a handy recruit (and indeed our highest rated GD in the competition) but certainly not of the level of retired 2016 Firebirds premiership stars Geitz and McMeniman. Shimmin will be joined by a pair of youngsters. After some handy performances off the bench in 2016, the GK bib will likely be filled by Laura Clemesha whilst local youngster Kim Jenner will back the pair up following after being rewarded with a roster spot following a highly impressive junior career.
Predicted 2017 Position: 3rd
2017 Objective: Premiership – Any side with a goal shooting duo as good as Aiken and Tippett has the firepower to go all the way
Player to Watch: Laura Clemesha – The weight of expectation will be on Clemesha taking the GK role vacated by Firebirds and Australian legend Laura Geitz. However, Clemesha could have got no better education learning from Geitz as well as fellow former Firebirds and Diamonds defenders McMeniman and Bulley over the past two seasons. Having been in the system for a while the time is right for Clemesha to stand up and assert herself as a quality starter in 2017.
The big question mark: Aiken and Tippett will be good for 55+ goals a week but will that be enough for the new-look