Another simply unforgettable trans-Tasman netball grand final has ended with the Queensland Firebirds claiming a 69-67 victory over the NSW Swifts in double extra-time.
After nearly 80 minutes of physical, fluctuating netball the game was decided by the Firebirds’ star goal shooter, Romelda Aiken, who defied a dodgy day under the goal to give her team the all-important two-goal buffer.
“These 11 girls standing here are the best of the best. They are a family away from our family,” Queensland captain Laura Geitz said.
“They are humble, they are genuine and they go about their business creating no fuss, and it’s an absolute inspiration to come to work.
“It’s not work, it’s fun every single day [to] play alongside these wonderful women. So thank you very much for making this such a wonderful year.”
The crowd of 10,312 was the biggest netball crowd Queensland has ever seen and Geitz had nothing but praise for the fans who turned out to the decider.
“Swifts supporters, Firebirds supporters, without you guys we would not be able to do what we do and to think eight years ago, if you told us we’d be playing in front of this amount of people, we would have laughed at them,” she said.
“But to be honest, how much support you have shown to our wonderful game, if you are a loyal netball supporter or if you’ve just come on board because you love this product, we are so excited to have you and we hope that you continue to support us.”
The Swifts rallied from five goals down in the fourth quarter to force an added period, and had chances of their own to avenge last season’s equally thrilling grand final loss, but the key pillars of the Firebirds stood up.
With a two-goal lead needed to decide the title in the second stanza of extra-time, Aiken’s 63rd goal of the day clinched the match and sent Brisbane Entertainment Centre into raptures.
“It’s pure joy, it’s such a special moment,” Firebirds wing attack Caitlyn Nevins said after the final whistle.
“To have such a tough game like that and come over the line, it’s just phenomenal. The crowd was just unreal.
“We had a three-goal buffer in a few of the quarters, but they kept fighting back. They’re a quality side and they were never going to let us have it easy.”
Layton makes life difficult for wayward Aiken
The lead changed hands 15 times throughout the match, with the Swifts taking an early advantage in the first quarter before the Firebirds hit back in the second.
Aiken found herself locked in a personal battle with Swifts defender Sharni Layton, who successfully put the Jamaican superstar, who finished with 63 goals from 89 attempts, off her game.
Aiken struggled to convert ample opportunities and was not being supported by goal attack Gretel Tippett, but to the Swifts’ great cost, the visiting team could not make their ascendancy count on the scoreboard.
“I just had to get the ones I could. Romelda is phenomenal, I reckon she’s by far the best shooter in the league,” Layton said.
“It bloody hurts, but they were the best team by far all year. I hope they enjoy it because they deserve it.”
Geitz had similar praise for her Firebirds’ famous rivals.
“You are such a sensational team. You are gutsy, you come up into enemy territory, you are confident and you are such an absolute challenge each and every time we play you,” Geitz said in her post-match speech.
The winning skipper was almost unbeatable in defence, making life awfully difficult for Caitlin Thwaites and Susan Pettitt in the Swifts’ attacking third.
As the fourth quarter ticked down, it looked for all money like the Firebirds were going to run away with victory, backed by a tremendously vocal crowd in Brisbane.
But the Swifts came from nowhere to force extra time, and boast the momentum no less.
Both teams had chances, but Gabi Simpson’s massive intercept gave the Firebirds the opportunity to win it. Aiken duly obliged.