Race for Finals spots intensifies

Prats

It can’t get much tighter at the top of the ANZ Championship ladder with the top four sides all locked together and only separated by percentage after Round 12.

The Melbourne Vixens, NSW Swifts and Queensland Firebirds are all vying for the right to host the Major Semi-Final – or at least the Minor Semi-Final – over the final three weeks of the regular season.

New Zealand side the Waikato Bay of Plenty Magic holds the other spot inside the top four, but the Central Pulse and Southern Steel are right there in the mix waiting for one the teams above them to slip up.

The Firebirds virtually ended the Adelaide Thunderbirds hopes of defending their title with a drought-breaking 58-52 win at Netball SA Stadium.

Images: Courtesy of SMP Images 

It’s the first time since 2011 that the Firebirds have beaten the Thunderbirds and just their third win in 15 encounters between the two sides, ending Adelaide’s six-game winning streak against them.

The Firebirds set up their win with a dominant 19-11 second term. Shooter Romelda Aiken continued her strong late season form with 40 goals while captain Laura Geitz stood defiant in the defensive end.

_MCA6078LiGeitz was happy to return home with the six-goal win ahead of their bye this weekend.

“We obviously got a handy lead in that second quarter and were able to maintain that,” Geitz said.

“In saying that, in the last quarter we had a few lapses. But it’s so tough playing (Thunderbirds) in this environment so very happy with that.”

The Thunderbirds look set to miss the finals for just the second time in their history. Captain Renae Hallinan said the Thunderbirds made it tough on themselves allowing the Firebirds to get away to such a big lead at half-time.

“We can learn from that game,” Hallinan said. “We won the second half which is a huge positive and showed that pink spirit to fight back. Against a quality side like Queensland it’s hard to go into half-time 10 goals down.”

The Thunderbirds head to Sydney this Sunday to take on the Swifts, who overpowered West Coast Fever 58-47 at the Perth Arena on Monday night.

WallThe Fever led by five goals at half-time but the Swifts, led by Sharni Layton, captain Kimberlee Green and shooters Caitlin Thwaites and Susan Pratley, eventually overhauled the hosts to score an important win.

It’s the first time since 2012 that the Swifts have completed a clean sweep against an Australian rival and remain on track for the first Finals appearance since 2011.

Fever captain Natalie Medhurst lamented another match that had got away from her team.

“We played some really good netball and then we played some pretty ordinary netball within the game,” Medhurst said.

“We had a great first half and the second half was rather frustrating.”

The Fever travel across the country to Melbourne this weekend for a showdown against the top-of-the ladder Vixens, who are coming off the bye.