Grand stage set for next chapter in rivalry

GF pic
It’s been 315 days since the Queensland Firebirds and NSW Swifts played out one of the most memorable games of netball ever seen in Australia.

The 2015 Grand Final was a pulsating contest where the Firebirds snatched a memorable one-goal victory in the dying seconds of the match.

The two teams return to the scene of that epic contest – the Brisbane Convention Centre – in Round 5 of the ANZ Championship for a Grand Final rematch that poses to be as good as their last encounter as both are undefeated after four rounds.

A telling stat is that the Swifts have never beaten the Firebirds in Brisbane in nine previous attempts.

2015 ANZ Championship ANZ Grand Final Queensland Firebirds v NSW SwiftsQueensland has won four of the last five contests – which includes the competition’s first `official’ draw in Round 3 last season – and enter this showdown having reclaimed the record for the most consecutive wins – 17 – following is victory over Adelaide last round.

How the Firebirds defence can nullify the Swifts shooting combination of Caitlin Thwaites and Susan Pettitt will be crucial – as will Sharni Layton’s job on the Firebirds goalscoring machine Romelda Aiken.

Thwaites, pictured left, last round became the first player to score 1000 goals for three separate ANZ Championship teams – Swifts (1016), Central Pulse (1229) and Melbourne Vixens (1186).

West Coast Fever have travelled to New Zealand for a double road trip where it will face the New Zealand Conference ladder leaders Southern Steel (Invercargill) and the Waikato Bay of Plenty Magic (Tauranga) in the next fortnight.

The Adelaide Thunderbirds are also on the road across the Tasman, taking on the Northern Mystics in Auckland on Monday night.

Both teams will be eager to claim their first win of 2016. The Mystics played a draw in Round 3.

When they last met in Auckland, the Mystics won an extra-time thriller back in 2014 that ended the Thunderbirds then record 16-game winning streak.

After a bye last round, the Vixens are back in action hosting the Magic at Melbourne’s Hisense Arena on Sunday and will be keen to return to the winners list and stay in the race for a top three spot.

Shooter Karyn Bailey missed their Round 3 loss to Queensland with a foot problem and, should she play this Sunday, needs just 23 goals to overtake injured teammate Tegan Philip (1477 goals) as the Vixens’ all-time leading goalscorer.