Adelaide Thunderbirds became the first team to win the ANZ Championship title twice when they held out a spirited Queensland Firebirds 50-48 to win the 2013 Grand Final in Adelaide on Sunday.
It was the 13th straight win for the minor premiers who looked to have one hand on the trophy after making a big move in the third quarter but the young tight knit team from Queensland chased all the way in a gutsy and thrilling final quarter.
Able to spend their last six weeks at home, compared to Firebirds, who had been on the road for the last month, Thunderbirds were forced to call on all their experience to fend off the gallant underdogs.
There were no surprises in either line-up, both retaining the settled presence of recent weeks with Demelza McCloud again getting the starting nod at goal defence for the Firebirds.
Absorbing the early pressure the best, it was the visitors who held the edge through a low scoring opening term with both teams guilty of turnovers. As a result, shooting accuracy proved the difference.
There was no easy path to goal for either team, respective goal shooters Carla Borrego (Thunderbirds) and Romelda Aiken (Firebirds) being well contained by the rangy and competitive exploits of Laura Geitz and Sharni Layton.
With Borrego and Erin Bell struggling for accuracy, Firebirds captain Geitz provided the inspiration with a series of turnovers to give the visitors a momentum swing heading into the first break. Five unanswered goals helped the Firebirds surge to a handy 13-9 lead after the first 15 minutes.
It was all Firebirds on the resumption, Geitz continuing to impress with her ability to keep Borrego quiet while also picking off a number of intercepts. She was well supported by young wing defence Gabrielle Simpson, the defensive line of the visitors forcing Thunderbirds into a laboured effort on attack.
Natalie Medhurst’s link to Aiken proved almost seamless, Thunderbirds unable to stem the strength of the tall Jamaican shooter in the air and her finishing close to the post.
Faced to play a grinding role, Thunderbirds fortunes turned completely on the back of two magical pieces of play by captain Natalie von Bertouch, as the home team closed to within one.
Showing more accuracy on attack and with the experienced midcourter von Bertouch leading proceedings, Thunderbirds finished the quarter with a flourish. Borrego and Bell became more prominent under the post, showing greater polish and accuracy, a goal on the stroke of halftime giving the home team a 24-23 lead at the main break.
Firebirds made their customary change for the second half when replacing McCloud with Jacinta Messer but it was the Thunderbirds who were the big movers in changing the shape of the game. With Emily Beaton and Bell gaining control on attack, defensive turnovers dried up for the visitors.
Patience on attack paid dividends for the home team, Bell stepping up to dictate both inside and outside the circle as Thunderbirds tightened the screws while surging to the biggest lead of the game. Enjoying a greater supply of ball, the home team revelled as the Firebirds fell off the pace.
The athletic Layton caused further problems at the other end as she snapped up rare turnover ball from Aiken, Thunderbirds going to the last break well placed at 40-34.
However, the Firebirds were far from finished, replying with a rejuvenated and spirited fight-back to draw within one with 10 minutes to play.
The visitors continued to throw everything at the Thunderbirds but could not get the vital turnovers to break the home team open, the experienced campaigners doing enough to hold them at bay and repeat their title-winning deeds of 2010.