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LIGHTNING (66) DEFEAT FIREBIRDS (48)

Super Netball’s controversial Suncorp Super Shot has delivered on its catalytic potential as the Sunshine Coast Lightning launched the season with a 66-48 win against the Queensland Firebirds at Nissan Arena.

The brave Firebirds were overpowered in the last quarter by the Lightning’s more experienced and stronger bodies in a revealing opening clash of the pandemic-delayed 2020 season.

Sunshine Coast trailed by as much as nine goals in the first half on Saturday but, in internationals Laura Langman, Stephanie Wood and Karla Pretorius, the Lightning had too much class in the fourth term.

Kylee Byrne held her nerve in her first game as the club’s head coach, thanks largely to a big finish from Wood who shot 10-from-11 super shots in her 14-goal haul.

Despite some early promise, Firebirds shooters Romelda Aiken (26/33) and Tippah Dwan (11/17) were unable to provide the impact their team needed in the second half.

Firebirds youngster Dwan, who was promoted to the squad this season in the absence of pregnant sharpshooter Gretel Bueta, became the first player to capitalise on the new rule that rewards the shooter with two points from goals scored in the outer half of the shooting circle in the last five minutes of each quarter.

The Queensland goal attack sank two super shots for the first quarter to hand last year’s wooden spooners a surprise eight-goal quarter-time lead over the two-time champions.

Strategically, the Rebel Power Five period has already become a major game changer, with both coaches using the closing stretch of each quarter to inject long range specialists.

Just as Dwan ripped open the first quarter, Wood shot five-from-five super shots to single-handedly drag her side back into the contest.

The highlight reel was not completely dominated by the shooters. Firebirds captain Gabi Simpson was the prowling menace that made her one of the mainstays of the national team from 2016 to 2018.

Her athleticism and defensive pressure helped inhibit Lightning skipper Langman while defensive pair Kim Jenner and Tara
Hinchliffe have rediscovered the combination that made them one of the strongest units in the competition last year.

Score breakdown
Q1: Firebirds 18 v Lightning 10
Q2: Firebirds 12 v Lightning 18
Q3: Firebirds 12 v Lightning 14
Q4: Firebirds 6 v Lightning 24

Nissan Player of The Match – Steph Wood (Sunshine Coast Lightning)

Firebirds shooting statistics – 48/61 (68.90%)
Romelda Aiken – G1 – 26/33 (79%) G2 – 0/0 (0%)
Tippah Dwan – G1 – 8/12 (67%) G2 – 3/5 (60%)
Ine-Mari Venter – G1 – 2/3 (67%) G2 – 2/4 (50%)
Mia Stower – G1 – 0/1 (0%) G2 – 1/3 (33%)

Lightning shooting statistics – 62/72 (86%)
Cara Koenen – G1 – 34/40 (85%) G2 – 1/2 (50%)
Steph Wood – G1 – 14/19 (74%) G2 – 10/11 (91%)
Peace Proscovia – G1 – 6/8 (79.7%) G2 – 0/0 (0%)

Firebirds starting seven:
GS – Romelda Aiken, GA – Tippah Dwan, WA – Lara Dunkley, C – Mahalia Cassidy, WD – Gabi Simpson, GD – Kim Jenner, GK – Tara Hinchliffe

Lightning starting seven: GS – Cara Koenen, GA – Steph Wood, WA – Laura Scherian, C – Laura Langman, WD – Maddy McAuliffe, GD – Karla Pretorius, GK – Phumza Mahweni