The best is yet to come for the Queensland Firebirds. (Photo: Super Netball)

The Queensland Firebirds didn't have the season they wished for, finishing fifth on the ladder with six wins and eight losses. Despite inconsistencies, there were plenty of positive signs for the future.

The Queensland Firebirds have once again finished just outside the top four, after a slow start and inconsistent performances kept them from reaching finals in 2021.

With six wins for the season, there were some positive signs from the Firebirds. A string of not so great performances however, allowed a finals reappearance just slip through their fingers.

A win over Giants Netball in Melbourne and two wins over rivals in the Sunshine Coast Lightning showed what the Firebirds were capable of when at their best.

The Inner Sanctum looks at the Queensland Firebirds season in review.

What worked?

Return of the ‘super mums’. The return of Kim Ravaillion and Gretel Bueta into the Firebirds front line worked a treat, with Ravaillion taking her game to a whole other level since her return to the Super Netball.

Bueta brought the unexpected to the Firebirds front line, and while it took a while for her to find her feet after the birth of son Bobby in February, once she did she quickly once again became one of the premier goal attacks in the competition.

Team depth was something else that worked for the Firebirds. This was especially important in the back half of the season when the Firebirds lost defender Tara Hinchliffe to an ACL injury, followed immediately by Jemma Mi Mi with a calf and Gabi Simpson in the last round of the season.

The Firebirds were able to replace the trio not only with talent already in the side’s playing ten, but as well with training partners that will be stars of the future.

Lara Dunkley starred in the final game of the season against the Vixens, having 43 feeds for the game – the most of any player on court. The performance secured her player of the match honours.

Ruby Bakewell-Doran was another young Birdie to stand up, especially in the final round against the Vixens. She came through with a clutch moment late that saw her side go out with a bang.

Rudi Ellis showed sparks throughout the year, as did Hulita VeVe when filling in for Gabi Simpson, showing how well she can impact a game.

What didn’t?

The Firebirds’ consistency across the season was something that let the side down in 2021. At times they were able to put out stunning performances, but couldn’t back it up the following week.

For example, the Firebirds had a strong victory against the Sunshine Coast Lightning in Round 6, but would then disappointingly lose by 10 goals to the West Coast Fever the following week.

The Firebirds only were able to win back to back games once, in Round 9 against the Giants in Melbourne and the Thunderbirds in Adelaide.

If the Firebirds want to make a genuine premiership tilt, that’s one thing that they’ll have to improve coming into next season.

Season Highlight

The second instalment of the Battle of the Bruce was up there as one of the best wins for the season.

After losing Tippah Dwan after she attended a possible COVID exposure site and Hinchliffe to an unfortunate ACL injury, the odds were stacked significantly against the Firebirds.

Lightning won the first quarter by two goals thanks to a Super Shot from Cara Koenen, but it was all purple from there. The Firebirds would go on to win the last three quarters.

The last quarter was pure Firebirds dominance, winning the quarter by eight goals. (16-8)

Gretel Bueta was back to her dominant self, shooting at 100 per cent accuracy during regular play and at 33 per cent during the Super Shot period.

The Firebirds were able to get the win by 10 goals, which was a show that the best is yet to come for the team in purple.

Kim Ravaillion during the Firebirds 10 point win over the Lightning. (Photo: Super Netball)

Season Lowlight

The debut to forget. While it was a highlight for the rest of the competition, it’s one that the Firebirds and their fans would like to forget.

The Round 5 game against the Melbourne Vixens, which is better known as the Rahni Samason show, was a match that ripped out the hearts of Firebirds fans across the country.

Nobody wants to be the team that gives the winless side it’s first win for the season, but the Firebirds did just that.

The Firebirds got off to a dominate start, at quarter time the Firebirds were up 24-16 but from there it was all Vixens.

Mwai Kumwenda and Samason dominated in the goal circle with the Firebirds defenders struggling to stop their dominant run.

The Vixens defence pressure forced the Firebirds to make simple mistakes losing possession much too easily.

It was how the game ended that put a dagger through the hearts of many Firebirds fans. A penalty Super Shot from Samason after the buzzer allowed the Vixens to claim their first win of the 2021 Super Netball season.

More Super Netball Season Reviews

Melbourne Vixens Season Review: Reigning premiers add wooden spoon to trophy cabinet

Adelaide Thunderbirds Season Review: Mixed results end in seventh

Collingwood Magpies Season Review: Everything coming together on the run home

Team MVP

Return of the Rav. What a return to purple it was for Kim Ravaillion. After not playing Super Netball in 2020 after the birth of her daughter Georgie, she didn’t miss a beat from the first whistle in 2021.

Ravaillion sat in second for the league for goal assists, finishing the year with 258. She was able to re-solidify her spot back into the Firebirds mid-court after spending five years away from the club.

With fellow championship teammates in Bueta, Romelda Aiken and Simpson still at the club, it was like winding back the clock, and we saw glimpses of what made that 2015-2016 Firebirds side so successful.

Ravaillion was also able to create strong connections with Dunkley and Mi Mi. As the season drew on, the connection with the two grew stronger which showed out on court.

She’s just as strong defensively as she is on attack, with her defensive stats proving that. Ravaillion had eight intercepts for the season to add to her 22 deflections.

Rising Star

Lara Dunkley has cemented herself as a star in the making and a real unsung hero within the Firebirds side.

Dunkley may be 26, but this was only third season at Super Netball Level. She played her first at the Melbourne Vixens in 2019, were she was a replacement player for injured youngster Tayla Honey.

Having spent her first year learning under the likes of Liz Watson and Kate Moloney has put her in good stead for her time at the Firebirds.

Dunkley has improved out of sight between her first and second year at the Firebirds. She’s had the opportunity to pick up a number of starts in wing attack, giving her the confidence she needed to go to the next level.

Dunkley has had 125 feeds into the circle for the year, and her defensive pressure when teams are trying to exit the Firebirds attacking half has been a real asset in the back half of 2021.

Dunkley has had one intercept for the season and 18 deflections, with her one percenters being a real highlight of her game that most of the time go unnoticed.

Moving forward

The Firebirds have built some good foundations this season. Fans started to see embers in the back half of the season, but now it’s about maintaining that level of consistency for those sparks to turn into a flame come 2022.

Although we don’t know what teams will look like with all players contracts expiring at the end of this season, if the Firebirds can keep the current side together, it would be a great start to building off this year.

With Tara Hinchliffe out for next season with an ACL injury, the Firebirds will be in the market for a defender. While Rudi Ellis showed signs and may fill that void come next year, the Firebirds will be on the lookout to add to their defensive stocks.

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