With three shock departures, the Queensland Firebirds have revamped their defensive end as well as added to their shooting circle. They’ve added a former England Roses captain, and brought up a homegrown duo.
The Firebirds looked to the next generation of stars in Mia Stower and Ruby Bakewell-Doran, who have made the most of their opportunities at Super Netball level when called upon over the last few seasons.
Also joining the purple in 2021 is former Team Bath co-captain Eboni Usoro-Brown (nee Beckford-Chambers) who returns to the Australian domestic league, spending time at the Adelaide Thunderbirds and West Coast Fever.
|Kim Ravaillion||Eboni Usoro-Brown (Team Bath)||Tara Hinchliffe (Sunshine Coast Lightning)|
|Gabi Simpson||Mia Stower (Elevated)||Tippah Dwan (Adelaide Thunderbirds)|
|Gretel Bueta||Ruby Bakewell-Doran (Elevated)||Rudi Ellis (West Coast Fever|
|Jemma Mi Mi|
|Romelda Aiken- George|
Biggest Signing: Eboni Usoro-Brown
Going into the final week of the signing period there were concerns over the Firebirds defensive end with the departures of both Tara Hinchliffe and Rudi Ellis ahead of the 2022 season. They didn’t disappoint though, signing Usoro-Brown to add a wealth of experience.
Usoro-Brown is no stranger to the big stage, helping the England Roses secure gold in the Commonwealth Games back in 2018 as well as securing bronze at the 2019 World Cup. She also played a key role to Team Bath’s journey towards this season’s grand final, where they ultimately fell short against Loughborough Lightning.
The loss of vice-captain Tara Hinchliffe leaves some experience walking out the door, but Usoro-Brown has the leadership qualities that can help fill the void. She’s acted as both the co-captain of Team Bath and the Roses.
The disappointment of the Grand Final loss is making Usoro-Brown even hungrier for success. With the Firebirds looking to return to the finals series for the first time since 2017, she could potentially be the missing piece in the championship puzzle.
Biggest Departure: Tara Hinchliffe
It was a massive shock for many when vice-captain Hinchliffe decided to go up the Bruce Highway to rivals Sunshine Coast Lightning, leaving a massive gap in the Firebirds defensive end.
After joining the Firebirds side in 2018, Hinchliffe was able to learn from some of the best defenders in the world with Firebirds legend Laura Geitz and Laura Clemesha.
The Firebirds have experienced games without Hinchliffe after she went down with a knee injury in the backend of the 2021 season. It didn’t go the way they had hoped, having won two out of the four games that she missed.
Hinchliffe was a rock for the Firebirds in defence and after several years of building that combination with Kim Jenner, the pair started to show signs of becoming one of the premier defensive duos in the competition.
From the 10 games that Hinchliffe featured in across the season, she had 23 intercepts and 37 deflections.
Projected Starting Seven
The Firebirds front line will be very similar to what it was for most of 2021, with the combination of Romelda Aiken- George and Gretel Bueta looking to once again provide big things come next season.
Having Aiken-George back in goal shooter provides security under the post for Bueta to take the risk and go for the Super Shot if needed, with Aiken-George being the best offensive rebounder in the competition.
Bueta will continue to change up her game in the circle to keep the defenders guessing, with a lay up or fake shot.
The wing attack position will be the one changes the most with both Lara Dunkley and Jemma Mi Mi both spending time in wing attack during 2021 and both bring different things to the Firebirds front line.
Dunkley will get the nod for round one but Mi Mi will be coming on not to far into the match depending on how the game is flowing, which will keep the opposition guessing.
Kim Ravaillion will look to continue her 2021 form into next season, bringing a reliable element of consistency to the midcourt.
Captain Gabi Simpson will once again take the wing defence bib. She will be leading from the front as always, and getting plenty of ball back for the Firebirds.
It’s a new defensive combination for the Firebirds in 2022, with Kim Jenner combining with England international Usoro-Brown. Both aren’t afraid to fly for daring intercepts, so the pair will be winning possession back often.
Elevated pair Ruby Bakewell-Doran and Mia Stower will start on the bench, although both have proven themselves at Super Netball level. Their depth off the bench will allow for versatility in the attack and defensive end respectively.
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The combination of Bueta and Aiken George is proven to win championships, with the pair helping the Firebirds take home the 2015 and 2016 titles. Although a lot of time has gone by since then, both have shown throughout parts of last season that they are capable of recapturing that championship winning form.
Aiken-George showed what she was capable of when she’s on in 2021, scoring 531 goals at an 85 per cent accuracy. The veteran wasn’t afraid to switch things up either, scoring 13 Super Shots for the season.
She also proved why she is the best offensive rebounder in the league, with 87 for the season. It allowed for a sense of safety in the circle, with both Tippah Dwan and Bueta taking Super Shots last year.
2021 was Bueta’s first season back after the birth of her son Bobby. While it took a few games for her to get back into her groove, once she did she was quickly able to recapture her very best form. With a full preseason in 2022, exciting things are ahead for the Firebirds front line.
Bueta scored 243 goals for 2021, shooting at an 80 per cent accuracy during normal time. In her first season with the Super Shot, she scored 23 at 40 per cent accuracy.
Joining the pair in 2022 is Mia Stower, with Tippah Dwan making the move to the Adelaide Thunderbirds. Stower was in the Firebirds extended squad in 2020 and came in to replace Dwan in the squad while she was in 14 day isolation.
Stower provides versatility, being able to play both goal attack and goal shooter. The youngster also isn’t afraid to take the Super Shot if needed.
One of the Firebirds biggest strengths is in their midcourt, with any four of their midcourt players able to step up and play their role for the team.
Kim Ravaillion returned to the purple in 2021 after spending four years away from the club, but has well and truly turned back the clock back to her very best, claiming the Laura Geitz Medal as the club’s most valuable player.
She was able to rekindle her connections with Bueta and Aiken even stronger then they were before, taking the majority of the feeding for the Firebirds with 258 goal assists for the season.
Dunkley had a breakout season in her second year in purple, rotating in wing attack with Mi Mi. Dunkley had 125 goal assists for the season and was named player of the match in the Firebirds last game for the season against the Melbourne Vixens.
Mi Mi brings speed to the Firebirds front end and had another great season in 2021, having 61 goal assists for the season while rotating with Dunkley.
At the age of 25, Mi Mi is ready to take her game to a whole new level in 2022 with coach Megan Anderson saying that her best netball is in front of her.
Rounding out the midcourt for the Firebirds is captain Gabi Simpson, who is a proven match winner and stands up in the big moments. She had 13 intercepts and 28 deflections in 2021.
It’s a new look defensive line up for the Firebirds with Usoro-Brown and Bakewell-Doran joining Kim Jenner in the defensive end.
With the trio all being able to play both positions in the defensive circle, expect a very versatile defensive end that is able to quickly adapt if something isn’t working.
Usoro-Brown brings experience and x-factor that the Firebirds defensive end, with a fire in her belly to taste success after falling short with Team Bath in the VNSL.
Jenner had another stellar season which was recognised by national selectors, securing a place in the 2021/22 Diamonds squad. She had 20 intercepts and 63 deflections for the season.
Firebirds fans have seen what Bakewell-Doran is capable of when she gets the opportunity, having featured three times for the club so far.
Many will remember her match saving intercept against the Vixens in the last round of the season. With that being at the beginning of her career, it’s a scary thought for opposition clubs going into the future.
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