With a revamped squad led by some star inclusions, the Queensland Firebirds sit poised to re-enter the finals race in the 2021 Suncorp Super Netball season.
But star goal shooter Romelda Aiken recounts how the entire organisation was thrown into disarray when a gut-churning piece of information hit them while away to play a practice match.
“So we were in Traralgon, and Rudi’s (goal keeper Rudi Ellis) partner Tim English said we might have to get tested, but we said no we don’t have to because nothing is happening in Brisbane,” Aiken recalled to Tommy Casha on the Having a Chat podcast.
“Within the space of landing, the premier said if we were coming out of a hotspot in Brisbane we had to go and do our testing.”
What resulted was “a mad 48 hours”, where the entire Firebirds squad had to get tested and isolate while fearing they had brought the COVID-19 virus to Victoria.
Luckily, the results came back negative and the Firebirds ended up playing their practice match on the Sunday.
“It didn’t really affect us that much coming back – not much really changed with the process,” Aiken said.
“It was the first COVID test I had ever done – it was very scary. We were lucky we didn’t have to do it earlier.”
Having been based out of the COVID-safe Queensland for the 2020 SSN season, the Firebirds only heard of the hub stories coming out of opposition camps. Now, Aiken and her teammates are living some of these memories.
“We’re in lockdown now, which is not bad for me, but it put a dampener on everyone’s day when it came to getting into routine,” Aiken admitted.
“It is what it is and we have to find a way to work with it.”
The Jamaican goal shooter may be so optimistic because of the state of her Firebirds. Having claimed three premierships with the franchise, Aiken will now be gunning for a fourth in her 14th season in Queensland. The signing of mid-courter Kim Ravaillion and the return of goal attack Gretel Bueta gives the Firebirds plenty of reasons to believe they can return to finals action this season.
Bueta creates a selection headache for the Firebirds – alongside Aiken and the emerging Tippah Dwan the franchise has a wealth of shooting firepower to juggle throughout the season. But Aiken is adamant the boost in shooting stocks is only going to help Queensland.
“I love that we have so much depth in our team, you can take anyone on or off and they’re still able to have that rotation and not miss a beat,” Aiken said.
“We lost that in our group for a little while, but I’m happy it’s back. We have so much to choose from and I think that’s a good sign.”
Having now got “the band back together”, Aiken will be the leader of an experienced nucleus of shooters looking to barrel the Firebirds towards the SSN title. Despite their pre-season interruptions, Queensland’s positive outlook sees them primed to stun the competition in 2021.
You can listen to Tommy Casha’s Having a Chat on Spotify, Apple podcasts, Google podcasts, Overcast, Castro or Castbox.