On the eve of First Nations Round, it is important to consider the impact that Indigenous and Torres Strait Islanders are having on the great game of netball. This extends to the Suncorp Super Netball League and its two First Nations players in Queensland Firebirds Donnell Wallam and Jemma Mi Mi.
Mi Mi has been a part of the Firebirds’ side for six years after making her debut in 2017. Being the only First Nations player in the league for the past few years Mi Mi is now joined by Wallam in 2022.
Speaking exclusively to The Inner Sanctum about First Nations Round and the growth of the team as a whole is Firebirds and Australian Diamonds star goal attack Gretel Bueta. She speaks about the pride that Wallam and Mi Mi have in their culture and how the other players wish to play for them and other First Nations people.
“They’ve brought so much to this club and we are lucky to have them in our team,” Bueta said.
“They have opened our eyes up to the huge culture of First Nations people and how we are going to go out there and play for our ancestors. [We are going to] do it all together and we are in it with them and we want to look after them.
“We are so proud of them and we just want to get out there and I feel so extremely blessed and lucky just to have them in our team.”
Bueta also describes the celebrations for First Nations Round at the Firebirds and the inspiration that the team will be playing for.
“We had some First Nations Queensland girls come in with us, a 15-year-old, a 12-year-old and two 18 years olds and just hearing about their journeys and stories is really inspiring,” she said.
“If we can get as many First Nations young athletes coming through our pathways as possible, it just shows they are incredible athletes and they’ve got so much to give and they need that exposure so I’m really excited for these two rounds to really highlight that.”
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The loss of Jamaican shooter Romelda Aiken-George due to pregnancy could have been a massive handicap for the Queensland Firebirds but the signing of Donnell Wallam has been a revelation for the league. Hailing from Western Australia, Wallam has been a phenomenal find sitting in fourth for goals scored in the league this season.
After playing for the Leeds Rhinos in the Vitality Superleague under West Coast Fever head coach Dan Ryan, she was lured home for a shot at Suncorp Super Netball. Her season has also been highlighted by being selected in the Australian Diamonds squad for the Commonwealth Games, which if she was to make her debut in Birmingham, would make her the third Indigenous woman to represent the green and gold.
There has been no better story in the Suncorp Super Netball competition than the rise of Wallam and no one has had a better view to see Wallam’s development in the league than Bueta. The 28-year-old speaks about working with Wallam at club level and the special experience she is yet to have at Suncorp Super Netball level.
“I love working with Donnell, she really inspires me,” Bueta said.
“She’s got a really exciting game coming up there, she plays her first professional netball game in front of her family in Perth and we are all pumped for it.
“We are hoping to do them proud and her proud. We are so grateful to have her on our team especially with it being First Nations Round.
“It’s a really special game coming up and it’s something that we are all looking forward to.
“Donnell, she’s just an incredible athlete, she’s just an instinct player which I love. She is incredible and she just keeps getting better so that’s exciting.”
Being one of the best attacking players the country has ever seen, Bueta has been mentoring Wallam and explains how they are similar coming from basketball and how they are working together.
“It has come naturally, coming into the circle together. We’ve both grown up playing basketball so I think that’s helped with timing and our movement out there sharing the circle,” she said.
“There are definitely ways we want to improve, that’s the best part of it, there are always ways to improve and build. We’ve got so much more to give as a combination so I’m excited to keep working on it with her and I’m loving every second of it.”
Another young player that has shown that she is capable at Suncorp Super Netball level is Firebirds defender Ruby Bakewell-Doran. After making her debut in Round 9 last season, Bakewell-Doran’s strong form in the latter part of the last season was rewarded with a senior contract for 2022 due to her versatility and her ability to read the play to make defensive plays.
Playing usually at goal defence, Bakewell-Doran has risen to the level that Bueta thought she would when asked who would take the league by storm in the pre-season. Bueta describes what training her is like and how she’s learning more every day.
“I am so proud of Rubes (Bakewell-Doran), I trained alongside her in the pre-season and I knew she was going to be an absolute superstar,” she said.
“She kept pushing me to be better each session and I’m so grateful for her. She’s like a sponge, she just soaks it all up and just hangs off every word. She’s so eager to learn and improve.
“You’ve got to be on your A-game against her and I’ve got to experience that at training which I’m so grateful for because it makes you a better netballer.
“I look down the other end and see the other goal attacks having to try and go up against Rubes and I just think, I feel your pain at training, so she’s an incredible athlete and she’s just the best goal defence around. I’m excited for her long career ahead.”
Bakewell-Doran will be in for a tantalising match-up, likely playing against the West Coast Fever’s in form goal-attack duo Sasha Glasgow and Emma Cosh. The Queensland Firebirds will be wanting to make amends for a poor run of form with three rounds left in the regular season.
The Firebirds will be playing the Fever in Perth at RAC Arena on Saturday.
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