Even if she helped knock them back a peg in their quest for ANZ Championship glory, Julie Seymour believes Queensland Firebirds have the right weapon to win the battle to make the final four.
With Colourplus Waikato Bay of Plenty Magic and Melbourne Vixens now guaranteed finals berths, and Adelaide Thunderbirds just a win away from top four certainty, the fight realistically comes down to Firebirds and Ascot Park Hotel Southern Steel.
Those two teams meet on Monday night in the most keenly anticipated match of Round 12, on the Firebirds’ home turf in Brisbane. If fourth-placed Steel pull off a win, it will be monumental on two counts: for one, it will put a four-point buffer between them and Firebirds, and two, it will be the first victory by a New Zealand team in Australia in the history of the ANZ Championship.
Seymour, captain and assistant coach of Mercury Energy Tactix, knows Firebirds can be quelled and their lethal weapon, 1.96m Jamaican shooter Romelda Aiken, can be shut down – after Tactix showed everyone how in last weekend’s six-goal upset win in Christchurch.
Aiken continues to be the most prolific shooter in the competition, putting up 460 shots so far (scoring from 377 at 82 percent accuracy). But Seymour is aware that tackling the dilemma of Aiken in Australia is a different scenario.
“Both ends are very strong in their attacks, but the Steel, playing over there, might not be able to combat Romelda. I imagine the Firebirds will put in a tough week of training to lift themselves after losing to us last weekend. The Steel wouldn’t have been particularly happy with their last game, letting the Mystics back into it,” Seymour says.
“In the end, I think both teams have such strong attacks, that it will be the team that makes the least mistakes that wins.”
Steel will be playing with a new-look attack on Monday - Sydney-based shooter Megan Dehn entering the line-up with Donna Wilkins, replacing the pregnant Daneka Wipiiti. In their favour, the former Australian shooter was with Steel last season.
Win or no win, Firebirds coach Vicki Wilson believes it won’t be that clear-cut after Monday night’s result, predicting a scramble for survival, with the four finalists not determined until the last round. She sees teams like Tactix, NSW Swifts and West Coast Fever “creating havoc” in the dying stages of the draw.
Seymour, whose glittering career of 92 tests since 1994 will come to an end at the conclusion of the ANZ Championship, is forecasting Firebirds to join Magic, Vixens and Thunderbirds in the playoffs. “I’m picking any one of them could win,” she says.
Tactix could play a hand in who meets who in the finals draw, when they play Magic and Vixens, the competition leaders, over the next two weeks.
“The biggest thing for us now is self-achievement. We’ve talked about how last year we finished on a downward slide, and so for the next three games, we’re going to play on a real upper,” she says. “If we can upset things along the way, well that’s cool too.”
Tactix came within two goals of overthrowing Magic in round five, and gleaned even more from their win over Firebirds last weekend.
“It was brilliant - to beat those Aussies is always fantastic. To play out a whole 60 minutes with the pressure on, to surge forward, get ahead and stay ahead was what we hadn’t really been able to do this season. We’ve had glimpses of really great stuff, but we haven’t been able to put it together minute after minute, quarter after quarter,” Seymour says.
“We’re still turning too much ball over on attack, and we’re trying to minimise that. We’ve also got to minimise the ball Magic’s shooters get.”
Seymour, pregnant with her fourth child, sat out the Firebirds match with a niggling Achilles injury. She has trained with her team this week and hopes to avoid the frustration of another week on the bench.
But on the bench is where you will probably find her in the future – keen to delve more into coaching.
There is still the slimmest of chances that Tactix or West Coast Fever could make the final four – but both would have to win every game from here on and rely on teams above them to falter at the final hurdles.
Fever must beat Swifts, in Sydney on Sunday, to keep those hopes alive – Fever have the psychological advantage of having beaten the former champions by one back in Round 5, but Swifts gave a much improved showing against Vixens for three-quarters of the game last Monday.
Mystics have the chance to create mischief with Vixens in their home game at Trusts Stadium on Saturday; Thunderbirds are likely to use their home run against the young Central Pulse side as an opportunity to try to put a big score on the board if top four rankings are to be determined by goal differential.