Extending their unbeaten streak to nine, the Mission Queensland Firebirds showed all their class to outplay the Mainland Tactix 68-43 in Blenheim on Sunday.
The top of the Australian Conference against the bottom of the New Zealand Conference clash was always going to be a daunting challenge for the Tactix, the well-performed Firebirds showing their strong credentials across the court.
Book-ended by super shooter Romelda Aiken and the defensive skills of captain Laura Geitz, and well-supported by a bevy of talent in between, the Firebirds showcased their potency with an efficiently effective outing heading towards the Conference Finals.
The Tactix battled bravely throughout, producing some sparkling patches but all too infrequently against such an explosive opposition.
Exciting Malawi import Mwai Kumwenda had some clever little touches up her sleeve but couldn’t get the better of Geitz while Bailey Mes produced an accurate shooting game, a lack of volume counting against the home team.
Enjoying the lion’s share of possession and dictating terms throughout, the Firebirds endured some flat patches but signed off a comprehensive win in style by scoring the last nine goals of the match.
With Tactix coach Sue Hawkins continuing to tinker with her midcourt starting options, Keisha Grant (wing attack), Anna Thompson (centre) and Hayley Saunders (wing defence) were the preferred trio this week.
There were no surprises from the Firebirds, the visitors presenting with the full-strength line-up that has served them so well in recent weeks.
The visitors were quickly into their stride, impressing with the speed and accuracy of their transition through court.
Waiting under their hoop was key shooting weapon Aiken, the towering Jamaican import getting plenty of ball in her hands and always within arm’s reach of the ring.
A five-goal unanswered scoring streak set the Firebirds on their way to a position of dominance, the visitors benefiting from all over court pressure as the Tactix continued to turn the ball over.
Enjoying a much greater volume of attempts, the Firebirds headed to the first break with a handy 18-11 lead.
Leading the best defensive team in the league, Geitz showed her class in producing a super-effective job to deny Tactix shooter Kumwenda any breathing space.
Well drilled in snapping up floating passes, Geitz’s suffocating defensive presence created numerous turnovers.
Continuing to operate like a well-oiled machine, the Firebirds weren’t entirely error-free but often did enough to get the ball back while punishing the Tactix for anything loose.
Zoe Walker, who replaced Jess Moulds at goalkeeper for the Tactix late in the first quarter, made an impressive fist of the daunting challenge presented by Aiken, but it was the Firebirds who left a substantial impact when leading 37-24 at the main break.
Rebecca Bulley replaced Clare McMeniman in the Firebirds defence line for the second half but it was the home team who turned on their most competitive stanza of the match.
Once again, Walker was a shining light for the home in getting her hands on elusive turnover ball while space opened up on attack to give shooters Kumwenda and Mes greater opportunities.
Keeping the Firebirds honest through much of the stanza, the Tactix were plagued by their season-long dilemma of untidy patches undoing all the good, mainly through poor passing execution.
A strong late surge pushed the Firebirds out to an impressive 52-37 lead at the last break.
MVP: Romelda Aiken (Firebirds)
England 6-Russia )
England defeated New Zealand 49-46 to level up the three-match Series at 1-1 heading into the deciding match on Wednesday morning.