By: Netball Australia

The battle for the Queensland Cup is always a challenging one, and this Round 13 First Nations Round clash between the Queensland Firebirds and Sunshine Coast Lightning was no different.

A moving Welcome to Country on Turrbal and Yuggera lands epitomised the moment, with both teams coming together to acknowledge the beginning of NAIDOC Week on Sunday.

The intensity was up from the very first whistle, with neither team able to take control during a topsy-turvy opening quarter.

High intensity was the name of the game as Origin Diamonds goal shooters Cara Koenen and Donnell Wallam went head-to-head at opposite ends, with both players getting expert ball supply before the defensive pressure really kicked in.

The battle between young guns Macy Gardner and Leesa Mi Mi was the one to watch, with neither player giving an inch as every single player went toe to toe.

Donnell Wallam Leesa Mi Mi FN Round 13 2024
The Firebirds and Lightning exchanged cultural gifts during an emotional Welcome to Country.

But while Tippah Dwan made herself known during the Power Five after a strong 60-minute effort in Round 12, it was Steph Fretwell who was able to quiet the Firebirds crowd to hold a narrow lead.

A Reilley Batcheldor Suncorp Super Shot after the siren cemented a four-goal lead at quarter time.

But while the Firebirds had a similarly strong start to the second quarter, the Lightning crept ahead off the back of Firebirds errors and did not relinquish the lead from there.

Both coaches pulled strings throughout a tight second quarter, and it was Lightning’s Belinda Reynolds who won the off-court battle.

The move of Courtney Bruce to goal defence turned the tide, nullifying the impact of Dwan and forcing changes left, right and centre from the Firebirds.

The return of Firebirds captain Kim Ravaillion bolstered her midcourt, allowing Lara Dunkley to hit circle edge better.

But the damage had already been done as the Firebirds struggled to gain momentum back and the likes of Tara Hinchliffe and Mahalia Cassidy gathered up the loose ball.

Donnell Wallam FN Round 13 2024
The Lightning’s clean defence played a key role in the win.

A 23-13 second quarter score says it all, with the Lightning’s confidence – and finals potential – spurring them on to a 14-goal half-time lead.

The Firebirds came out with a renewed energy during the second half, with the injection of Emily Moore helping to steady the ship – as did the four Super Shots she put up late to deny the Lightning a 19-goal lead.

Lightning’s ball-speed proved the biggest challenge for the Firebirds, splitting the Firebirds’ defence straight down the middle to continue their relentless pursuit.

A strong finish to the quarter allowed the Firebirds a fighting chance heading into the last 15 minutes, but it was too little, too late.

The Lightning’s smarts and composure under all sorts of pressure was the difference throughout the matchup, keeping the home side at an arm’s length to run home 16-goal winners.

Sunshine Coast Lightning claim Queensland Cup R13 2024
The Lightning retain the Queensland Cup and keep their finals chances alive in the process.

Cleanliness from the Lightning’s defence was the real winner, with the likes of Bruce, Hinchliffe and Ash Ervin accounting for just 14 penalties of the team’s 36 overall, compared to the Firebirds’ 65.

Despite a couple of uncharacteristic misses from Koenen, she finished strongly with 55 goals from 60 attempts (92%) as Liz Watson finished on top of the assists tally with 29 and the three circle defenders combined for nine gains.

While the Firebirds are officially out of the finals race following the loss, they will look to pile pressure onto the Vixens next Saturday, while the Lightning set up a huge clash with the Thunderbirds to finish off the home and away season next Sunday.

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