The physical cost of the Suncorp Super Netball title race has been laid bare as the Queensland Firebirds claimed a vital 59-49 win against Sunshine Coast Lightning in Brisbane.
Queensland drew level with fourth-placed West Coast Fever and the Lightning let slip a shot at the competition lead in a brutal contest on Monday night that left Sunshine Coast prime movers Steph Wood and Laura Scherian nursing injuries ahead of a frantic climax to the season.
Fatigued bodies and frazzled minds will be tested as the league considers cramming the remaining three regular season rounds into 9 days.
Firebirds ace Romelda Aiken (40 goals) also finished with an injury but she should be satisfied with the fight shown by her teammates who have won their last three outings, two of which came against top-four sides.
There was grace and grunt in equal measure from Firebirds leaders Kim Ravaillion and Gretel Bueta who hauled their depleted side to a famous win.
Ravaillion (31 feeds) overcame a patchy start to be the cool head her team needed while Bueta was the hardest-working player on the court.
Her 19 points came at 90 per cent accuracy while no player could match her 26 centre pass receives.
A whopping 43 first-half penalties told how desperate the Firebirds were to scrap for a top-four berth.
And they had to be relentless. Losing vice-captain Tara Hinchliffe to injury and Tippah Dwan to coronavirus quarantine gutted the side of one of its most prolific ball winners and its deadliest long-range shooter.
Their fierce attack on the ball contributed to some high profile casualties.
Lightning goal attack Wood twice left the court for treatment to a knee injury and wing attack Scherian (ankle) finished second best in a collision with Rudi Ellis.
Amid the mayhem there was elegance at each end from Bueta and the Lighting’s Cara Koenen (31 goals) who barely missed in an evenly-alanced first half.
The Firebirds seized control of the game with a 7-goal surge in the third term and never let go.
Lightning coach Kylee Byrne was not prepared to risk worsening the injuries to Wood and Scherian and they were missed on court as the home side dominated the second half 31-21.