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A tale of two Semi-Final cities

written by Damien Stannard

Netball’s top guns provide the common thread to two grand final qualifiers separated by recent history and almost 2500km of ocean.

New Zealand Conference MVP Jhaniele Fowler-Reid, Laura Geitz, Grace Rasmussen and Laura Langman are among the blue chip stock identified in team meetings as having the potential to break open the semi-finals in Brisbane and Hamilton.

Several of those stars were absent when The Coffee Club Queensland Firebirds were humbled last month in Invercargill and the NSW Swifts landed a 78-50 blow against the Cold Power Magic in Sydney in Round 2.

The venues have changed, and so have their fortunes as the final four fight for the opportunity to contest the Grand Final.

Brisbane Convention & Exhibition Centre

Another 50 games could pass before the Firebirds’ champion goal shooter Romelda Aiken is again sighted in defence.

That was the bizarre scenario as the competition’s most prolific scorer switched to goal keeper while Geitz and Clare McMeniman were injured in Round 11.

“It’s still relevant. We learned some good lessons, specifically how good (the Steel) are, and how dominant Jhaniele Fowler-Reid is,” said Firebirds coach Roselee Jencke.

“Shannon Francois and Gina Crampton are very creative in how they get the ball to Fowler-Reid.

“We’ll be trying to disrupt that as much as possible.”

Ascot Park Hotel Southern Steel general Francois disagreed, believing that day’s cobbled together Queenslanders can not be used for scouting purposes.

“It wasn’t their top line-up so we can’t take too much away from that,” the centre said of the Steel’s 66-51 victory.

“Still, when players are missing you have to take that opportunity with both hands.”

Claudelands Arena

NSW Swifts rookie Maddy Turner refused to accept her side’s Round 2 demolition of the Magic as a fair indication of head-to-head form.

Neither Leana de Bruin nor Rasmussen featured on that occasion, with the injured pair returning mid-season to help inspire the Magic to the club’s ninth finals series.

“Their ball placement, speed and how they play are totally different (now)” Turner said.

“Definitely those two (de Bruin and Rasmussen) have made a difference.

“I don’t think they make 28 goals difference on their own, so they’ve had a lot of other players step up as well.”

Turner’s partnership with Sharni Layton will have a major bearing on whether the Swifts can temper the red hot form of Magic star Jo Harten.

Despite the roof-rattling volume of Layton’s on-court urgings, it’s the non-verbal cues that make the pair a strong combination.

“We’re chalk and cheese,” Turner said of Layton who will notch a century of games in her next outing.

“We’re able to stay in communication, whether it’s a little bum pat or eye contact.

“And I’m happy for her to boss me around. She’s the experienced one.”

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