Firebirds recover from jitters to make grand final

SUPER INTENSE: The pressure got to the Firebirds Romelda Aiken, but she recovered to get the Queenslanders into next week’s final.
SUPER INTENSE: The pressure got to the Firebirds Romelda Aiken, but she recovered to get the Queenslanders into next week’s final. Hannah Peters

The Queensland Firebirds will be interested onlookers when the Waikato- BOP Magic and the NSW Swifts meet in tonight’s ANZ Championship semi-final in Hamilton.

The Firebirds were the first team through to next Sunday’s final, and also won the privilege of hosting the game at the Brisbane Entertainment Centre after an epic 67-64 victory over the Southern Steel yesterday.

The Firebirds had to come from behind to advance to their fourth grand final in four years for a chance of claiming consecutive titles after defeats in 2013 and 2014.

Though the Queenslanders made the early running, leading 19-16 at the first change, the hosts fell behind in the second and third terms.

It took a 20-goal last quarter – their second-biggest of the season – to snatch victory and extend their winning streak on their home court to 18. They haven’t lost there since round one 2015.

The Firebirds wore down the Kiwi visitors, who suffered their only two losses of the season in the finals.

As expected, it was a shootout at both ends, with Jamaicans Romelda Aiken (Firebirds) and Jhaniele Fowler-Reid (Steel) trading blows, finishing with 57 goals (from 68 attempts) and 51 (from 52), respectively

“It was super intense,” Aiken said post-match, adding that nerves had at times got the better of her, causing her to miss a few shots in the final quarter.

Centre Kim Ravaillion was named most valuable player for the second week in a row. She will now contest her fourth grand final in her fourth season in the competition.

“It’s unreal,” she said. “I had a little tear in my eye because I was so happy. In the third quarter, I definitely was a bit jittery ... (but) you could just see the belief in the girls’ eyes in the dying minutes – you just knew that we had it.”

Aiken said the team would prepare for their big moment as normal. “Same thing we’ve done all season - going back to the drawing board, looking at our turnovers,” she said. “We won’t change anything.”

Tonight will be ’s clash with mark the 100th game for Sharni Layton, who hopes to win a third championship and first with the Swifts.

She won two titles with the Adelaide Thunderbirds before moving to the Swifts.

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