Cellar-dwelling Firebirds plan to rise despite injuries
THE Queensland Firebirds have vowed to fight through what is arguably the Super Netball franchise's toughest period yet.
A winless start to the season has been compounded by a spate of injuries, none more devastating than Mahalia Cassidy's second ruptured ACL in three years.
Goal defence Tara Hinchliffe admitted it was a difficult plane trip back to Brisbane from Adelaide last Sunday night.
Not only were the Firebirds flying home following a loss to the Thunderbirds that left the Queensland side anchored to the bottom of the table, but the girls were feeling for Cassidy.
She will undergo a knee reconstruction after landing awkwardly during the game.
Midcourt star Cassidy was also sidelined throughout 2017.
"We've all seen her work so hard to get back," Hinchliffe said. "She wasn't super happy (with her form) last season.
"I roomed with her on the weekend and we were chatting about how she was starting to feel better and feel strong again.
"When she went down ... just the look on her face said it all.
"We all just got teary straight away."
Skipper Gabi Simpson had brought the team together to regroup following the devastating blow.
"We had to get back into action, and play for her (Cassidy)," Hinchliffe said.
The Firebirds paid an emotional visit to Cassidy on Tuesday.
"She's so tough, been so positive," Hinchliffe said. "Some of us were struggling more than she was.
"She knows what she's in for this time. We've all got her back, we'll be there for her."
Goal shooter Romelda Aiken (leg) and defender Kim Jenner (finger) have also been out of action and skipper Gabbi Simpson - left out of the Diamonds' World Cup squad this week - is battling a groin injury.
Wanting answers, Hinchliffe said the seemingly injury- plagued club had put its string of setbacks down to "freak isolated incidents".
The Firebirds' trip to Adelaide had begun with a celebration for Hinchliffe's 21stbirthday last Saturday.
Her twin sister and Firebirds training partner, Maddie, was also in town, playing with the Queensland Fusion, though the pair weren't able to catch up.
"We were about 100m from each other," Hinchliffe said.
"We waved to each other as we walked on and off court."
"We had a celebration with family on the Friday."
Maddie is waiting in the wings to make her Super Netball debut.
"She's had a lot of opportunities this year to be on the bench, be a bit closer to the team," Hinchliffe said.
"It's really good for her, gives her a bit more motivation to keep working. She is close."
Hinchliffe, meanwhile, has become a pillar of defence and, alongside goal keeper Laura Clemesha and the likely-to-return Jenner, faces the daunting task of trying to curb West Coast Fever goal shooter Jhaniele Fowler tonight at the Queensland State Netball Centre (from 7pm).
"We just have to win the ball early," Hinchliffe said. "We can't wait and put all the pressure on the keeper to do it. We've got to bring a whole-court defence.
"We're obviously trying so hard to get a win. We're only a third of the way through the season, there's a long way to go.
"We're not giving up."
The ladder-leading Lightning host the Melbourne Vixens in the other game on Saturday (3pm).