BEFORE THE BIG GAME: Gabi Simpson of the Queensland Firebirds and Karla Pretorius of the Sunshine Coast Lightning at the Eagle Street Pier in Brisbane.
BEFORE THE BIG GAME: Gabi Simpson of the Queensland Firebirds and Karla Pretorius of the Sunshine Coast Lightning at the Eagle Street Pier in Brisbane. DARREN ENGLAND

Queensland derby where the winner takes all

NETBALL: In one corner it's the disgruntled mainstays determined to wrestle back what's theirs, in the other is the cocky upstarts from the north who stole their crown.

Super Netball is set for a historic showdown between Queensland 'cousins' Firebirds and the Sunshine Coast Lightning.

The Firebirds, who for 21 years had ruled the roost as the state's sole netball team on the national stage, were helpless as their 'little sisters' up the Bruce Highway conquered all in their debut season.

After a week of mind games and catcalling, Lightning coach Noeline Taurua says it's time to put the words away and let the actions do the talking.

Not that she isn't lacking confidence.

Firebirds Romelda Aiken and Gretel Tippett, Lightning's Karla Pretorius and Geva Mentor during the Round 9 Super Netball match between the Sunshine Coast Lightning and the Queensland Firebirds at the University of the Sunshine Coast Sports Stadium in Sippy Downs, Queensland, Sunday, July 1, 2018.
Firebirds Romelda Aiken and Gretel Tippett, Lightning's Karla Pretorius and Geva Mentor during the Round 9 Super Netball match between the Sunshine Coast Lightning and the Queensland Firebirds at the University of the Sunshine Coast Sports Stadium in Sippy Downs, Queensland, Sunday, July 1, 2018. DAVID CLARK

"Oh it will be us. It will be Lightning. I am very sure about that,” Taurua said of tomorrow's prospects.

"It will definitely be us if we play our best.”

Her comments echoed Australian coach Lisa Alexander's thoughts that whoever wins the "Sunshine Shootout”, wins the grand final.

"I am rapt that Lisa thinks so highly of both teams... but talk is cheap, you have to do it on court,” she said.

"And that's what we intend to do. We've been in this mode for four weeks now.

"Our destiny has been in our own hands. Every game has been cutthroat and this is another.

"If we get our foot in the door, we must make sure it stays there.

"I do believe semi-finals is more about the team who wants it more.”

And that's what it might come down to.

Stephanie Wood of the Lightning handles the ball during the round nine Super Netball match between the Lightning and the Firebirds at University of the Sunshine Coast on July 1, 2018 in Sunshine Coast, Australia.
Stephanie Wood of the Lightning handles the ball during the round nine Super Netball match between the Lightning and the Firebirds at University of the Sunshine Coast on July 1, 2018 in Sunshine Coast, Australia. Albert Perez

In round two Firebirds prevailed in a tight match-up: 55-52 at the same venue of tomorrow's blockbuster.

Then in round nine, a Caitlin Bassett-inspired Lightning clinched a thriller 58-57 at USC Stadium.

The teams have only met four times with the Lightning holding a slender head-to-head advantage of two wins, a draw and a defeat.

Captain Geva Mentor is certain it will be tight again.

Despite neither side having superstar status in Caitlin Bassett and Romelda Aiken at either end, the goal keeper is hoping for an old-fashioned contest.

"It will be great if we rely on the defensive ends and the skill in turnover, we could see a more traditional defensive game,” Mentor said.

"It would make it so exciting to watch.”

BEFORE THE BIG GAME: Karla Pretorius of the Sunshine Coast Lightning and Gabi Simpson of the Queensland Firebirds at the Eagle Street Pier in Brisbane.
BEFORE THE BIG GAME: Karla Pretorius of the Sunshine Coast Lightning and Gabi Simpson of the Queensland Firebirds at the Eagle Street Pier in Brisbane. DARREN ENGLAND

After her outlandish claims earlier in the week - where she said the Firebirds did not respect the Lightning - Mentor was back to her diplomatic self.

She was cautious when asked if tomorrow's winner would take out the competition.

"I definitely am one to normally sit on the fence but how great is it to have two Queensland teams in a final,” she said.

"It has really raised the profile and pumped up the sport.

"I think it has been a really tough competition. You can't write off the Giants and Fever.

"Gone are the days when the teams that finish first and second will always meet again in the grand final. As long as you've got a finals spot, it's all up for grabs.

"I'm a firm believer in that every team is beatable. You can win it from third or fourth.”

The winner of tomorrow's knockout final will play the loser of today's major semi-final between the GWS Giants and West Coast Fever in Sydney.

So it begs the question, will the Lightning strike twice and send the Firdbirds packing?

We find out tomorrow.



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