Firebirds teach Central Pulse very hard lesson
The Central Pulse's faint hopes of qualifying for the Trans-Tasman netball league finals series for the first time were effectively obliterated by the midway point of a 60-33 thumping by the Queensland Firebirds on the Gold Coast today.
Needing to secure their first-ever win in Australia to push into the top four, the Wellington-based franchise were no match for an opponent that breezed to a fifth successive victory at the Gold Coast Convention and Entertainment Centre.
A Laura Geitz intercept following the opening centre pass summed up a dismal experience for the Pulse, who have now lost 17 straight games across the Tasman since the tournament began in 2008.
The Pulse's inability to beat the Firebirds for the first time sees them remain in fifth and although mathematically still in contention, next weekend's final round assignment at the West Coast Fever is essentially a pride salvaging exercise.
Captain Katrina Grant was left to rue a missed opportunity that all but dashes a supposedly reinforced roster's hopes of making a history-making finals appearance.
"It was a hard day at the office. It was not the greatest start and that didn't set up us for the rest of the game. Yip, tough."
While Geitz, the Australian captain, was in superb form in the defensive circle, the Firebirds - who provisionally improved from fourth to third on goal differential - also ruled the midcourt to ensure the league's most prolific shooter was to collect another accolade.
Jamaican international Romelda Aiken required 12 goals to become the first player to reach the 3500-goal milestone and achieved that aim inside the opening quarter as the Firebirds had no issues adjusting after a bye in the previous round.
Pulse coach Robyn Broughton was forced to introduce Liana Leota at the first change - a gamble considering the Silver Ferns midcourter is still getting up to speed following the birth of her third child - but her arrival for Camilla Lees at wing attack could not change the momentum.
Queensland's margin blew out to 20 midway in the second term - a scoring spree that saw Te Huinga Selby-Ricket replaced by English defender Ama Agbeze.
The Firebirds ruthlessly constructed an impregnable 34-16 lead at halftime - the shooting stats emphasised the gulf in class with Aiken, who finished with 46 goals, and Amy Wild making 22 more attempts than Irene Van Dyk and Donna Wilkins.
Van Dyk was limited to a flawless eight attempts during the first half hour and with the contest effectively over the 41-year-old headed to the bench in the third quarter to nurse some bruises following another physical battle with Geitz, who snaffled five intercepts.
Queensland's intensity understandably dipped as they coasted home but they still recorded their biggest winning margin of the season while preventing the Pulse scoring 50 goals for the first time in 2014.
Queensland Firebirds 60 (Romelda Aiken 46/53, Amy Wild 14/22) Central Pulse 33 (Irene van Dyk 12/13, Donna Wilkins 13/16, Paula Griffin 8/12)
1st Q: 17-7; HT: 34-16; 3rd Q: 46-25