Lightning pip Firebirds to stay alive

Jim Morton
Sunshine Coast Lightning have held off the Queensland Firebirds to head to the preliminary final

Defending champions Sunshine Coast Lightning have survived a spirited Queensland Firebirds play-off comeback to set up a Super Netball preliminary final showdown with the Giants.

The teams will meet at the Giants' home court next Sunday in a rematch of last year's grand final after the Lightning won a brutal minor semi-final 57-56 at the Brisbane Entertainment Centre.

With Australian coach Lisa Alexander tipping the winner to go all the way to the title, both sides produced a match worthy of the billing on Sunday afternoon.

The Lightning led for virtually the entire match but almost had their title defence derailed by a desperate Firebirds outfit, who fought back from seven goals down in the final term.

The home side tied the match with seven minutes left and had their chances to take the lead but the defending champions were more clinical and composed when it mattered.

Sunshine Coast coach Noeline Taurua was overjoyed with the result but admitted to feeling lucky.

"That could have gone either way," she said.

"Geez, that last 15 minutes was pretty intense and very torrid."

Firebirds captain Gabi Simpson lamented not taking their opportunities at the death but rated the Lightning favourites to upset the Giants again and meet West Coast in the August 26 grand final in Perth.

"I think they have a great chance," she said.

Both Queensland sides showed their championship credentials from the outset, going goal for goal in the opening half, highlighted by brutal battles in both goal circles.

Lightning defenders Geva Mentor and Karla Pretorius provided the break by forcing two late attacking turnovers for their side to score the last five goals of the first half for a 31-27 lead.

Firebirds shooter Romelda Aiken netted on the last shot of the half but the buzzer sounded as it was mid-air to deny the goal.

It was telling in the final wash-up.

The vocal crowd of 6453 raised the roof in the last term as all players put their bodies on the line.

Ahead 48-42 at the last change, the Lightning started to feel the heat as the home side threw everything at them.

The Firebirds tied the scores when Pretorius threw an errant pass but she immediately made up for it with a turnover to deny her rivals the lead.

The Lightning were then never headed as Caitlin Bassett, who finished with 37 goals from 39 attempts, iced her chances and Kelsey Browne was named MVP.

"It wasn't the most polished performance but it was sturdy and gritty," skipper Mentor said.

PRELIMINARY FINAL

Sunday, August 19 - Giants v Sunshine Coast Lightning at Qudos Bank Arena, Sydney

Head-to-head this year: April 29 - Giants 54 bt Lightning 51 at Qudos Bank Arena

June 23 - Lightning 53 drew with Giants 53 at USC Stadium