Firebird standing tall among illustrious teammates
NETBALL: Firebirds wing defence Gabi Simpson says playing in the back-court with experienced stars Laura Geitz and Clare McMeniman - and centre Kim Ravaillion in front of her - has enabled her to drastically improve her game.
All three are Australian representatives, with Geitz captaining both Queensland and the Diamonds.
But Simpson, who made her 50th appearance in the ANZ Championship earlier this year, is not shy to speak out or offer feedback in such esteemed company.
The Firebirds are likely to need all her guidance when they take on the Southern Steel in a semi-final at the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre on Sunday.
"They (the Steel) are strong all over the court. When they have the ball they're patient and composed with it," Simpson told Australian Regional Media.
"They've got their really strong Jamaican goal-shooter (Jhaniele Fowler-Reid) under the post, a lot like ourselves (the Firebirds have superstar Romelda Aiken).
"We feel confident against a tall shooter and their defence end as well - Jane Watson has had a great season and takes some really good flying intercepts."
The Firebirds were outstanding in their 63-52 win over the NSW Swifts to claim the Australian Conference title on Monday night.
One win away from playing in another grand final, the Queensland side has come a long way since its 66-51 loss to the Steel last month when Geitz and McMeniman were out injured.
It is striving to go back-to-back, and to become the first team to win three titles.
"I'm so lucky to be surrounded by the players I have in Laura Geitz, Clare McMeniman and Rav (Ravaillion) out in front of me," Simpson said.
"I've learnt so much from them over the past few years that now I have the confidence and the knowledge that I can read a game and say what I need to say.
"And that's the environment that we have at the Firebirds - we've built a culture where everyone can stand up and say what they're seeing.
"Everyone's on an even playing field."
It did, however, seem like Aiken was on another planet against the Swifts, scoring 49 goals from just 55 attempts, with goal-attack Gretel Tippett adding 14.
Simpson said of the pair: "The biggest thing for me is their ability to catch the ball under pressure.
"There are players holding off them, there's pushing and jumping, but they get two hands on the ball and are able to steady themselves and take a composed shot.
"I think that's one of the most phenomenal things, and also just how they treasure the ball."
Simpson said her team had a resolute belief they could win back-to-back titles after such a dominant display against the Swifts - the team they conquered in the dying seconds in last year's grand final.