Vixens down Firebirds in Super Netball opener
THE Melbourne Vixens have made a flying start to the 2019 Super Netball season with a 73-61 win over Queensland Firebirds.
With goal shooter Caitlin Thwaites starring in her return appearance for the club, the Vixens withstood an early challenge on Saturday afternoon at Melbourne Arena to run out victors with an added three bonus points.
Thwaites looked right at home after rejoining the Vixens from cross-town rivals the Collingwood Magpies. The 32-year-old finished with 50 goals from 51 attempts to spearhead Melbourne's attack.
The visitors opened with eight of the first nine goals to build a handy advantage but the Vixens clawed their way back to draw level at half-time and took charge of the match with a 20-13 third quarter.
"I think we built and grew across the game - it did take us a little time," Vixens coach Simone McKinnis said.
"The Firebirds had some really good defensive pressure as well - we were under pressure and I think we were a little slow to adapt but we did eventually."
Midcourter Liz Watson was forced to work hard in her match-up with Queensland captain Gabi Simpson but still managed to compile 37 goal assists from 46 feeds, while goal attack Tegan Philip provided solid support for Thwaites with 23 goals and six assists.
Romelda Aiken (36 goals from 42 attempts) and Gretel Tippett 23 goals and 10 assists) opened strongly in attack for Queensland, but struggled to match the defensive work of Emily Mannix and Jo Weston as the game wore on.
The Firebirds jumped out to an 8-1 start with defenders Tara Hinchliffe and Kim Jenner prominent in stifling Melbourne's attack.
But with Thwaites starting to find space, the Vixens rallied with four of the last five goals to cut Queensland's lead to 19-15 by the close of the quarter.
After an even start to the second term, the Vixens made their move with a run of five unanswered goals before grabbing their first lead of the game with less than four minutes left in the half.
The Firebirds steadied with the scores level at 35-35 by the main break but, with Hinchliffe opening the second half on the bench, Thwaites took advantage as the Vixens burst away with a 10-3 start to establish a match-winning lead.
The Vixens host the Giants on Sunday week, while the Firebirds take on the Magpies next Saturday at Brisbane Arena.