For years, the Queensland Firebirds were the powerhouse club of Australia’s top-tier netball, winning titles and dominating grand finals, but the past four seasons has seen the team struggle to be a dominant force.
With new coach Bec Bulley at the helm, the Firebirds are desperate to re-establish the brand and identity that made them an immovable force in Australian netball for so many years.
Bulley, a former Australian Diamond, took up the role after the resignation of Megan Anderson.
The 2015 Firebirds Premiership winner was also there for the club’s winning purple patch.
“It’s a fresh start,” Bulley said.
“They have been a really successful team in the past.
“They had four grand final appearances in a row, they were runners up in two, then they won two and then when you look at the last six years, we’ve only made finals once.
“So of course, we want to get back to that high level performance where we’re making grand finals, winning grand finals, absolutely — that’s what every team is striving for.”
The Firebirds last made the finals in 2018.
It’s been a lean four years since, with the side mustering just 18 wins from 56 games and experiencing two different head coaches in Roselee Jencke and Megan Anderson.
Bulley officially took the reins in October, for her first stint as a head coach after a 15-year professional playing career that included 42 games for Australia.
She knows in order to start a new legacy at the club, she must also draw on the club’s rich history.
“When I met with the girls the first time we really just sat down and started talking about our values and standards and behaviours. They want to improve, they want to be better than where they’ve been,” Bulley said.
“For us, success is about creating a great culture that everyone feels valued, respected, confident and then that will transfer to on court as well.
“We’re going to be open and honest and do whatever it takes to see the Firebirds make the finals and hopefully win a premiership in the near future.”
‘Success will come’
The Adelaide Thunderbirds are the only club to win more premierships than the Firebirds, after claiming four in their club history.
Bulley knows she has to get the club back to playing dominant netball.
“I think for me, it’s not pressure like ‘we have to win’,” she said.
“It’s about ‘I want to do a good job … I want the players to do the best they can do, I want them to be confident, I want them to be happy and to be honest’. If you can take care of all those things, success will come.
“I’m sure when we get into games and it’s tough, yes of course I’m going to feel under pressure as any coach would.
“But I’ve got the team for the next four years and I think we have the capability of making finals, you can get into finals and it’s a whole new ball game.”
Bulley inherits a squad stacked full of talent, experience and genuine “X-Factor”.
Goal shooter Donnell Wallam is fresh off her debut for the Australian Diamonds, as well as young defender Ruby Bakewell-Doran at the other end of the court who has just burst onto the international scene.
In the mid-court, captain Kim Ravaillion has 60 caps for Australia and Gabi Simpson who featured in those four successive grand final appearances for the Firebirds from 2013 to 2016.
Not to mention, Gretel Bueta who Bulley believes was the best player in the world at the time of the Commonwealth Games in August.
The playing future of Bueta remains clouded after the 29-year-old shared the heartbreaking news of a miscarriage earlier this month.
“Until she receives a medical clearance, the time frame around her return to netball is not even being discussed,” a Netball Queensland spokesperson said.
‘Shattering’ defeat inspires bravery
Gabi Simpson has been at the Firebirds through it all, riding the highs and lows of success and failures.
As the 30-year-old enters her 11th season with the Firebirds she said her hunger to help the club return to the top has never been stronger.
‘We want to get back to being the best netball team in Australia,” she said.
The club came agonisingly close to ending their finals drought last season, after being knocked out of the top four in the last round of the season.
The defeat has only lit the fuse for pre-season.
“I think missing out on finals last year absolutely was shattering but it makes you look at yourself even harder — all of us individually but then also as a group,” Simpson said.
“We’ve addressed a few things and I really look forward to seeing how that translates to how we train, how we play and eventually how the season ends up.
“We’re asking each other to be brave this year. We want to inspire each other when we’re out on court and it’s really exciting to see how that will develop, as the year goes on.”
The Firebirds launch their season at home against the Adelaide Thunderbirds on Sunday March 19 next year.