Jemma Mi Mi has exorcised the memories of last year’s hurtful indigenous round but was unable to hand the Queensland Firebirds the win they needed to salvage their season, with debutant Rahni Samason handing the Melbourne Vixens a victory after the final buzzer.
Mi Mi failed to hit the court in indigenous round last year but played 48 minutes in a thriller at Nissan Arena.
With scores tied at 64-64 when the final buzzer sounded, the match seemed destined for extra time but the umpires had called a penalty just before time, with Samason converting a two-point shot to hand the Vixens a 66-64 victory and their first win of the season.
The Vixens had not won a match through the opening four rounds of the season and while they had been improving, they were a totally different outfit with Samason on court.
The 23-year-old finished with 35 points from 27-of-29 shooting, including eight-of-10 from super shot range.
Samason was brought in after an injury to Vixens goalkeeper Emily Mannix and while she finished as the match MVP, as a training partner, there is no guarantee she will remain in the team for the future.
But she was thrilled to have helped the team to their first win.
“It’s my job to shoot and I like to be as accurate as possible, my philosophy is if I get them in I don’t have to do as much work in defence,” she told Channel 9 after the match.
But she said “nothing” was going through her mind as she lined up the winning shot.
“I like having a blank mind, I find if I over think I just get a bit nervous,” she said.
The Firebirds led 24-16 at the opening break and seemed set to cruise to an easy win but someone forgot to hand the visitors the script.
The Vixens went to halftime trailing by just two and after a level third term, kept their heads better than the home side to leave a packed Nissan Arena crowd flat.
The loss is hugely disappointing for the Firebirds, who have just one win after five rounds and can ill afford to drop another game if they are to make the finals.
Indigenous round done right
After failing to hit the court at all during indigenous round last year, Mi Mi played 48 minutes in the loss.
And just every aspect of indigenous celebration was planned and authentic, Mi Mi’s presence anything but tokenistic, with the midcourter among the Firebirds’ best, allowing them to play at an accelerated tempo that eventually told on the Vixens.
It’s been well documented that the Firebirds missed the mark in indigenous round last year – not just when Mi Mi did not take the but in initially failing to understand by how much they’d got things wrong.
But Saturday’s game showed just how much things have changed. Mi Mi not only led the team on court and played a significant role in the game but was involved extensively in planning the pre-game ceremonies from dances to a Welcome To Country that included Netball Queensland’s Diamond Spirit indigenous program members.
The proof in the pudding will be seeing an increase in the number of indigenous players in the league in years to come.
Samason’s deadly debut
Mannix’s injury allowed Melbourne to make a surprise move and bring in shooter Rahni Samason to start the match alongside Mwai Kumwenda.
The Vixens have struggled for consistency in the shooting circle after the retirement of veteran goalers Caitlin Thwaites and Tegan Philip, with Kaylia Stanton struggling with her confidence and teen Ruby Barkmeyer still developing.
But Samason’s nerveless performance – she levelled the game in the third quarter before hitting the winning shot after the buzzer – was outstanding.
The 23-year-old has trained with the Vixens since 2018 but after doing an ACL, spending a year in recovery and missing last season due to COVID-19, she missed the Vixens’ main playing list when squads were reduced back to 10.
As a training partner, she is unlikely to play again when Mannix – a Diamonds squad member – returns from injury unless another member of the contracted squad is forced to miss a match.
MELBOURNE VIXENS 66 (Samason 35, Kumwenda 31)
QUEENSLAND FIREBIRDS (Aiken 43, Bueta 20, Dwan 1)