Queensland Firebirds leader Gabi Simpson.
Queensland Firebirds leader Gabi Simpson. SCOTT DAVIS

Army training pushes Firebirds to their limits

NETBALL: The Queensland Firebirds will enter a new battlefield in season 2017.

And what better way to prepare for it than with a gruelling weekend at the army's Kokoda Barracks at Canungra.

The Firebirds won the last two ever trans-Tasman ANZ Championship titles before the competition morphed into the completely Australian-based Suncorp Super Netball.

The target on their back has only grown, but the military-style training camp in the Gold Coast hinterland has them steeled.

Star player Gabi Simpson said it was a mystery trip with a difference, with players having no idea where they were headed when they were picked up and taken away.

"Usually we base our camps near a beach ... with a little bit of hard work and a little bit of fun,” she told Australian Regional Media.

"It was a hard slog ... but fantastic for us.

"It brought what is a new group together quickly. There's no better way to bond than going through some tough times together.”

GABI SIMPSON (QLD FIREBIRDS) PHOTO: SMP IMAGES / QLD FIREBIRDS MEDIA - 24th July 2016 - Action from the 2016 ANZ Championships Semi Final clash between the Queensland Firebirds v Southern Steel, played at the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre, Australia. Photo: SMP IMAGES / FIREBIRD MEDIA
Gabi Simpson in action for the Queensland Firebirds last season. PHOTO: SMP IMAGES / QLD FIREBIRDS MEDIA SCOTT DAVIS

Those tough times included sleep deprivation - and waking to gun shots when they did manage to get some brief shut-eye.

Simpson said there was also a "four-and-a-half-hour training session between the hours of 12 and 4.30 in the morning”.

But the tough-as-nails midcourt leader added that "watching girls defeat their fears was pretty impressive”.

"We have Romelda Aiken who's afraid of heights and didn't grow up as a swimmer.

"But she was abseiling and climbing up waterfalls, and did multiple swimming tasks. It was amazing to see her step up in that sense and everyone around her supporting her.”

Following the departure of veterans Laura Geitz and Clare McMeniman, Simpson is now part of a four-strong leadership group that also includes star shooter Aiken, Caitlyn Nevins and Laura Clemesha.

With Kim Ravaillion also gone to Collingwood, they have been joined in the squad by several fresh faces who impressed in the face of adversity at Canungra.

"There was plenty of times they really showed when the going gets tough they stand up and take the game on,” Simpson said.

"It was fantastic for the more experienced girls to see that those girls are able to do that and we can rely on them in any situations.”

BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA - JULY 31:  Gabi Simpson of the Firebirds competes for the ball with Kimberlee Green of the swifts during the 2016 ANZ Championship Grand Final match between the Queensland Firebirds and the NSW Swifts at Brisbane Entertainment Centre on July 31, 2016 in Brisbane, Australia.  (Photo by Jason O'Brien/Getty Images)
Gabi Simpson competes for the ball with Kimberlee Green of the NSW Swifts during the 2016 ANZ Championship Grand Final at the Brisbane Entertainment Centre. Jason O'Brien

Known as the "strong woman” of the team, Simpson is being pushed by some of that new brigade.

"I take pride in my athleticism and strength,” the 24-year-old from Sydney said.

"But this year we have a few girls who have come in and a couple of them have been lifting more (weight) than me ... and there's three jumping higher.

"That makes me excited for the year to come.”

Among them is Mahalia Cassidy, who Simpson describes as a "powerhouse”.

"She's fit, strong and fast ... the triple package,” she said.

The Firebirds will soon break for Christmas before cranking up their preparations for the start of the Super Netball season on February 18 when they take on the Sunshine Coast Lightning.

"We are taking our history with us into this new tournament ... but every team really has a clean slate,” Simpson said.

"There are so many unknowns about the new competition and that can be nerve-racking but also exciting because it adds this element of unpredictability.”