Starstruck Firebirds fan becomes part of the team
TARA Hinchliffe was one of the Queensland Firebirds' biggest fans long before she stepped on court for them.
Growing up in Brisbane, the budding goal defence admits she was fixated on the three-time ANZ Championship winners and star players such as Laura Geitz.
"My sister and I had season memberships for a few years there - we would go to all the games," she recalled.
"It's sort of embarrassing how much I used to watch Geitzy and the Firebirds. I was pretty obsessed with them.
"But it's also very exciting that I now get the opportunity to play with them."
The 19-year-old enjoyed a breakout 2017. Named MVP at the national under-19 championships in 2017, she represented Australia at the Youth World Cup and became a training partner with the Firebirds.
She then jumped at the chance to become a contracted player once invited at the end of the last Super Netball season.
Hinchliffe was never going anywhere else and with her childhood hero and fellow defender Geitz stepping back into the fold after the birth of son Barney, it made it even more special.
"I was just so excited to be able to play with her and learn from her, on and off the court," Hinchliffe said.
"It's pretty cool. But also having little Barney running around makes training a bit more fun too."
Hinchliffe debuted against the NSW Swifts in round one, when the Firebirds were overrun in the final quarter.
It was a bitter-sweet result.
"It was so surreal. There was certainly mixed emotions after the game," she said.
"I wasn't that nervous. It was just good to run out there and see what we could do as a team. But we let it slip through our fingertips, which was disappointing."
Hinchliffe might not have experienced the on-court disappointment of a 2017 campaign where the Firebirds missed the finals, but she knows how much that hurt her teammates.
"For me everything has been amazing so far, anything's a bonus," she said.
"But the passion those girls have ... you don't want to let them down - everyone's working even harder for them."
The Firebirds will look to bounce back in a blockbuster Queensland derby tomorrow in Brisbane against reigning champion the Sunshine Coast Lightning.
Geitz has been ruled out this week with a back injury.
"Training this week has been way more intense," Hinchliffe said.
"It (the loss) has certainly put a bit of fire in our belly.
"With both teams having losses last week it's going to be a massive fight for a win.
"We know it's going to be a really tough game, but it's a challenge we're ready for."