NETBALL: The Queensland Firebirds have been dealt a devastating blow on the eve of the Suncorp Super Netball season with starting centre Mahalia Cassidy ruled out for the year with a knee reconstruction.
Cassidy, 21, suffered the knee injury at training on Friday and scans on Saturday confirmed the Redcliffe product had ruptured her ACL.
Cassidy was a member of the triumphant Firebirds squad last year and was poised to emerge from the giant shadow of departed Diamonds playmaker Kim Ravaillion and establish herself as a star in her own right.
But the dreams of the Australian and Queensland junior representative mainstay have been shattered temporarily just as she was about to get her chance to shine.
The Firebirds will take on the Sunshine Coast Lightning in the season opener at the Brisbane Entertainment Centre this Saturday night forcing a late reshuffle of the Queensland line-up.
An emotional Cassidy was more focused on the healthy state of the team rather than herself.
"I'm just completely lost for words,'' Cassidy said.
"I'm incredibly disappointed but the team are in such a great place for this season.
"We're well prepared for any situation. Everyone will be ready to go and get that win in Round 1.''
Firebirds coach Roselee Jencke is confident her team can cope with the last-minute injury shock but her primary concern was for Cassidy.
"It was devastating news for Mahalia. She's been training so well and was ready to have a great season. It's unfortunate timing for the team but far more unfortunate for her,'' Jencke said.
"She had everything to look forward to having that starting position and being ready to make her mark on the competition.''
Jencke said the Firebirds had no option but to march on into the season without one of their emerging stars who is central to the team's future.
"I'm confident we'll be able to find a way forward. We've been in difficult situations before. This is a strong and resilient group. This will only make the girls closer and they'll do what has to be done,'' she said.
Centre Kristen Oxenford from the second-tier Queensland Fusion is set to replace Cassidy.
Oxenford has been training with the Firebirds over summer and Jencke said she will get first crack at filling the void at starting centre.
"She's been playing that role in our Fusion team. She understands the culture and she understands what our environment is like. She has been excellent at training and I'm confident that she can play her role with the support of everybody around her,'' Jencke said.