The Thunderbirds come into season 2018 with only three returning players (Sasha Glasgow, Chelsea Pitman, Fiona Fowler), but hope to improve on last year’s wooden spoon showing where they only won one game.
The team looks very different a year on and coach Dan Ryan will be hoping that another blend of youth and experience will see improved results.
Captained by ex-Silver Fern Leana de Bruin, the 2018 Thunderbirds have a strong international flavour about them – two former Silver Ferns and current players from Scotland, South Africa, England and Jamaica. Combining the different styles could be a challenge.
Several players are also returning from injuries. Sasha Glasgow has only recently returned to training and will not take the court until at least Round 4, while Abigail Latu-Meafou is back to full training after recovering from an ankle injury.
It is unclear when, if at all, we will see Cat Tuivaiti, who is still returning from a cruel ACL injury – Jamaican Shimona Nelson has been called in as a temporary replacement. Hannah Petty is returning from an injury-plagued two years and is not back at full training after ankle surgery and de Bruin also battled an ankle injury for much of the 2017 ANZ Premiership season.
Ongoing injuries could see the training partners brought in for plenty of game time during the season. Just last week, Charlee Hodges was brought into the squad of 10 to replace Glasgow.
Another training partner, Emily Burgess, is also recovering from an ACL injury. These injuries could affect the overall capabilities of the team, especially given the high fitness and conditioning levels expected across the competition.
Most affected by injury and inexperience is the shooting end, particularly with Tuivaiti out for the foreseeable future and Glasgow out for the start of the season. The success of the attacking end will depend on the younger players stepping up.
Abigail Latu-Meafou impressed in her limited court time for the Queensland Firebirds last year, covering admirably for both Gretel Tippett and Romelda Aiken. She is an accurate shooter with good range and mobility and is likely to be paired with Shimona Nelson for at least the first few games. Nelson is just 19 years of age, but with her height (195cm), provides a great target.
The midcourt will be led by Chelsea Pitman, Bongiwi Msomi, Hannah Petty and Kaitlyn Bryce. Msomi offers speed and mobility in the midcourt, but her test will be in the ability to accurately feed the shooters.
Hannah Petty is an excellent defensive midcourter, but is still returning from injury, while Bryce is a young and versatile player who was previously a member of the Australian 21U squad. The difficulty will be adequately covering the wing defence position, given only Petty has played there previously.
The Thunderbirds defence end is where most of their experience lies. De Bruin is a former South African and New Zealand international and is a determined defender. She might be past the best netball of her career but will serve as a strong leader. Her effectiveness, as an impact player or part of the starting seven, will depend on whether she can remain injury-free.
Both Kate Shimmin and Fiona Fowler have Super Netball experience. Shimmin returns to Adelaide after a year at the Queensland Firebirds, while Fowler returns for her second consecutive year after an impressive 2017 season. A rotating circle of Shimmin, Fowler and De Bruin will keep opposition attackers guessing.
Adelaide won’t challenge for the finals – the 2018 season will largely be based around building connections. It’s a very different team to last year and while they will struggle to register many wins, they won’t go down without a fight. Their current injury list has the potential to cause much pain and we can only hope for their sake that the list does not get any longer.
2018 team list
Leana de Bruin (c) GD/GK
Chelsea Pitman (vc) WA/GA
Kaitlyn Bryce WA/C/GA
Fiona Fowler (nee Themann) GK/GD
Sasha Glasgow (injured) GS/GA
Charlee Hodges (temporary replacement for Sasha Glasgow) GA/GS
Abigail Latu-Meafou GA/GS
Bongiwe Msomi C/WA
Shimona Nelson (temporary replacement for Cat Tuivaiti) GS
Hannah Petty WD/WA/C
Kate Shimmin GK/GD
Cat Tuivaiti (injured) GS
Head coach: Dan Ryan
Assistant coaches: Jane Woodlands-Thompson and Jane Searle
Training partners: Gia Abernethy, Chelsea Blackman, Emily Burgess (returning from ACL), Charlee Hodges (replacing Sasha Glasgow until at least Round 4), Chelsea Lemke.