Recap of last season
Last season, the Thunderbirds promised plenty, with a strong showing at Team Girls Cup, but from there, it was downhill. The Thunderbirds had one of the best defensive duos in the competition, with Latanya Wilson supporting Shamera Sterling, who was the competition's leading defender, but that was it.
The Thunderbirds struggled to move the ball up the court, coughing up turnovers through the midcourt, and were unable to score effectively enough to keep up with other teams. The Thunderbirds finished with the worst attack, and the best defence in the league, and a middling result again.
Over the offseason, coach Tania Obst's contract was extended, and the Thunderbirds switched out Lenize Potgieter for Eleanor Cardwell, and added Lucy Austin at the expense of Elle McDonald, loading up with attackers for 2023.
How they can improve
The Thunderbirds should be improved, just by the change in personnel in the shooting circle. No disrespect to Lenize Potgieter, but Eleanor Cardwell is an upgrade, as the dominant shooter for the Roses at the moment, and with her versatility, allows the Thunderbirds to throw different combinations at opposition teams.
With four viable shooting options, the possibilities are expanded, and the Thunderbirds should be able to find an effective combination in any situation, against any opponent.
A small improvement in attacking efficiency should reap big rewards for the Thunderbirds, given the strength of their defensive end.
In: Lucy Austin (Elevated Training Partner), Eleanor Cardwell (NSL)
Out: Elle McDonald (NSL), Lenize Potgieter (NSL)
Squad: Hannah Petty (c), Eleanor Cardwell, Lucy Austin, Georgie Horjus, Tippah Dwan, Maisie Nankivell, Tayla Williams, Matilda Garrett, Latanya Wilson, Shamera Sterling.
Training Partners: Chelsea Blackman, Sophie Casey, Lauren Frew, Jessie Greenvold, Tyler Orr
There isn't a way around this. Having two international defenders, who play together on the international stage, is a massive asset for the Thunderbirds. Especially when one of them is in the conversation as the best defender in the world.
Shamera Sterling led the competition in intercepts, averaging four intercepts per game. The Thunderbirds led the competition for turnovers, defensive rebounds, gains and intercepts per game.
It was a historic defensive season, and the same personnel are back, with Garrett, Wilson and Sterling looking to continue their outstanding performances together.
The Thunderbirds are short on midcourt depth, after replacing Elle McDonald, a midcourter, with Lucy Austin, a shooter. Georgie Horjus looks like she will push out to wing attack, but the Thunderbirds only have three genuine midcourters on their roster - Petty, Nankivell and Williams.
At times last year, the midcourt struggled, and this year, Tania Obst doesn't have the depth to pull players in and out if they aren't playing well. What will the response be if the midcourt is spluttering and there isn't any fluency moving the ball up the court?
Lucy Austin showed plenty of ability in her brief cameos last season at Super Netball level, but the South Australian who shone brightly was already in the team last year, in Tayla Williams.
The young midcourter showed poise and calm in the middle, with a strong defensive mind, and an ability to match the best midcourters in the competition without taking a backward step.
This season, with another preseason under her belt, expect Williams to announce herself as part of the next generation of midcourters in Australian netball, and part of the future of the Diamonds.
This is the year the Thunderbirds will put it together. With assistant coach Tracey Neville bringing some more experience, and an outstanding combination of shooters, the Thunderbirds are primed to go to a new level.
Team Girls Cup showed flashes of the Thunderbirds' ability to take the game away from opposing teams, with suffocating defence and ruthless attack. That's a combination that could finally put an end to almost a decade out in the cold as a franchise.
Led by Shamera Sterling, the defensive pressure will continue to stand tall, and with better conversion, this is the year that the Thunderbirds make finals.
Ladder Prediction: 3rd
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