At the WNBL18 season launch, reigning MVP Suzy Batkovic avoided a cookie cutter response when asked who the team to beat was. Her response was simple - "us".
Fire have cause for such bold confidence; in a shortened competition where coherency and continuity will be at a premium, no other squad has played so much winning basketball together.
Batkovic and the returning Cayla George are perennial all-WNBL team candidates, while Murray, Cocks and Wilson are seasoned pros and proven finals performers. Sydney Wiese should be one of the best shooters in the competition.
The last time Batkovic and George played together, they were the both amongst the league’s elite scorers, rebounders and shot blockers. Oh yeah, and the Fire swept to a 2-0 grand final series win.
The Fire should be the best rebounding team in the league and their size, physicality and nous in the paint will likely again be their strong suit. Teams will get few cheap points against lineups featuring Bakovic and George, who both played huge minutes in their championship campaigns.
Darcee Garbin comes off a monster campaign at the University games, where she showed a fair bit of craft around the rim and opponents often looked helpless trying to keep her off the boards. With a few years of senior competition under her belt, she is likely to take a step forward in WNBL 18.
Suzy Batkovic's forceful passing is another strong part of her game. Here, she finds Murray who attacks a closeout to score.
Lauren Mincy, a former WNBA draftee who led Maryland to two final four appearances, joins the team after a couple of years in Israel. It’s hard to find much intel on her time there, but her numbers with Ramat Hasharon in the 2015/16 season were solid and the team like her athleticism and see her as a genuine two-way shooting guard.
Last year the team ranked only sixth in three-point shooting percentage and import guard Natasha Cloud struggled from long range at times. This part of their game is likely to get a major boost via Sydney Wiese, who was an explosive scorer and consistently shot above 40% from three in a hugely successful college career. Known as ‘The Headband’, Wiese can create her own shot and will likely feast on open shots created by Batkovic and George being double teamed. Wilson, Murray and Cocks are also gifted passes who can get her a lot of looks.
Injection of youth
Zitina Aokuso joins the team from the AIS as a raw but hyper-athletic talent. She will be one of the most explosive jumpers in the competition straight away and it will be interesting to see whether the Fire ease her into the rotation or give her minutes from the start.
Also joining the team from the SEABL is guard Marena Whittle. She shot three-pointers at 21.9% in that competition, but found ways to get inside and score and consistently got buckets over a four-year college career at North Dakota State. She is an athlete who can also chip in with some rebounds and will inherit Tegan Cunningham’s ‘best tattoos in the league’ mantle.
Townsville tried a number of point guards last year with Kelly Wilson injured, but are likely to have more stability there for this season. One of the league’s great competitors
Mikaela Donnelly will add some depth; she led the QBL in assists and represented Australia at junior level. She has been on the fire’s radar for a while and knows how to run an offence.
Miela Goodchild, a shooting guard or small forward, was a star of the U17s Oceania championship, ranking as the most efficient player in the tournament as Australia coasted to a series of lopsided wins. Haylee Andrews also returns after a good QBL season where she was a double-digit scorer and has been likened to a young Tess Madgen by coach Claudia Brassard.
Cayla George brings size, rebounding, scoring and winning pedigree in her return to Townsville.