October 11, 2018 | WNBL news

2018/19 SEASON PREVIEW: JCU TOWNSVILLE FIRE

Last Year: 14-7, Champions

Returning: Laurin Mincy, Mikhaela Donnelly, Suzy Batkovic, Darcee Garbin, Zitina Aokuso, Micaela Cocks.

Newcomers: Stella Beck, Tess Madgen, Ally Malott, Casey Samuels, Alex Fowler, Maddy Willey.

Fixture:
The defending Champions get their season started on Sunday in Round 1 when they welcome Dandenong. They have a quick turnaround after that to visit Adelaide the following Thursday and then travel to Perth two days after that in a rough opening fortnight. The Grand Final replay against Melbourne occurs in Round 5 before they visit the Boomers twice in Round 6 and 8.

Strengths:
Retaining a strong core of their Championship group from 2017/18, the Fire will control proceedings from their front court. Led by Suzy Batkovic, Townsville will be looking for Darcee Garbin to play a bigger role as the heir apparent as well as the supremely athletic Zitina Aokuso while Ally Malott has big shoes to fill. She comes up against her old side in Dandenong on the opening weekend after averaging 9.9 points, 3.4 rebounds and 1.4 assists for the Rangers in 2016/17.

Import Laurin Mincy brings versatility to the team at both ends of the floor while she proved she is not afraid of the big stage when she had 11 points in Game 3 of the Grand Final series. Making a comeback from a knee injury at the FIBA World Cup, Tess Madgen arrives in Townsville as a silver medallist and brings 173 games of WNBL experience to the team as well as a cool head on the floor.

Weaknesses:
The Fire have a few players that can bring the ball up including Madgen as well as Mikhaela Donnelly and veteran Micaela Cocks. They both helped Townsville finish with 47 more assists than any other team last season but the Fire will miss Kelly Wilson who has gone to the UC Capitals. Wilson paced Townsville with 4.8 assists per game last year and the team could find themselves slightly lacking in the one spot while their offensive output will be hampered with Mia Murray sitting out this season.

Watch out for…
Who else but Suzy Batkovic. Having announced that the 2018/19 season, Batkovic’s 17th, will be her last, it could add some extra fuel to Townsville’s quest for a fourth Championship and what would be Batkovic’s sixth. She is also aiming to add to history with a seventh MVP while the star centre is in striking distance of overtaking Rachael Sporn as the league’s all-time leading scorer. All roads to the Championship go through Townsville and to beat them, you must be able to contain Batkovic.

Overall:
Townsville enter 2018/19 with a target on their back but as winners of three of the past four Championships, that is nothing new for them. They will be keen to send Batkovic off on a high note and the reigning MVP will also be looking to farewell the league in style by proving she is still the best player in the country. The loss of Wilson impacts their back court though and they will need to find some firepower in the likes of a player like Mincy or hope a newcomer like Casey Samuels can hit the scoreboard.