October 10, 2018 | WNBL news

Last Year: 14-7, lost in Semi-Finals.

Returning: Susannah Walmsley, Tahlia Tupaea, Alex Wilson, Shanae Greaves, Belinda Snell, Lara McSpadden, Madeleine O’Hehir, Sarah Graham.

Newcomers: Brittany Smart, Vanessa Panousis, Amanda Johnson, Alex Bunton.

Kick-starting season 2018/19 on Friday night, the Flames host the UC Capitals. Their next home game the following week will be broadcast on FOX Sports and SBS and they will also hit the screens in Round 3 at Townsville, Round 9 at Melbourne and Round 13 when they host Dandenong.

The Flames did not mess with a winning formula last season as they came off a Championship and while they fell in the Semi-Finals, they have retained their core to once again take another shot at the title. The loss of Opals point guard Katie Ebzery hurts but they have options at the one with Tahlia Tupaea back, Vanessa Panousis coming over from Adelaide and Brittany Smart, who will add toughness and the ability to crash the glass, joining from Melbourne.

Belinda Snell and Alex Wilson will also return as the team’s long-range threats after both finishing in the top-three in the league for three-point makes last season while the evergreen Snell added 5.9 rebounds per game (her best mark since 2004), a career-best 5.3 assists and a team-high total of 32 steals.

American forward Amanda Johnson is a big recruit, both in terms of physical presence and scoreboard impact. At 187cm with a solid frame, Johnson will not be budged in the paint when battling for rebounds and she has proven her ability as a sharp-shooter during her time in the QBL. Named the 2018 MVP, Johnson averaged 25.2 points, 14.2 rebounds, 4.9 assists and 2.5 steals per game while recording a season-best performance of 28 points and 25 boards earlier in the season. Her combination with Alex Bunton will make for an intimidating front court.

While Sydney Uni have players to cover the loss of Ebzery, the team may find themselves missing the composure that the FIBA World Cup silver medallist brought to the table. Questions marks will also surround the health of Tupaea after she missed a majority of the past two seasons with injuries. While the Flames have an intimidating starting front court, their bench may struggle to match opposition forwards and the athleticism of Asia Taylor as well as the underrated Jennifer Hamson will both be missed.

Watch out for…
Making a successful return to the court at the FIBA World Cup after several long-term injuries, Alex Bunton also helped the Opals to a silver medal as they put the disappointment of Rio behind them. Backing up Liz Cambage, Bunton averaged 3.8 points and four rebounds per game but expect her numbers to bump up as she becomes the number one option at centre for the Flames. Ultimately, a positive season for Bunton will be one where she plays every game unscathed but she has the ability to be an imposing presence at both ends of the floor for Sydney Uni.

Predicted Finish:
An impressive starting five for the Flames may have to do a majority of the heavy lifting in 2018/19 as their bench looks small and not overly deep. Johnson will arrive full of confidence after a stunning QBL campaign and Sydney Uni will be confident they will get another productive year out of Snell and Wilson. The health of Bunton and Tupaea will be crucial to their chances but the side does have more than capable back-ups at the point guard position in Panousis and Smart.