Sunshine Coast Lightning Squad Analysis
Our first analysis on a new expansion team and it is the Sunshine Coast Lightning, a side many are expecting to be a serious challenger to flag favourites Collingwood and who as it currently sits are 3rd favourite for the flag. Whilst there is no doubt some talent in the Lightning squad – we are not quite as bullish and have the Lightning behind the Giants and Magpies as the premier expansion team.
Caitlin Bassett is the marque signing for the Sunshine Coast Lightning and they have obtained her at her absolute peak as a player. Bassett has improved over every season to now be a dominant force in Australian netball. If anything we expect Bassett to get even stronger in 2017 with the two players she has traditionally struggled against now out of the picture with Laura Geitz retired and Geva Mentor now a team-mate!
Perhaps the only question for Bassett will be whether her impact will be reduced by not receiving the benefit of the supreme passing abilities of former team-mate Nat Medhurst. Filling that GA role will be Steph Wood – who impressed greatly in limited minutes with the NSW Swifts in 2016. Wood spent a lot of time rotating between WA and GA with the Swifts but is more likely to settle into a permanent GA position at the Lightning and form a formidable attacking combination with Bassett. On our statistical measures, we rate the attacking duo of the Lightning the 3rd best in the competition, just behind Giants duo Jo Harten and Susan Pettitt but well behind runaway leaders - Firebirds duo Romelda Aiken and Gretel Tippett. The back-up shooter will be youngster Cara Koenen who will largely be looking at 2017 as a development year and would not be expected to get significant court time behind Bassett and Wood.
New Zealand legend Laura Langman leads an otherwise exceptionally young mid-court which stands as the potential weakness of the Lightning. Kelsey Browne has some experience as an injury replacement with the Vixens (for sister Madi Robinson) back in 2015 and put in some serviceable performances. Laura Scherian has long been a dominant player in 2nd tier netball and has been called up in the past as an injury replacement for the Firebirds (albeit it without getting any meaningful court time). With Langman likely to hold the centre bib – it is likely to be between Browne and Scherian as to who gets the first opportunity at WA. The least experienced mid-courter is youngster Madeline McAuliffe but she stands out as the obvious choice to get first crack at WD with Browne and Scherian more suited to attacking roles. How McAuliffe handles the transition to top level netball will likely dictate whether she holds down the position or whether the Lightning re-shuffle their team to get their more experienced mid-court more minutes.
Defensively, the Lightning are boosted by English defensive superstar Geva Mentor. Whilst Mentor no longer holds her position as the world’s best defender (which one could argue she was in 2013-14), she still out-performs most defenders in the league and only Sharni Layton is rated by the TBP model higher among the GKs in the league. Like the Thunderbirds – it is an all international defensive line-up for the Lightning with Mentor supported by South Africa’s GD Karla Mostert and New Zealander Erena Mikaere. Mostert has impressed at international level playing for South Africa and has also performed well in the English domestic league. One would expect that Mostert will hold her own at GD to make the defence a position of strength for the Lightning. Mikaere has struggled to hold down a starting position at the Fever in recent years and will likely find the same fate at the Lightning but serves as a useful alternative with her height matching up well against the taller Goal Shooters in the league.
Predicted 2017 Position: 5th
2017 Objective: Premiership – all three expansion sides have recruited big and experienced and are desperate to be the first premier in this new era of Australian netball
Player to Watch: Steph Wood – Easily the best “8th” player in the league in 2016, Wood finally gets a chance to establish herself as a starter in 2017. Wood couldn’t have been more impressive in her stints on court with the Swifts last year and it would not surprise if Wood is rated right alongside the likes of Pettitt, Medhurst and Tippett as one of the premier GA’s in the country by season end.
The big question mark: Can the Lightning’s inexperienced mid-court provide enough support to push the impressive bookends of the Lightning to premiership success?