Open­ing test of the best

Townsville Bulletin - - SPORT - JON TUXWORTH jonathon. tuxworth@ news. com. au

STAR Townsville Fire cen­tre Suzy Batkovic will square off with Liz Cam­bage in an open­ing round WNBL block­buster in Mel­bourne af­ter a stream­lined draw for the 2017- 18 sea­son was re­leased yes­ter­day.

And Fire coach Clau­dia Bras­sard be­lieves the 13- round, 21- game reg­u­lar sea­son will give her team a fairer shot at try­ing to re­claim the crown they re­lin­quished to Syd­ney.

The 2014- 15 and 2015- 16 cham­pi­ons be­gin their cam­paign with a road trip against Cam­bage’s Mel- bourne Boomers on Satur­day, Oc­to­ber 7 at 3pm, the first match to be tele­vised by Fox Sports as it be­gins its three year broad­cast­ing deal.

Cam­bage has been ply­ing her trade in China and her match- up with the league’s reign­ing Most Valu­able Player in Batkovic is a mouth- wa­ter­ing start to the sea­son.

“For the first TV game, they want their best two play­ers go­ing at it. When it comes to the mar­ket­ing, that’s the match up they want to see, and it’s ex­cit­ing,” Bras­sard said.

“It’s not of­ten you see Suzy ver­sus Liz. It hasn’t hap­pened in re­cent times so it’s go­ing to be great.”

The Fire will have 10 home games be­gin­ning with Uni­ver­sity of Canberra Cap­i­tals on Oc­to­ber 13, 10 away games and one “neu­tral” game against Perth when all eight teams play in Mel­bourne on Novem­ber 25- 26.

Teams will play 21 games, or each ri­val three times, across 13 rounds in a shorter sea­son which fin­ishes in late Jan­uary.

It al­lows the league to hope­fully at­tract more spot­light be­fore the foot­ball codes kick into gear in Fe­bru­ary.

Each team played 24 games last year, and the Fire were given a tougher draw than some of their top four ri­vals.

“I re­ally didn’t think it was fair last year that other teams played ( bot­tom two sides) Mel­bourne or Ade­laide four times and we ended up with Syd­ney four times,” Bras­sard said.

“When the league was so com­pet­i­tive last year it makes a big dif­fer­ence.”

Townsville will play six games mid­week, on ei­ther Wed­nes­day or Thurs­day, be­cause of the more con­densed sched­ule.

The Fire is sched­uled to host a De­cem­ber 31 clash for the sec­ond straight sea­son against Perth, but it will tip off at 1pm.

They will also play Perth in a “clus­ter” round in Mel­bourne on the weekend of Novem­ber 25- 26, where all eight teams will play in the Vic­to­rian cap­i­tal.

It al­lows the Fire to avoid a sec­ond trip to Perth, and they are con­tem­plat­ing spend­ing an ex­tended time away from Townsville with away clashes to comes against Dan- de­nong ( Novem­ber 29 and Syd­ney ( De­cem­ber 2) soon af­ter.

“We’ll def­i­nitely hang around in Mel­bourne from Sunday to play ( Dan­de­nong) Wed­nes­day, now we’ll see if the bud­get al­lows to go straight to Syd­ney,” Bras­sard said.

“It does put pres­sure on our play­ers be­cause some of them have to have jobs.

“It doesn’t al­low much time for them to work which poses some chal­lenges, but it’s ex­cit­ing. Pro­fes­sional teams do it all the time be­ing on the road, and go­ing from one game to the next.”

The Fire have one more spot left to fill on their ros­ter and are talk­ing to a long and ath­letic guard to com­ple­ment the shoot­ing ar­se­nal on their squad.

TALL OR­DER: Aus­tralian Opals cen­tre El­iz­a­beth Cam­bage and the Mel­bourne Boomers will take on the Townsville Fire in the open­ing round of the 2017- 18 WNBL sea­son.

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