Opening test of the best
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.