Lara Dunkley. (Image: Queensland Firebirds, Supplied / Design: Theo Dimou).

Lara Dunkley is looking to put behind the frustration of a 7th-placed campaign last season, outlining finals as a major ambition of hers for 2024.

Lara Dunkley is looking to put behind the frustration of a 7th-placed campaign last season, outlining finals as a major ambition of hers for 2024.

For the Queensland Firebirds, the upcoming Suncorp Super Netball (SSN) season might just be their biggest yet.

The Firebirds endured a disappointing run in the competition last year, finishing seventh at the conclusion of the SSN regular season. The new season is approaching, with less than one month to go until the opening round.

After missing out on finals again in 2023, Lara Dunkley spoke exclusively with The Inner Sanctum revealing that her aspirations of making finals will “100 per cent” be motivation for her this year.

“I feel like every team wants to win, and you know, we obviously didn’t get the opportunity to play finals last year or the year before, so a goal for us is to make finals and to keep pushing through that series and hopefully finish on top,” Dunkley told The Inner Sanctum

“But we know it’s a season, we gotta go game by game. Yeah, just really make the most of the opportunities that we get and hopefully get a few wins on the board.”

Aside from her ambition for finals this year, Dunkley is also focused on aiming to achieve a personal goal for her upcoming SSN campaign.

“I feel like for me, it’s just playing consistent netball, just being a leader out there on court for the girls and using my voice. Play[ing] consistent netball is a goal for me,” she said.

“I think leading the team and getting them into finals would be a dream come true. So yeah, I think the biggest thing for us is that we’re one team, and collectively, we’ve got a group of leaders out there. So I’m just really excited to be a part of the group.”

Return of Dwan

The Firebirds wasted no time with their preparations for the upcoming season, securing the signatures of some new and familiar faces. However, one of the biggest headlines to come out of the SSN Trade Period was the return of Tippah Dwan in the purple. It was a return that was warmly welcomed by the Firebirds, according to the vice-captain. 

“It’s been amazing [having Tippah back],” she said.

It’s a homecoming for Dwan, who, after a two-year stint with the Adelaide Thunderbirds, returned to Queensland. The Firebirds will be eager to unleash her onto the court in the new season after an impressive campaign in 2023 from Dwan, who made 445.5 Nissan Net Points, 11 deflections, and seven rebounds.

For Dunkley, the chance to reunite with Dwan on the netball court once again is something that the vice-captain is looking forward to this season.

“Look, we love Tippah and it’s pretty special. I remember debuting for the Firebirds at the same time as Tippah and we were on the court together. So to be back playing with each other is really special,” she said.

Another benefit Dunkley points out for the Firebirds is the experience Dwan gained while in Adelaide, which also includes his efforts in the Thunderbirds’ massive win in last year’s SSN Grand Final.

“I think having that experience that she had travelling over and you know, becoming a premiership player. [For her] to get back into our environment is really crucial. She has just grown so much as a player and a person and for her to be a part of our team we’re just so excited to have her back.

Update on Ravaillion’s progress

Earlier this year, it was revealed that Firebirds’ captain Kim Ravaillion would be sidelined for the pre-season, at least following the spinal surgery she underwent before Christmas.

Although a timeline has yet to be given for when the Firebirds’ captain will return to the court, Dunkley has been impressed with her teammate’s progress in her recovery.

“Yeah, she is doing a fabulous job in her rehab and recovery after her back surgery. But of all players on the team, you’d pick her to be nailing everything and ticking boxes every day. She will be back for the season, which is really exciting for us,” Dunkley said.

While Ravaillion has yet to be seen on the court during the pre-season, she’s still been a major influence on the team from the sidelines.

Dunkley explained that the Firebirds’ captain has been travelling with the team and will continue to do so while she recovers post-surgery.

“Ravs been there the whole time throughout this pre-season, even throughout our games that we’re playing right now away,” she said.

“She’s an amazing leader and captain of our club and still plays a huge role even though she has been rehabbing and recovering. But like I said, she’ll be back in no time and we can’t wait to have her out back there.”

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One to Watch

With the SSN pre-season in its final weeks, Dunkley has made an early prediction on the player who could be set for a big season in 2024.

Although the vice-captain has been impressed with the team’s appearance heading into the new season, Isabelle Shearer has already made a major impression on Dunkley.

“[Shearer] is just a superstar in the making,” Dunkley said.

“She’s just really grown and developed as a player and a person. But her growth since the off-season last year, she’s been working really hard.

“Yeah, she’s someone to keep an eye out on for sure and I’m glad that she’s on our team.”

Eye on round one

Dunkley shared that the Firebirds’ preseason has been going “fabulous” so far. Much of the team is already feeling the positive impact of the team’s new strength and conditioning coach, Kelly Penfold, whose “variety of training” has gotten the team “all super fit” and “ready to go” for the season ahead.

“Everyone’s just really for the season to start. We’ve been training and working really hard collectively as a team. Even a lot of off-court stuff has been worked on,” she said.

With five weeks to go, there are still some things to tick off for the Firebirds before they meet the Thunderbirds in round one. Having already completed a pre-season clash with the reigning premiers, they’ll turn their focus to the remaining pre-season games on the agenda for the Firebirds.

“We’ve got a lot of practice matches coming up and we’re traveling around, playing a variety of teams,” she said.

“We actually head to New Zealand [this] weekend and we get to play three teams over there, which will be an awesome opportunity for us to play against a different style of netball. Then we play Team Girls Cup in Sydney before going into round one.

“So it’s an exciting time, but all the girls are pumped and ready to get started.”

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