Tara Hinchliffe (Photo: Sunshine Coast Lightning)

After sustaining an ACL tear in July, new Sunshine Coast Lightning circle defender Tara Hinchliffe could return ahead of schedule in 2022.

New Sunshine Coast Lightning recruit Tara Hinchliffe could be on track to return from an ACL tear ahead of schedule, according to coach Kylee Byrne.

Hinchliffe, who joined the Lightning in September’s signing period, sustained the injury at training ahead of last year’s Round 12 fixtures in late July, immediately ruled out long term.

But her new coach is optimistic that a strong commitment to her rehab program will see her available in the squad as early as the second or third round of the season.

“For anyone that’s ever had anything to do with Tara, you’ll know she’s the model athlete and professional sportswoman,” Byrne told media on Tuesday.

“Her rehab has gone to absolute plan… maybe even a little bit ahead of time.

“She’s been so diligent and committed to everything that’s been put to her, so we couldn’t actually be more happy with where she is at the moment. We’re still hoping for that early April return for Tara.”

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Hinchliffe reunites with twin sister Maddie at the club, who recently re-signed as a training partner.

But it could be the latter who takes to the court first, as the Lightning search for replacement players for both Tara and captain Karla Pretorius.

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Pretorius and husband Werner recently announced that they would be expecting their first child in June, with the South African international sitting out the 2022 season, which begins for the Lightning on March 27 when they host the West Coast Fever.

But when questioned on her plan to fill the void, perhaps optimistically, Byrne made no reference to signing anyone in Hinchliffe’s place.

“From a club perspective, and from friends and family here on the Coast, we were over the moon for Karla and Werner and their really exciting news,” the coach said.

“It was something we were prepared for, and Karla had been really open about their desire to start a family in the next couple of years. Once we heard, we were all really excited for both of them.

“When we were doing the recruitment and I pulled together the Lightning squad for this year, it was certainly in the back of my mind, if that happy news did come through that we would be covered.

“Defensively, we did pull in some really great recruits in Tara Hinchliffe and Kadie-Ann Dehaney joining Kate [Shimmin] and Karla down that end.

“We’re more than covered in the defence circle, and we’ll be looking now over possibly the next weeks at elevating a training partner into the final 10.”

Referring to Shimmin in circle defence, Byrne could be hinting that the Lightning could be looking at signing another wing defence player in Pretorius’ place, a position they currently have no depth off the bench in.

This could see Maddie Hinchliffe get her chance in Round 1 before her sister, or potentially fellow mid-court training partner Ava Black.

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