Lauren Jackson will play one final year in the WNBL with the Southside Flyers. (Photo: Lauren Jackson/Instagram; Design: Will Cuckson)

After claiming the championship in 2020/21, the Southside Flyers couldn’t back it up last season. But with big names joining the roster, they’ll be looking to make this campaign count.

Last season:

Seventh (five wins, 11 losses)

The Southside Flyers come into the upcoming season with something to prove, after just missing the bottom of the table in 2021/22.

Missing some veteran players during the off-season, some due to injuries and COVID issues, some retiring, and others just from departing the club, they will be looking to fill the gaps this time around.

After starting the season slowly, injuries to key players, including Abby Bishop, and consistency were an issue for the Flyers.

Whilst players off the bench had their opportunities, the Flyers struggled to get key pieces to gel and play altogether for a full season.

They were 3-5 after eight matches, inconsistent throughout games, but never being blown off the court by anyone other than cross-town rivals, the Melbourne Boomers.

This would lead to a seven-game losing streak, including having to forfeit a match against the Capitals due to COVID complications, and a 64-106 loss when they would eventually meet.

Amongst all the negatives, Kristy Wallace was named the Sixth Woman of the Year.

Biggest in:

The Flyers have looked dangerous in the past when having a dominant centre.

Last season, the Flyers struggled to have consistent players who could step up and score, given the injuries also in the forwards’ group. With the signing of Kayla Thornton, Flyers fans should be excited.

Playing with the Dallas Wings in the WNBA, Thornton’s athleticism, competitiveness and three-point shooting will be vital to help the rest of the Flyers guards and fill the gap in the three spot.

Flyers fans will get to see one of their new import in action on Saturday, November 5 against the Adelaide Lightning.

Coming from the Melbourne Boomers’ championship team, veteran Carley Ernst‘s experience will be vital. She can make an impact across a number of positions, adding more depth and experience to the Flyers.

The return of Lauren Jackson will bolster the Flyers after a remarkable World Cup campaign. She can contribute in many ways, with her leadership giving the younger players a presence on and off the court.

Biggest out:

The leadership of Jenna O’Hea will be something the Flyers will be looking to fill in the three/four spot. O’Hea steps up in big moments – the question for the Flyers will be, who can fill that void?

Another player that will be missed is Kristy Wallace, and the hustle and hunger she brought off the bench in the point guard/two spot.

After a breakout World Cup campaign, if the Flyers’ guards Rebecca Cole and Aimee Rocci get into foul trouble, the question will be who can step up off the bench and carry the load.

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Player to watch:

Standing as a forward at 185cm, Kayla Thornton brings plenty of experience from the WNBA playing with the Dallas Wings and also playing overseas in Europe, Israel and South America.

She’s athletic and is good around the three-point range, which will add depth to the Flyers’ scoring group. She’s also able to play and defend multiple positions.

This past WNBA season, where Thornton averaged eight points per game, 5.9 rebounds and 1.8 assists, demonstrated her flexibility to slot into multiple roles across the court should players get into foul trouble.

After a breakout World Cup campaign, Sara Blicavs can potentially fill the void that Jenna O’Hea has left.

Stepping up in the big moments, Blicavs can fill the shoes of O’Hea by bringing the shooting show that she showed in the World Cup to the WNBL this season.

After a campaign in the World Cup to remember, Lauren Jackson brings invaluable leadership and experience to the group.

With the absence and retirement of Jenna O’Hea, Jackson’s ability to come off the bench and bring her presence to change the game will be vital.

She will need others to step up around her but her presence around the youngsters will be a great learning experience for the team.

More WNBL Season Previews

WNBL 2022/23 Season Preview: UC Capitals

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WNBL 2022/23 Season Preview: Melbourne Boomers

Starting five:

The Inner Sanctum’s predicted starting five for the Southside Flyers. (Design: Will Cuckson)

Full squad:

Abby Bishop, Sara Blicavs, Bec Cole, Carley Ernst, Aimie Rocci, Maddy Rocci, Lauren Jackson, Dallas Loughridge, Nyadiew Puoch, Kayla Thornton

Ins: Carley Ernst (Melbourne Boomers), Lauren Jackson (Albury Wodonga Bandits), Kayla Thornton (Dallas Wings), Dallas Loughridge, Nyadiew Puoch

Outs: Jenna O’Hea (retired), Rachel Jarry (retired), Kristy Wallace (Melbourne Boomers), Emilee Whittle-Harmon (UC Capitals)

Fixture highlights:

With a stacked roster and playing at a new home stadium at the State Basketball Centre, the Southside Flyers won’t have to wait long to see the return of this new roster.

Flyers fans will be able to see the return of Lauren Jackson’s first game in teal, when they take on the Adelaide Lightning on November 5.

Fans should be excited about the first instalment of the Michelle-Timms Cup when the Flyers host local rivals the Melbourne Boomers in Round 2.

The matchup between the Bendigo Spirit and Southside Flyers will be intriguing. In past seasons, both sides have had close matchups with each other.

With the Spirit stacked with the likes of Anneli Maley, Kelly Wilson and Kelsey Griffin, there are plenty of match-ups to keep an eye on when those sides face during the season.

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One dark horse match-up to keep an eye on is against the Sydney Flames.

With the likes of Tiana Mangakahia back in the WNBL, the guard battle will be one to keep an eye on. The two sides faced off in close matches last season, so expect the rivalry to go up a notch.

What to expect:

The Southside Flyers were at their best last season when they found easy transition, nailing their three-pointers and playing an up-and-down tempo when the game was on their terms.

Exciting youngsters joining the roster and taking up their opportunities to play in the WNBL will provide excitement amongst the experienced faces.

Nyadiew Puoch will likely see solid playing minutes. Representing Australia in the Australian Gems program, she was a part of last year’s Under 19 World Cup in Hungary, where Australia won silver.

Fans will, unfortunately, have to wait to see Dallas Loughridge in action, after she tore her ACL in the pre-season.

The opportunity to learn from the likes of Lauren Jackson, Abby Bishop and Carley Ernst will be something the pair can take on board, regardless of being on court or not.

The last word:

The Southside Flyers showed before their season got tougher that they have enough shooting power and leadership in the side.

But to take the next step, they must ensure everyone on the roster is on the same page, and gel as quickly as they can consistently for an entire season.

With new additions to the roster and the likes of Sara Blicavs, coming off her best in the World Cup, and Lauren Jackson back into the league, the Flyers will be aiming to return to the finals race.

The quicker they can form as a team, the more dominant force of a side they will be. They should aim to be tough to beat on any given night.

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