Stephanie Reid will be looking to take another huge step in her development to help lead the Fire back into the finals. (Photo: Townsville Fire; Design: Will Cuckson)

After finishing sixth last season and missing the finals, the Townville Fire will be looking to bounce back in WNBL season 2022/23 to once again challenge for a championship.

Last season:

Sixth (Seven wins, 10 losses)

After a successful 2020/21 WNBL season, the Fire lost some key personnel throughout 2021/22, which made it difficult for them to challenge for a top four spot.

Import Monique Billings, who was one of the stars of the competition averaging close to 16 points a game, left the season prematurely after 11 games to rehab on her knee.

Averaging the sixth most points in the league combined with dealing with COVID and injuries, it did not allow for Coach Shannon Seebohm to get the best out of his team. 

After starting the season strong, they ultimately weren’t able to piece together enough consecutive wins in the back end of the season to make finals – something they will be looking to change this year. 

Biggest in:

The Fire welcome two WNBA players, Karlie Samuelson and Tianna Hawkins.

Hawkins is a WNBA champion with the Washington Mystics in 2019. She is a 6’3 forward who is athletic, can run the floor well, handle the ball and shoot the three.

She had some impressive games on the scoring end in the WNBA for the Mystics, including a 21-point game against Chicago in June this year. 

The other significant inclusion is Mikaela Ruef, who played for Canberra last season. Ruef is a rebounding machine and a workhorse on both ends of the floor.

She will be entering the WNBL season with confidence, after averaging 18 points and 17 rebounds per game for Logan in the NBL1. 

Ruef provides the Fire with a great role player off the bench, providing depth in the four and five spot. 

Biggest out:

Three-time championship winner Mia Murray has followed her championship winning coach, Chris Lucas to the Melbourne Boomers. The Fire will miss Murray’s veteran leadership and her ability to make clutch threes.

A former WNBL finals MVP, Murray’s role with the Fire changed in the last couple of seasons with the veteran coming off the bench.

She provided the Fire with a really smart role player who could come on and have an immediate impact. There were many times last year where Murray was called upon to hit some clutch buckets especially from long range.

Player to watch:

2021 Townsville Fire MVP Stephanie Reid is poised to take the next step in her professional career.

Spending the WNBL offseason with coach Seebohm in the NBL1 with the Townsville Flames will no doubt have helped accelerate the impact she will have this season for the Fire. 

Reid’s rise as one of the best up-and-coming players in this country is only rivalled by Canberra guard, Jade Melbourne. Reid’s impressive WNBL form last season earned her a call up to the World Cup squad in June, providing her with invaluable international experience. 

The 26-year-old possesses great speed on both ends of the floor, and has good basketball IQ.

All point guards are an extension of their coach, and no doubt Seebohm will be putting great faith into Reid to run the team along with veteran guard Lauren Nicholson.

Stephanie Reid playing for Townsville Flames in the NBL1 under coach Seebohm. (Photo: Townsville Fire/Twitter)

More WNBL Season Previews:

WNBL 2022/23 Season Preview: Adelaide Lightning

WNBL 2022/23 Season Preview: Bendigo Spirit

WNBL 2022/23 Season Preview: Southside Flyers

Starting five:

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

Full squad:

Tianna Hawkins, Karlie Samuelson, Lauren Nicholson, Stephanie Reid, Courtney Woods, Zitina Aokuso, Lara McSpadden, Morgan Yaeger, Mikaela Ruef, Krystal Leger-Walker, Nes’eya Parker Williams*, Tia Hay*, Aliza Fabbro*

Ins: Karlie Samuelson (Phoenix Mercury), Krystal Leger-Walker (NZ), Mikaela Ruef (UC Capitals), Morgan Yaegar (Sydney Flames), Nes’eya Parker Williams (Joondalup Wolves), Tia Hay (Ipswich Force), Tianna Hawkins (Washington Mystics)

Outs: Mia Murray (Melbourne Boomers), Nadeen Payne (sitting out this season), Monique Billings, Micaela Cocks (retired from WNBL)

*development player

Fixture highlights:

The Fire open the season against the Capitals and new coach Kristen Veal, who will want to start off her WNBL coaching debut with a win.

The start to the season will be significant for coach Seebohm and his team, as they play their first four games at home, including a match-up against one of the championship favourites, Southside Flyers and their new recruit Lauren Jackson.

This is followed up by a Melbourne road trip to face the Melbourne Boomers and Southside Flyers once again.

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They will head home for a game against Perth before the Christmas break. Townsville will want to take advantage of their passionate home crowd and hostile environment, with five games out of the first seven at home.

In the new year, the Fire play eight out of a total of thirteen games away from home, including a double away game in Victoria versus Bendigo and Southside to finish the season.

In a close competition, most games will be tightly contested, and it will be really important for the Fire to win their home games early in the season to be put them in a strong position come season’s end.

What to expect:

Townsville will be looking to do a better job this season on the scoring end – improving on its sixth overall offence last season. The Fire appear to have a well balanced side, with flexibility to play an inside game whilst also looking at a run and gun style of offence.

With Nicholson and Reid with the ball, we expect them to utilise a lot of on-ball screens, especially from Aokuso and Hawkins. Hawkins adds a pick and pop action for the Fire which will give them some variety in the two-player game.

Nicholson and Reid both bring speed, so we should see them look to try and score quickly in transition.

With Aokuso inside and Ruef and Hawkins as forwards, we should see the Fire be aggressive on the glass, which could lead to a lot of second chance opportunities. This is a statistic they struggled in last season.

Samuelson will slot in perfectly on the perimeter to allow Reid and Nicholson time and space to attack the lanes, either to finish at the rim or kick out to the likes of Samuelson and Hawkins for three.

With the return of one of the greatest of all time, Suzy Batkovic to the Fire as a part time assistant coach, we should see further development in the likes of Aokuso and McSpadden.

This will be important for the Fire if they are to challenge teams such as the Boomers with Cayla George and the Flyers with Abbey Bishop and Lauren Jackson.

The last word:

It’s hard to get a good gauge of where the Fire fit amongst this year’s WNBL teams, especially as they did not play any practice games against other WNBL teams.

What we do know is that they have one of the best head coaches in the league, Shannon Seebohm – who is a student of the game and has had such great success in his coaching career to date.

Coach Seebohm would be well aware of the deficiencies of his team last year, but he also knows that his team was unlucky with injuries and COVID protocols. Townsville is still a difficult place for opposing teams to travel and play.

The team appears to have great balance, some veteran leaders, hustle players and some WNBA talent – combine this with coach Seebohm’s ability to have success, and the Fire could be a surprise packet this year.

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