With South Australia’s state netball league recognised as the leading competition in the nation throughout the 1980s and 1990s, there was never a doubt that when Australia’s first national netball competition – the Commonwealth Bank Trophy (CBT) – was launched in 1997 the South Australian teams would see success.
South Australia was represented by the Adelaide Thunderbirds and Adelaide Ravens, with Netball SA holding the licenses for both clubs. Both teams were assigned four state league clubs to draw players from, with the Adelaide Thunderbirds aligned with Cheerio, Contax, Matrics and Oakdale.
Premiership success for the Adelaide Thunderbirds came in the second season of the CBT when the team defeated the Sydney Swifts 48-42 in front of a home crowd. The starting seven featured Rebecca Sanders, Kathryn Harby-Williams, Jacqui Delaney, Sarah Sutter, Peta Squire, Cassie Mogg and Alex Hodge. The team was coached by former Contax coach, Marg Angove.
The same line-up went onto win the 1999 premiership, convincingly defeating the Ravens 62-30.
Following the departure of the Ravens in 2002, the Adelaide Thunderbirds have since flown the flag as the state’s sole netball team.
After 10 years at the helm, Angove retired from the head coaching role at the end of the 2006 season.
Coaching the team in 2007 and the final year of the CBT was current Adelaide Thunderbirds coach, Tania Obst. Obst maintained the team’s success story, taking the Adelaide Thunderbirds to the final’s series.
A new league formed
After 11 years of the CBT, 2008 saw the inaugural season of the ANZ Championship. The competition was contested by 10 teams – five from Australia and five from New Zealand. The new league coincided with the announcement of a new Adelaide Thunderbirds head coach in Jane Woodlands-Thompson, the daughter of Angove.
Over the nine years of the ANZ Championships, the Adelaide Thunderbirds won two premierships – 2010 and 2013 – both played in front of a home crowd of 10,000 at the Adelaide Entertainment Centre. In 2010 the Adelaide Thunderbirds defeated Waikato Bay of Plenty Magic 52-48 and in 2013, the Queensland Firebirds 50-48.
Throughout the ANZ Championships, the Adelaide Thunderbirds squad boasted star internationals and a host of Australian Diamonds. In 2010, Jamaican Carla Borrego was recruited and was crowned the season’s highest goal scorer. Then-rookie Sharni Layton was named the Best Young Player.
The 2010 premiership team was captained by Nat von Bertouch, with the playing group featuring Geva Mentor, Erin Bell, Emily Beaton and Mo’onia Gerrard.
Von Bertouch, who was now the Diamonds’ captain, lead the team to victory in 2013 with a few new faces in the team including Bec Bulley, Sam Poolman and Renae Ingles.
Woodlands-Thompson’s last year as head coach was 2015, with her predecessor Michelle de Dekker.
The super league is born
The Suncorp Super Netball league – the world’s best netball competition - was launched in 2017 with all teams based in Australia.
Three new Australian-based teams entered the fold as GIANTS Netball, Sunshine Coast Lightning and Collingwood Magpies Netball were established. The number of international import players became uncapped and an unprecedented broadcast deal for Australian netball was secured with Channel 9.
The start of a new league once again coincided with the Adelaide Thunderbirds announcing a new coach in Dan Ryan, who was assistant to Woodlands-Thompson for four years.
Erin Bell captained the side in 2017 and former Silver Fern defender Leana de Bruin in 2018.
On-court results were not in favour of the Adelaide Thunderbirds throughout 2017 and 2018. However, there were silver linings with the emergence of young South Australian talents in Hannah Petty, Sasha Glasgow and Charlee Hodges, and a stellar 2018 season by Kate Shimmin who returned to the club following a year at the Queensland Firebirds.
Tania Obst was announced as the head coach for 2019 and beyond.
With a new coach at the helm, from the start of the 2019 recruiting period the Adelaide Thunderbirds showed its intent for the 2019 SSN season, securing highly sought after Jamaican international defender, Shamera Sterling.
The 2019 squad featured five exciting South Australian talents, complemented by international calibre players, including one of the world’s highest profile netballers in Maria Folau.
That season, the Adelaide Thunderbirds showcased its commitment to delivering an exciting brand of netball for members, fans and national broadcast audiences.
Despite finishing the season in seventh position on the ladder, the club proved itself to be fiercely competitive. It laid solid foundations and forged the strong connections required for success in the future.
Obst brought a wealth of national and international experience to the Head Coach position. Highly regarded netball figure Cathy Fellows, and former Adelaide Thunderbirds and Australian Diamonds captain, Nat von Bertouch also joined the clubs’ coaching ranks.
After 27 consecutive losses in the league, the club started the 2019 season strong, claiming victory against the West Coast Fever in Round 1, celebrating with an elated home crowd.
In 2020, the club was pleased to see strong retention in the roster, with the squad excited to welcome further local and international talent in both Maisie Nankivell and Lenize Potgieter.
Following the outbreak of COVID-19 in March that year, the 2020 season was delayed until August and eventually played in a Hub format in Queensland.
In 2021, the Adelaide Thunderbirds welcomed Matilda Garrett, Elle McDonald, Latanya Williams, and local talent Georgie Horjus officially joined the club for the first time as a contracted athlete.
The season returned to a regular home and away format, until a COVID-19 outbreak sent a series of Australian states in lockdown and the final three rounds of the year were once again played in Queensland.
In 2022, the Adelaide Thunderbirds celebrated its 25th anniversary, paying tribute to its proud legacy, star studded line-ups and championship victories.
Queenslander Tippah Dwan joined the side and South Australian talent Tayla Williams was elevated from training partner status to an official part of the contracted 10.
In round three of the season, the team unveiled its Heritage Dress, specially designed in the club's inaugural colours of blue, purple and silver.
A plethora of past players attended the match and were celebrated for their significant contributions to the club's rich roots and fierce future.
On court, the team continued to build on Obst's vision for success and heartbreakingly fell just one win shy of making its first finals appearance since 2013.
Thunderbirds dare to dream
In 2023, exactly 10 years on from the club's last finals campaign and premiership victory, the stars aligned as the side etched its place in the history books.
The addition of English international Eleanor Cardwell and elevation of SA talent Lucy Austin proved to be the final pieces of the puzzle as the side finished second on the ladder and secured their place in the finals.
In the major semi-final, a thrilling one-point victory over the NSW Swifts in overtime sent the Thunderbirds straight through to the Grand Final as the side continued to make history for the club.
Two weeks later, they met the Swifts once again in front of 9,000+ fans at John Cain Arena - the stadium a sea of pink and red as the fans of each side filled the stands.
A strong start for the Thunderbirds gave them a eight-goal lead at half-time, before the Swifts fought back in the second to level the scores and for the second time in two weeks, the match entered overtime.
Following a nail biting final five minutes, it was an iconic Shamera Sterling intercept and Eleanor Cardwell super shot that put the Thunderbirds ahead and eventually gave them the fairytale finish they had dreamed of.
For the first time in Suncorp Super Netball history, the Adelaide Thunderbirds were crowned champions and the trophy was brought home to South Australia.