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 Back 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 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 Thunderbirds coach Tania Obst. Obst maintained the team’s success story, taking the 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 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.
With New Zealand sides no longer contesting in the competition, three Australian-based teams in GIANTS Netball, Sunshine Coast Lightning and Collingwood Magpies Netball were established. The number of international import players was uncapped and an unprecedented broadcast deal for Australian netball was achieved 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.
Ryan’s two-year coaching contract was not extended with Tania Obst announced as the head coach for 2019 and beyond.
Evolution of the Adelaide Thunderbirds
With a new coach at the helm, from the start of the 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 features five exciting South Australian talents, complemented by international calibre players, including one of the world’s highest profile netballers in Maria Folau and Commonwealth Games Gold Medallists.