When Caitlin Thwaites finished her first stint as a Vixen after a disappointing 2010 season and signed with the Wellington-based Central Pulse, she never imagined she would be back in Victorian navy blue.
“It didn’t seem like it was a possibility at the time,’’ the 32-year-old admits with a laugh. "Probably a hope, because, growing up in Bendigo, when you’re going through the pathway and playing your grassroots netball, you want to play for the team that represents you.
“But sometimes things happen for a reason. I’ve ended up back here and I think it’s a really good thing, a positive thing, and we’re looking forward to the rest of the season.’’
And what a start, too. Once the shaky first five minutes were over against the Queensland Firebirds, the Vixens settled impressively, and the success of Thwaites’ official reunion with her sometime Diamonds’ teammate Tegan Philip was a key factor in the 73-61 result.
Thwaites can not identify exactly what was missing in the beginning, but is happy to enthuse about what followed, and also what lies ahead in her collaboration with Philip, the 103-match Vixen whose 23 goal from 24 attempts complemented her new partner’s stellar 50/51.
“I absolutely love playing with ‘Teegs’,’’ says Thwaites, ahead of the pair’s next assignment on Sunday against the Giants at Melbourne Arena. “She’s such a pocket rocket, she’s absolutely got speed to burn, so the ability for us to be able to utilise each other’s strengths I think is a real positive.
“We’ve got variability within the combination, so we can run more of a closed circle with one or both of us in, or we can do some positional switches, or anything like that, but I think it’s great as well to have her maturity, that experience, and know that she’s a problem-solver out there, too, and we can support each other.
“It’s just a great connection, which hopefully will grow and improve as we go along, but I think we’re in a pretty good place of understanding each other’s games as it is. And with the firepower coming from both of us, the defenders can’t afford to ignore one, because the other one will make you pay.’’
Since first departing the Vixens, Thwaites has also donned the Swifts and Magpies colours, having started as a Melbourne Kestrel in the original national league.
Full circle? “I guess so. We’re not playing in orange, so the Kestrels bit hasn’t been able to happen, but I’m glad. I think navy blue’s much more flattering than orange!’’
In some ways, the Netball World Cup and Commonwealth Games gold medallist admits, it doesn’t seem like eight years between Vixens forays - but, then again, perhaps it does. And the biggest difference is on the inside.
“I feel like each of those years, each of the teams that I’ve spent time at in between, I think there’s been some really key learnings for me,’’ she says.
“I know the club has gone on and had their own experiences and I’ve done the same, so I’m hoping to bring all of those experiences and the learnings that I’ve had about my own game and about netball in general to hopefully add to what’s the group’s had. It’s exciting, I feel like I’ve matured along the way and hopefully that can assist the team.’’
Clearly, the Giants will have been stung by their upset 63-56 loss to the rival NSW Swifts, and the Vixens are wary of both the force of the rebound and the likelihood that Caitlin Bassett will soon flourish after a pre-season derailed by a fractured arm and a rather modest return that ended with the Diamonds' captain on the bench.
“She’s just going to grow as the season goes on,’’ says Thwaites, who has 47 Test caps of her own. “It’s hard to ask somebody to be at their best when you’ve only been on court for a couple of weeks, so I’ve got no doubt that she’ll come back and come back really quickly.
“And with the maturity of what the Giants have got I think they will right themselves and make a few corrections pretty quickly. They’ll be out there and hungry, so we’ll have to be on our game, that’s for sure.’’
Written by Linda Pearce
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