When Caitlin Thwaites played her 50th Test, at this year’s Netball World Cup in Liverpool, Caitlin Bassett's long-time understudy remarked to a few of her Diamonds teammates that she felt like she had sat on the bench for at least 50 more.
On Sunday, after 54 official caps - or 55 if she wins some farewell court-time in the Constellation Cup decider against New Zealand in Perth - Thwaites will end a fine international career that has delivered World Cup and Commonwealth Games gold medals, as well as a subsequent pair of silvers, since her 2012 debut.
While accustomed to waiting in the queue behind her friend Bassett, whose 100th Test is expected to coincide with Thwaites’ swansong, the team-first player has embraced whatever role her coaches have asked her to play.
“That’s I guess been my journey and my path along the way to be able to find ways to contribute - not necessarily just on the court,’’ Thwaites, who will continue with the Vixens for the 2020 Suncorp Super Netball season, said from Perth on Thursday.
“I’m proud of the fact that I’ve been able to go for as long as I have; it’s definitely not been easy sailing across the whole time, but I’m proud of what the team’s been able to achieve while I’ve been a part of it and hope that I’ve contributed to some of what we’ve been able to put out there.
“I’m incredibly grateful to have had the opportunities that I have had and that’s why I’ve tried to keep pushing myself and be a part of it for as long as I have: because I’ve still got that drive to be better and keep pushing.
“At times it is hard, with all of the challenges that we have along the way, but also I’m so grateful and feel very privileged to be part of such an amazing team.’’
A consistently sweet, metronomic shooter who has been able to play either a holding or more fluid, moving style, Thwaites had to wait six years between her first national squad selection and making her Test debut against South Africa in Wellington, but has since scored 1100 goals for her country at a laudable 92 per cent accuracy.
A member of the Diamonds' leadership group for the past two years, the 32-year-old admits she had been unsure of her future after Liverpool - from where she returned to help the Vixens to the preliminary final, before signing on at domestic level for another season.
“I did think about potentially calling it a day (internationally) then,’’ Thwaites says, having watched the gold medal game against the Silver Ferns from - yes - the bench, the day after sinking 30 goals from 30 attempts in the semi-final against South Africa.
“When it came down to it with this tour I just felt like there might be a little bit left and I still feel like I’m playing pretty well. So this tour, to be honest, has been a bit of bonus time, and it’s been great to be able to enjoy it with the team.
“I said to the girls (on Wednesday) in light of this announcement that we’ve still got a job to do. We want to win this series, we want to retain the Constellation Cup, and we also want to get out there and celebrate ‘CBass’ 100th game, so we’ve got a lot of hard work ahead of us in the next couple of days.’’
A young Cailtin grew up in Bendigo dreaming of being an Olympian - at least for as long as it took her to realise her's was not an Olympic sport. For this one-time Australian volleyballer, another achievement has been to use her profile as a platform to advocate for mental health and wellbeing awareness.
The big benchmark events - including the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games and Sydney's triumphant 2015 World Cup - were the obvious competitive highlights. although her memories of the Gold Coast and Liverpool sequels mix fondness with the hurt that endures from a pair of dramatic one-goal finals defeats.
As she heads into retirement, Thwaites is proud of her contribution both on the court and to the team culture beyond it, and honoured to have played with some of the “legends” of the game, including Julie Corletto, Sharni Layton, Renae Ingles and Laura Geitz.
“Everybody’s got their own stories and to be able to form really great friendships and memories with so many of the girls that have gone through, it’s been one hell of a ride.’’
A shout-out, too, for Bassett, who stood not just in Thwaites’ way, but by her side. “I’ve been incredibly grateful to ‘CBass’, she’s been the benchmark, so it’s been really great to be able to have that to strive for and aim for in our own ranks.’’
She says the timing is right now, at the end of the four-year cycle, and next there is a wedding to plan with long-time partner Adam Carlson, perhaps the chance to finish her tertiary studies, and then a return to SSN pre-season training with the Vixens.
“It’s been a long year, so after after we have a little break we’ll be really looking forward to knuckling down and getting out there and trying to get that flag for the Vixens. I feel we’ve done a lot of hard work and we want to get out there and really earn it.’’
Written by Linda Pearce
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