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Tight knit Lightning picked beyond skill

Via Suncorp Super Netball

IT WAS THE CLUB THAT DIDN’T EXIST, PARACHUTED INTO A HOME THAT WAS REPEATEDLY OVERLOOKED.

Barely a year after its formation, the Sunshine Coast Lightning has harnessed the potential of its cosmopolitan elements and is now touching distance from a historic Suncorp Super Netball title.

The chemistry shown on and off the court by the Lightning has been a driving force behind their march to the Grand Final against rival expansion side GIANTS Netball.

From their first game, against competition powerhouse the Queensland Firebirds, the start-up outfit has been spirited, organised, cohesive and competitive.

Assembled from scratch by head coach Noeline Taura and her assistant Kylee Byrne, and led by captain Geva Mentor, they have surprised many by the ability to knit so quickly into a team with championship potential.

Their cohesion was no accident, according to star recruit Caitlin Bassett.

The Australia Diamonds shooter said Taurua carefully selected the foundation roster based on qualities that aren’t obvious to the naked eye.

“Noels picked the team, not just on skill but on personality,” Bassett said.

“If you have a team that enjoys being around each other they’ll combine better.”

The Lightning were one of three new clubs – the others being the GIANTS Netball and Magpies Netball Club – introduced for this year’s revamped national netball league.

The result of a partnership between Melbourne Storm Rugby League Club and the University of the Sunshine Coast, the new entry is based at Sippy Downs which is so close to some of the region’s most stunning surf beaches you can smell salt in the air and hear waves raking at the sand.

It is the first national league sporting franchise to be based at the Sunshine Coast.

The club’s first signing, Stephanie Wood, is virtually a home town hero but the rest of the roster has been drawn from a variety of destinations and backgrounds.

Mentor captained England at the 2015 World Cup, midcourter Laura Langman is one of New Zealand’s greatest players, Erena Mikaere is another Kiwi and defender Karla Mostert is a trailblazing South African.

Training partner Maria Latua is from Fiji, and that’s just the international components.

Kelsey Browne traded chilly Melbourne for the Sunshine Coast while shooter Cara Koenen discovered netball as a youngster living on Magnetic Island, a ferry ride from Townsville in north Queensland.

Dropping so many different characters from diverse backgrounds into a new environment helped these former strangers bond and develop.

“That’s been one of the biggest benefits and one of our strengths this year, that a lot of us have moved away from family and friends, from our close circles,” Browne said.

“We’ve got each other up here. A lot of the time if we do want to do social things it is with each other, forming the connection off the court really translates on the court.”

Bassett took a punt on the expansion club after establishing herself as one of the world’s premier shooters at the West Coast Fever.

Others took similar risks, but the moves have so far paid off.

She played alongside Mikaere at the Fever, and Mentor was a teammate of Browne’s at the Vixens, but otherwise none of them brought existing combinations.

“There’s no cliques,” Bassett said.

The Lightning can expect support from a whole state in the Grand Final, with even the most parochial Firebirds fans likely to fall in behind the Queenslanders.

The loudest supporters, however, are the ones who have embraced the new club as their own and made the trip to the Brisbane Entertainment Centre from the coast.

“It’s so exciting for the Sunshine Coast already, the community is really excited that we have made finals,” Browne said.

Sunshine Coast Lightning will host GIANTS Netball on Saturday June 17 at 7.00pm AEST. Get your tickets, or if you can’t make it to the game, tune in live on Channel 9 (9Gem in WA, NT and SA) or the Netball Live mobile app.

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