HOW does a small Tamworth Thunderbolt side stop a bigger Coffs Harbour Suns led by former Sydney Flame and Olympian Annie Le Fleur?
That’s the question and job facing coach Greg Irwin and his young squad entering tonight’s Waratah State League match at the Tamworth Sports Dome when the Thunderbolts and Suns tip off at 5pm.
One positive for Irwin and his side is the fact they have played La Fleur once already this season.
“We faced her a few weeks ago over in Coffs,” Irwin said.
“We were a little light on. We had four missing and got off to a bad start, as much a result of their good play as anything.
“Their first quarter was one of the best I’ve witnessed in the State League.
“And Annie La Fleur can still play.
“She didn’t score a lot of points against us but she got a lot of defensive rebounds and led their transition play.
“I hope people come and have a look at her.
“She’s still very good and Coffs have a very good side.
“They are the benchmark this season.
“I don’t know if anyone can beat them.”
However his Thunderbolts will give it a good crack tonight.
The return of Leica Le Brocq and Jesse Brown this season has added a lot of experience and leadership.
Emily Staunton has been in good scoring form while Maddison Hunt and Aimee Diebold are finding form at the right end of the season.
“We do have a good group,” Irwin said.
“We may be a little small but that’s something we have to deal with.
“This game might be about stopping their transition and putting some pressure on the rebounding and slowing the ball down.”
While the Thunderbolt women host the Suns, the John Ireland-coached Thunderbolt men tackle the Bellinger Valley Braves (7pm tipoff) tonight.
They will do so with a strong squad led by Brett Arnull, US import Marshawn Hampton and centre Josh Deland.
Two brothers, Nathan and Justin Leehy, will also be key players against a side in its first season of Waratah State League.
While Justin Leehy has been a fixture in the Thunderbolts for a few seasons where his dynamic athleticism has been a highlight, his younger brother Nathan is also making a mark this season, Ireland said.
“Nathan has been improving all the time,” Ireland said.
“He was a very good junior but than had a couple of years off.
“This season he’s back and been making other guys play for their spots.
“He’s started to gain in confidence too.”
THUNDERBOLT MEN: Ben Monckton, Brett Arnull, Marshawn Hampton, Arfaj Chinmouth, Luke Krug, Justin Leehy, Roman Jurd, Nick Kay, Josh Deland, Nathan Leehy.