NETBALL: The Queensland Firebirds have swooped on rising young star Tara Hinchliffe as they look to bounce back after a disappointing showing in the inaugural Super Netball season.
The Firebirds, back-to-back champions in 2015-16, did not feature in the finals this year with the Sunshine Coast Lightning claiming the premiership with a dominant win over fellow competition newcomers GWS Giants on Saturday night.
While the celebrations continue for the Lightning, the Firebirds have wasted no time planning for next season.
With the free agents list released today the Firebirds have already re-signed the bulk of this year's line-up, including star shooter Romelda Aiken, Gabbi Simpson and Grettel Tippett.
They have also locked in Hinchliffe. The captain of the Queensland U19 side is one of three defenders named in the Firebirds squad, along with Laura Clemesha and Kim Jenner.
Hinchliffe, who was named MVP at the National Netball Championships last month and has been included in the Australian side to compete at the World Youth Cup, is seen as a key signing for the Firebirds.
"Tara is a special talent and we view her as having the potential to become a 10-year Firebirds player,” Netball Queensland high performance general manager Richard McInnes said.
"She's comfortable playing anywhere in the defensive circle, has outstanding timing and is relentless with the pressure she puts on opponents. She looks to make things happen from the back of the court and ignite her team.”
Hinchliffe is one of nine players already signed by the Firebirds with a tenth and final player to be confirmed in the coming month.
There is some speculation that former Australian skipper Laura Geitz will return to the fold.
Geitz missed the 2017 season after giving birth to her son Barney in February.
"We have a number of high-profile candidates that we're evaluating and hope to provide an update to fans in due course,” McInnes said.
"We are working hard to ensure we find the right fit for the balance of the team to put us in the best position possible to build on our strong finish to 2017.
"With the core of our squad retained and season of strong growth behind us, we're confident 2018 will be an exciting, successful year for the Firebirds.”
Firebirds 2018 squad: Romelda Aiken, Mahalia Cassidy, Laura Clemesha, Tara Hinchliffe, Kimberley Jenner, Jemma Mi Mi, Caitlyn Nevins, Gabi Simpson, Gretel Tippett.