Crucial test as Bendigo Spirit's season tips off 

Missing an injured star, an import and with a double-header on the road, the Bendigo Bank Spirit faces as tough an opening to the WNBL season as any club.

The Spirit’s 2012-13 season tips-off in Adelaide tonight against a Lightning side which will be desperate for redemption.

Adelaide failed to make the grand final after topping the ladder last season and has brought in more talent to boost its title hopes.

“They’ve recruited very well, they lost Abby Bishop (but) they’ve brought in Nadeen Payne from Townsville and Australian Opal Laura Hodges is back from a few years over in Europe,” Spirit coach Bernie Harrower said.

“Going into Adelaide first up with an injury to Renae Camino and sending our import home is not ideal preparation for us, but that’s the way it goes.”

Hodges and Payne’s height complement the Lightning’s reigning league MVP Suzy Batkovic, giving Adelaide the chance to exploit the Spirit’s weakness – its lack of size.

Centre Gabe Richards, plus forwards Chelsea Aubry and Hayley Munro, will be charged with shutting down Adelaide’s tall timber, while the Spirit’s potent backcourt is where it will try to win the game.

Veteran guard Kristi Harrower, Bulleen recruit Chantella Perera, Kelly Wilson, Jane Chalmers and rising star Madeleine Garrick will need to impact the scoreboard for Bendigo to cause an upset.

How the Spirit’s players carrying injuries back-up for tomorrow night’s clash with West Coast in Perth will be telling to the team’s goal of at least splitting its games on the road this season.

Harrower, Wilson, Perera and Richards are all less than 100 per cent fit, but vital to the cause.

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West Coast only won two games last season, but one of those was against Bendigo and it has strengthened its squad – most notably with former Spirit star Deanna Smith.

Ex-Bendigo players Lisa Wallbutton and Toni Edmonson have also headed west and the Spirit’s coach is wary of the Waves.

“There’s three Bendigo players within that group. They’ll have a fair idea of what we do and how we go about things with those personnel and that will make our task even harder,” Harrower said.

“It will be (important to stop Smith), along with most of their other players. Melissa Marsh is still a player that can shoot the lights out if she gets going.

“They’re a team clubs will have trouble going into play against in Perth, especially with the travel factor as well.”

The Spirit should take confidence into the opening weekend, though, after winning the WNBL pre-season tournament and getting its chemistry back after a difficult season last year.

“When we get our new import in I’ll be pretty happy with the group we’ve put together,” Harrower said.

“As I keep saying, the pleasing thing about where we’re at right now is the chemistry within the group – it’s certainly been a breath of fresh air.”

Both the Spirit’s matches this weekend tip off at 7.30pm local time.

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