BENDIGO'S Suncorp Super netball star Caitlin Thwaites will be aiming to depart the game with a premiership when the 2020 finals series begins this weekend.
Thwaites on Monday morning announced her retirement from the top-level, effective from the end of the season.
The decision brings to an end a superb 18 seasons in the national league for the 33-year-old, who is enjoying one of her finest ever with the premiership favourite Melbourne Vixens.
Thwaites was again at the top of her game in a 58-54 victory over the Sunshine Coast Lightning on Sunday, which rounded out the Vixens' preparations for this Saturday's start to the finals series.
After 18 incredible seasons, @CaitlinThwaites will run out for one last time this finals series Caity, you have one of the biggest hearts in netball, and are so incredibly loved and respected by the entire netball family Thanks for the memories.— Melbourne Vixens (@MelbourneVixens) September 27, 2020
The former Australian Diamonds star said her decision to retire from the game at the top level was only a recent one.
"I think I've put off making that decision because we are all dealing with a lot in this crazy season, but you have to sacrifice a lot to deal with the demands of being an elite athlete and the time away from my family, away from my partner has been increasingly harder to do," Thwaites said on the club's website on Monday.
"My priorities have shifted a bit, and I want to focus on those other areas of my life.
"In saying that, I'm loving being out there and playing.
"I feel like I'm still playing well and the fact that my body is still holding up, that's kind of made me question if it is the right decision ... but I think it's definitely the right time for me and I'm excited for what's ahead."
Thwaites, who has represented Australia in both netball and volleyball, entered the national league as a 15-year-old with Melbourne Kestrels in 2002.
Her career has included stints at five clubs, including two with the Vixens.
She became a foundation member of the Vixens in 2008 and was a member of the club's first premiership in 2009.
In 2011, she joined Wellington-based ANZ Championship side Central Pulse, before crossing to New South Wales Swifts from 2014 to 2016.
Following the formation of the Super Netball league in 2017, Thwaites played two seasons with Collingwood Magpies before she headed home to the Vixens in 2019.
She has played 230 national league game and only recently went past former Vixens team-mate and fellow central Victorian Sharelle McMahon, who finished her career in 2013 on 227 games.
McMahon only recently paid tribute to Thwaites in the Bendigo Advertiser for the way she had embraced her changing role in the Vixens side, after spending much of the 2020 season at goal attack.
"She hasn't spent a lot of time out of goal attack during her career, so she really has had to learn a completely new position and learn new patterning," she said.
"Not only that, it's a very different fitness you need to run in that position. So she has had to work extremely hard to get where she is.
"As the assistant coach with Vixens, I have obviously been working really closely with her through that role, and what I have loved is just her openness to take on a new challenge.
"I am sure there are others - given the same situation - that wouldn't approach it in the same way.
"I think Caitlin needs to be congratulated for what she has been able to do this year - she is having a huge impact on the Vixens and their form.
"There's no doubt her new role has added so much flexibility and variation. and that's impacting on the team as a whole."
Thwaites made her international debut for the Diamonds in 2012 and announced her retirement late last year after playing in 55 tests.
She won gold medals with the Diamonds at the 2014 Commonwealth Games, 2015 World Cup and a silver medal at the 2018 Commonwealth Games.
My priorities have shifted a bit, and I want to focus on those other areas of my life. In saying that, I'm loving being out there and playing.Caitlin Thwaites
Thwaites praised the support of her family and partner Adam as integral to the longevity and success of her career.
"They deal with all the highs and lows and they have supported me through my entire career and been a part of that rollercoaster, and at times when I've dealt with adversity or hard times, they've really kept me together and helped me through," she said.
"A huge thank you to my parents - who have done so much for me and travelled around the world to support me - and my partner Adam as well, who's been my rock.
"I think the sacrifices that he as well as my family have made in order for me to keep doing this year after year have been huge.
"The other thanks from me is to the teams that I've been a part of - all of the teams.
"To the coaches who I've learnt so much from, support staff, fans and all of my teammates and friends along the way who have made it so fun.
"I feel so lucky and grateful for the opportunities netball has given me and thankful to all of the people who have been part of that along the way.
"They've all contributed to what I've been able to do, so I very much appreciate everyone who's had an impact on my career."
The Vixens, who meet the Lightning in this Saturday's semi-final, will be looking for a pair of replacements in the goal circle at season's end after goal attack Tegan Philip also announced her retirement on Monday.
Grand final MVP in the club's 2014 premiership win, Philip has played all 11 of her national league seasons with the Vixens.
Caity 😭😭😭 Honestly one of the very best people in netball and a legend of our sport. Everything I said when she retired from the Diamonds last year still holds true. Love you @CaitlinThwaites, can't wait to see what you do next https://t.co/FYhkOou5cWhttps://t.co/X4csjjC0vt— Megan Maurice (@meganmaurice) September 27, 2020
Massive congratulations @CaitlinThwaites & @teganphilip on amazing careers.— Nat Medhurst (@natmedhurst) September 27, 2020
Caity, what you have achieved & especially what you have done over these last few years is a testament to you. 🙌🏽
All the best for these last few weeks before retired life begins 💜💙 https://t.co/mXApeL1aQG
And there it is......let’s just leave this here for the moment, enjoy Finals and watch one of the best humans do her thing!!!! @CaitlinThwaites good luck for Finals and may the last part of your extraordinary journey be everything you want it to be!!!! https://t.co/nO8ZgeMRxx— Sue Gaudion (@SueGaudion) September 27, 2020
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