Canada looms as biggest threat to Opals
They are making their debut at the Commonwealth Games, but the Canadian women’s basketball team pose a major threat to the Australian Opals’ gold medal campaign.
That’s the view of Opals centre Cayla George, who will return to her former home of Townsville to play in the preliminary rounds of the GC2018 Basketball competition.
While Australia will enter the competition as the reigning champions - having won gold at Melbourne 2006, the only other Games to feature basketball – Canada will enter the competition as the Opals’ biggest obstacle.
“For sure, Canada will be the toughest,” George told GC2018.com.
“We had pre-games against them before the Olympics and the worlds in the last cycle, 2014-16, so we’ve come across them a few times. They’re always tough.
“They’re kind of like the Aussies really, they play with their heart on their sleeve and they play really hard so they’ll be a great competitive team to go up against for sure.”
The two teams will meet in the evening session on Sunday 8 April at the Townsville Convention and Exhibition Centre, with Australia the number one seed and Canada number two.
George, who made her international debut in 2007, also branded reigning bronze medallists England strong contenders for the gold medal. Canada will play England in the evening session on Friday 6 April and Australia face England in the last day of competition before qualifying finals, Monday 9 April.
Both literally and figuratively, the Australian women have big shoes to fill. When the Opals claimed gold in 2006, they went on to win the world championships in the same year.
At the time, George was playing at the AIS in Canberra and was inspired by the women’s gold rush. With 2018 also a world championship year, she hopes the team can replicate the success of their predecessors.
“That was pretty cool to watch on the telly,” she said.
“The Comm Games really got me enticed to watch more and more of the Opals and to make sure I was aware of what they were doing, and then a few months later they won gold at the world championships which was insane.
“That’s how they did it, they smashed the Commonwealth Games in 2006 then went on to win the gold at the world championships.
“Hopefully we can repeat that 2006 year, who knows. We’ll definitely come into the Comm Games in peak fitness, wanting to be on the podium and wanting to win that colour. I don’t want to mention it but we all know what colour we’re after.”
The home crowd advantage, which cheered on George through three WNBL championships with the Townsville Fire, will be key.
When George isn’t playing overseas she bases herself in Cairns with family, which will make her debut Commonwealth Games even more memorable.
“With the Games being in north Queensland, it adds a little bit of extra excitement for myself,” she said.
“Hopefully we get a lot of those Fire fans and the big support we get with the Fire at our games there in Townsville.
“Townsville people are usually pretty loud which is great, so hopefully the atmosphere stays pretty electric.”
George grew up in Adelaide dreaming of playing basketball for Australia.
So much so that at 11, she dreamed of getting married wearing her future Opals bodysuit.
“I’ve done [basketball] since I was young and I just didn’t want to stop and I still don’t,” she said.
“For me it’s not really a job which is such a blessing. It’s more something I love to do.
“I love basketball and I just didn’t see the alternative, it was just basketball or nothing so I just kept playing.”
The Australian team has arrived in Townsville after a training camp in Italy, with the squad looking forward to wearing the green and gold in front of a home crowd.
According to George, the team comradery is one of the best parts of the sport.
“The people I’ve met throughout my lifetime in this sport are amazing, absolutely amazing, like friendships for life,” she said.
“The vibe is great, we have a great culture, we’ve always had a great culture with the Opals.
“After Rio, which was pretty disappointing for the Opals as a whole, we’ve just tried to regroup and come back bigger and better than ever.”