Women's National Basketball League

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Women's National Basketball League (WNBL)
The WNBL Logo
Formerly Women's Interstate Basketball Conference (WIBC) (1981)
Sport Basketball
Founded 1981
President Paul Maley
Inaugural season 1981
No. of teams 9 (2015-16)
Country  Australia
Continent FIBA Oceania (Oceania)
Most recent champion(s) Townsville Fire (1st title)
Most titles University of Canberra Capitals (7 titles)
TV partner(s) ABC 1981 - 2015
TBA 2015 -2020
Sponsor(s) Wattle Valley
Level on pyramid 1
Official website WNBL.com.au
WNBL teams the Logan Thunder in white and the University of Canberra Capitals in blue battle for the ball in a game on 20 January 2012

The Women's National Basketball League (WNBL) is the pre-eminent women's professional basketball league in Australia. It is currently composed of nine teams. The league was founded in 1981 and is the women's counterpart to the National Basketball League (NBL). League play started in 1981; the regular season is currently played from October to March with the Grand Final in either late February or early March.

Several WNBL teams have NBL counterparts. The Adelaide Lightning, Melbourne Boomers, Sydney Uni Flames, Townsville Fire and West Coast Waves are the current WNBL teams sharing the market with an NBL team (although the University of Canberra Capitals and the Dandenong Rangers shared a market with the Canberra Cannons and the South Dragons respectively, before both NBL teams became defunct).


Founding of the WNBL[edit]

In mid 1980 three coaches – Ted Powell (West Adelaide Bearcats), Kaye McFarlane (North Adelaide Rockets) and Brendan Flynn (Noarlunga Tigers ) met at the Governor Hindmarsh Hotel in Adelaide and agreed to pursue the formation of an Interstate competition. It was agreed to write to three Victorian Clubs, CYMS, Telstars and St Kilda inviting them to participate. In January 1981 at the annual Warnnambool Tournament the six clubs met in a disused store room at the Warnnambool Stadium. The meeting was chaired by Pat Moore (SA State President) and attended by the three SA coaches plus Bill Palmer (St Kilda), Steve Breheny (CYMS) and Ray Tomlinson (Telstars).

The meeting resolved to form a two-round competition between these teams to be held in July and August in 1981. The basis for the idea was that many of the top sides in both States wanted a varied competition from their standard State League as well as a suitable preparation for the Australian Club Championship, which was held on an annual basis for the top 24 teams in the country. There was also much excitement with the formation of the men’s National League in 1979 and the women felt that one of best ways to develop the game was to provide more opportunities for the best players and clubs to play against each other more regularly.

A major consideration was finance and with this in mind the competition was formed with the six teams with a full home and away series between all teams with three games on one weekend to save costs. The NSW-based clubs of Bankstown and Sutherland were not happy to be left out due to costs and offered to pay their own way to Melbourne and Adelaide where they would play each team once for double points.

In 1981, the Australian Institute of Sport was also opened and the men’s head coach Dr. Adrian Hurley (who was to lead the Australian Boomers in the 1988 and 1992 Olympics) contacted the clubs and asked whether the AIS could also participate in the competition to commence later that year.

The nine teams in the inaugural season of the league were: AIS (Australian Institute of Sport), Bankstown Bruins, CYMS (Catholic Young Men's Society), Melbourne Telstars, Noarlunga Tigers, North Adelaide Rockets, St. Kilda Saints, Sutherland Sharks, West Adelaide Bearcats. The competition commenced on 19 June 1981 with the first game to be played in Adelaide between the AIS and West Adelaide. The competition was called the Women’s Interstate Basketball Conference with each team paying the sum of $25 to be a part of the WIBC – giving a central fund of $200 to conduct the competition.

Early years (1981-1985)[edit]

The inaugural winner was St. Kilda Saints defeating the North Adelaide Rockets 77–58. St. Kilda also went on to the win the Victorian State Championship and the Australian Club Championship in Melbourne, defeating Bankstown Bruins in the final. St. Kilda had three Australian representatives in Tracy Morris, Karen Ogden and Patricia Cockrem. Ogden became the national league’s first dual Most Valuable Player award winner when she took the individual trophy in 1982 (the first season it was presented) and again in 1983.

In 1982, the competition expanded into another State with the entry of a combined Brisbane team. The new revised program saw Victorian teams traveling to NSW and AIS, and NSW teams traveling to South Australia and South Australian teams traveling to Victoria. It was not a full home and away competition but the beginnings of what was to come in the future. The competition also changed its name to the more appropriate Women’s Basketball League.

St. Kilda repeated in 1982 with a grand final win over Bankstown. St. Kilda also won the first two titles in the men’s NBL, which showed the strength of the St. Kilda at that time.

In 1983, Nunawading Spectres led by Robyn Maher easily defeated St. Kilda and went on to win nine WNBL titles during the next 12 years. During the 1983 Australian Club Championships, a workshop was held to discuss women’s basketball and from that meeting came the decision to bring together a second tier of clubs to form the Women’s Conference. There were now 20 women’s teams playing in a home and away competition, which immediately improved the standard of women’s basketball in Australia.

With the NBL finally riding the crest of a sudden wave of popularity, media interest in the women’s league also was on the increase. Most clubs were recognising the need to promote themselves and the image of the league. Double header matches with the men’s NBL and with South East Basketball League games – a secondary men’s interstate competition – pushed the women’s game before a wider spectator audience unfamiliar with the qualify of women’s basketball.

Back in Australia in 1985, the two competitions continued to work together to improve women’s basketball and recognised the need to promote the competition and the individual clubs and athletes. Hobart was winners of the second conference and was keen to enter the main competition however this was not to be until 1986.

League Expansion and Growth (1986-1989)[edit]

When Perth admitted a team for the 1986 Women’s Basketball Conference, the two women’s leagues could rightfully claim that between them they had a truly national competition. The Australian Basketball Federation approved the WBL’s application to be renamed the National Women’s Basketball League and a new era was underway.

1986 was also the first year that the WNBL played its first full home and away competition and next year Perth sought a position in the number league. Perth’s inclusion was on the basis that they paid their own airfares in the first two years and earnt their position. The WNBL as part of their early strategy introduced full equalisation, which was, and still is, the reason that the league has survived, given Australian is such a large country.[citation needed]

Following the success of the Seoul Olympics, the WNBL were ready to enter a new era and appointed Lyn Palmer in the newly created full-time general manager position. Lyn Palmer who had just retired after a distinguished playing career with St. Kilda, Nunawading and Coburg, was looking for a change whilst her husband Bill was general manager of the men’s NBL with Mr. & Mrs. Palmer now heading up the men and women’s leagues.

In 1989 the WNBL gained its first sponsorship in Pony one of Australia’s leading sporting apparel companies at the time for $258,000 and ABC agreed to cover the finals series. The women’s game in Australia was on the move. There were 13 teams in the WNBL for the 1989 season with the Bankstown Bruins changing their name to the Sydney Bruins to try and gain more market exposure in Australia’s largest city.

Continued Growth (1990s)[edit]

The next few years saw the league continue to grow with Australia being awarded the Women’s World Championships in 1994. The pressure was now on to ensure that women’s basketball gained a profile in the country and in 1993 the WNBL teams agreed to contribute some money to enable the game to be televised on a weekly basis by ABC. This was the break through that the sport needed and also coincided with the Sydney Kings taking over the ownership of the Sydney Bruins and the formation of the Sydney Flames.

Coached by Carrie Graf, the Flames became one of Australia’s most popular women’s sporting teams. The Perth Breakers led the way with the bodysuit in the early 1990s whilst the Flames continued to modify the suit, winning the title in 1993 and gaining back page coverage on the Sydney newspapers, a feat never envisaged back in the early 1980s.

With the Women’s World Championships – OZ 94 on our doorstep, Australia’s winningest coach Tom Maher stepped into the role of Australian coach and has led the Opals to be ranked in the top four teams in the world for the past 8 years.

Maher coached the team to a fourth position in the 1994 world championships, a bronze medal in Atlanta in 1996, a bronze medal in Germany in 1998 and a silver medal in Sydney 2000.

In the WNBL Sydney, Melbourne Tigers, Adelaide Lightning and Canberra dominated the finals in the latter 1990s. Adelaide, coached by Jan Stirling, has won four titles, Sydney has won three and Canberra have won two. The AIS won their first title in the first summer season of 1998–99 led by one of the best basketballers in the world, Lauren Jackson.

The AIS are the only team to have retained the same name since 1981, when they entered the inaugural competition. There have been teams from Sydney and Adelaide but each has changed their name during the course of the last 22 seasons.

ABC has continued to televise the league since the first finals in 1989 despite some difficulties in mid-2001 when the ABC contemplated changing their televising of sport. A successful lobby subsequently saw the WNBL and Netball retained on ABC. In 2006–07 the ABC undertook to increase their coverage by showing Friday night games live on ABC digital television as well as a replay in the regular Saturday afternoon slot.

WNBL today[edit]

Financial stability has always been a challenge for the WNBL since its inception. Money has always been difficult to source and all clubs have had to be diligent in expenditure throughout the years.[citation needed]

The WNBL was very stable with eight teams for a number of seasons with Tasmania and Northern Territory not represented. In 2006, Bendigo, through the efforts of a strong community focus for women’s basketball, commenced discussions with Basketball Australia about entering a team for the 2007–2008 season. At the same time Basketball New Zealand had discussions with Basketball Australia about a team from New Zealand entering the next season.

In October 2006 the decision was made to welcome two new teams into the WNBL for the 2007/2008 season in Bendigo Spirit and Christchurch Sirens. Bendigo have brought excellent community support into the league whilst Christchurch have a number of the New Zealand Tall Ferns on their roster. One of the strategic objectives of the WNBL was to see a second team out of Queensland from the south and after some very effective feasibility work, Logan Basketball Association were successful in being admitted into the 2008/2009 season with the Logan Thunder.

Over the years the league has comprised teams who have been Association based and also State based e.g. Canberra and Adelaide. Sydney Flames were a part of the very successful Sydney Kings franchise but in 2002 when the Kings were sold the Flames became a separate identity. For one season they were owned privately and then the following season became a part of the Sydney Uni Sports organization. This has been an excellent relationship for the team, the sport and also has brought excellent benefits into the sport through the educational opportunities through Sydney University.

Adelaide Lightning traditionally a part of the State Association were also privately brought in 2006 when the State Government took over the two league teams that had been managed and controlled by Basketball SA.

As of the 2013–14 WNBL season, the Adelaide Lightning have merged into a partnership with the NBL's Adelaide 36ers which sees the two clubs sharing management and marketing departments, as well as use of the 8,000 seat Adelaide Arena, the largest venue currently used in the WNBL. The collaboration of WNBL and NBL teams from the same city is seen as a way of raising the public profile of both the WNBL and the Lightning, with several Lightning home games played before 36ers games in cross-promoted double headers ensuring the women's game often finishes in front of crowds in excess of 5,000.

Over the years the success of the Opals has been vitally linked to the success of the WNBL. The WNBL has seen the development of famous Opals such as Robyn Maher, Michele Timms, Karen Dalton, Rachael Sporn, Shelley Sandie, Julie Nykiel, Jenny Whittle, Lauren Jackson and Penny Taylor. All have represented Australia with distinction and been key performers season after season for their clubs.

International influence[edit]

The WNBL has been a major stepping-stone for Australians to become noticed in European leagues and the WNBA in the United States. It has also attracted a number of American players who supplement their WNBA salaries by playing in the league. This is possible because the WNBA conducts its season in the Northern Hemisphere summer, which is the off-season for most basketball leagues throughout the world, including the WNBL. A number of international players have played in the WNBL See also:

Competition format[edit]

Regular season[edit]

Following the winter break, teams hold preseasons throughout August and September before the regular season begins in early October.

During the regular season, each team plays 22 games, 11 each home and away. Each team hosts and visits every other team at least once every season.


Main article: WNBL Finals

The top four teams at the end of the regular season advances to the Finals. The team finishing in the first and second position at the completion of the regular season receives home advantages in their one game first round matchup against the team finishing in fourth and third position. The winner of one match advance to the Grand Final. The winner of one match in the Grand Final, with home advantage being awarded to the highest remaining seed. The winner of this series is crowned as WNBL champion.

Current clubs[edit]

The WNBL currently has nine clubs.

Former Clubs[edit]

  • Australian Institute of Sport (AIS)
  • Bankstown Bruins
  • Brisbane Blazers
  • Christchurch Sirens
  • Coburg Cougars
  • Hobart Islanders
  • Logan Thunder
  • Melbourne Tigers
  • Noarlunga Tigers
  • North Adelaide Rockets
  • Nunawading Spectres
  • St. Kilda Saints
  • West Adelaide Bearcats

List of champions[edit]

Past champions[edit]

Season Champion Result Runners-Up
1981 Victoria (Australia) St Kilda Saints 77 – 58 South Australia North Adelaide Rockets
1982 Victoria (Australia) St Kilda Saints (2) 63 – 56 New South Wales Bankstown Bruins
1983 Victoria (Australia) Nunawading Spectres 70 – 46 Victoria (Australia) St Kilda Saints
1984 Victoria (Australia) Nunawading Spectres (2) 78 – 65 South Australia West Adelaide Bearcats
1985 Victoria (Australia) Coburg Cougars 73 – 71 South Australia Noarlunga Tigers
1986 Victoria (Australia) Nunawading Spectres (3) 62 – 51 Australian Capital Territory Australian Institute of Sport
1987 Victoria (Australia) Nunawading Spectres (4) 67 – 59 Victoria (Australia) Coburg Cougars
1988 Victoria (Australia) Nunawading Spectres (5) 71 – 43 South Australia North Adelaide Rockets (2)
1989 Victoria (Australia) Nunawading Spectres (6) 80 – 69 Tasmania Hobart Islanders
1990 South Australia North Adelaide Rockets 72 – 57 Tasmania Hobart Islanders (2)
1991 Tasmania Hobart Islanders 67 – 64 Victoria (Australia) Nunawading Spectres
1992 Western Australia Perth Breakers 58 – 54 Victoria (Australia) Dandenong Rangers
1993 New South Wales Sydney Flames 65 – 64 Western Australia Perth Breakers
1994 South Australia Adelaide Lightning 84 – 77 (OT) Victoria (Australia) Melbourne Tigers
1995 South Australia Adelaide Lightning (2) 50 – 43 Victoria (Australia) Melbourne Tigers (2)
1996 South Australia Adelaide Lightning (3) 80 – 65 New South Wales Sydney Flames
1997 New South Wales Sydney Flames (2) 61 – 56 South Australia Adelaide Lightning
1998 South Australia Adelaide Lightning (4) 67 – 56 New South Wales Sydney Flames (2)
1998–99 Australian Capital Territory Australian Institute of Sport 88 – 79 Western Australia Perth Breakers (2)
1999–00 Australian Capital Territory Canberra Capitals 67 – 50 South Australia Adelaide Lightning (2)
2000–01 New South Wales Sydney Panthers (3) 69 – 65 Australian Capital Territory Canberra Capitals
2001–02 Australian Capital Territory Canberra Capitals (2) 75 – 69 New South Wales Sydney Flames (3)
2002–03 Australian Capital Territory Canberra Capitals (3) 69 – 67 New South Wales Sydney Flames (4)
2003–04 Victoria (Australia) Dandenong Rangers 65 – 53 New South Wales Sydney Uni Flames (5)
2004–05 Victoria (Australia) Dandenong Rangers (2) 52 – 47 New South Wales Sydney Uni Flames (6)
2005–06 Australian Capital Territory Canberra Capitals (4) 68 – 55 Victoria (Australia) Dandenong Rangers (2)
2006–07 Australian Capital Territory Canberra Capitals (5) 73 – 59 New South Wales Sydney Uni Flames (7)
2007–08 South Australia Adelaide Lightning (5) 92 – 82 New South Wales Sydney Uni Flames (8)
2008–09 Australian Capital Territory Canberra Capitals (6) 61 – 58 Victoria (Australia) Bulleen Boomers
2009–10 Australian Capital Territory Canberra Capitals (7) 75 – 70 Victoria (Australia) Bulleen Boomers (2)
2010–11 Victoria (Australia) Bulleen Boomers 103 – 78 Australian Capital Territory Canberra Capitals (2)
2011–12 Victoria (Australia) Dandenong Rangers (3) 94 – 70 Victoria (Australia) Bulleen Boomers (3)
2012–13 Victoria (Australia) Bendigo Spirit 71 – 57 Queensland Townsville Fire
2013–14 Victoria (Australia) Bendigo Spirit (2) 94 – 83 Queensland Townsville Fire (2)
2014–15 Queensland Townsville Fire 75 – 65 Victoria (Australia) Bendigo Spirit

Past Finalists[edit]

Club Titles Runners-up
Australian Capital Territory Canberra Capitals 1999–00, 2001–02, 2002–03, 2005–06, 2006–07, 2008–09, 2009–10 (7) 2000–01, 2010–11 (2)
Victoria (Australia) Nunawading Spectres 1983, 1984, 1986, 1987, 1988, 1989 (6) 1991 (1)
South Australia Adelaide Lightning 1994, 1995, 1996, 1998, 2007–08 (5) 1999–00 (1)
New South Wales Sydney Uni Flames 1993, 1997, 2000–01 (3) 1996, 1998, 2001–02, 2002–03, 2003–04, 2004–05, 2006–07, 2007–08 (8)
Victoria (Australia) Dandenong Rangers 2003–04, 2004–05, 2011–12 (3) 1992, 2005–06 (2)
Victoria (Australia) St Kilda Saints 1981, 1982 (2) 1983 (1)
Victoria (Australia) Bendigo Spirit 2012–13, 2013–14 (2) 2014–15 (1)
Queensland Townsville Fire 2014–15 (1) 2012–13, 2013–14 (2)
Victoria (Australia) Coburg Cougars 1985 (1) 1987 (1)
South Australia North Adelaide Rockets 1990 (1) 1981, 1988 (2)
Tasmania Hobart Islanders 1991 (1) 1989, 1990 (2)
Western Australia West Coast Waves 1992 (1) 1993, 1998–99 (2)
Australian Capital Territory Australian Institute of Sport 1998–99 (1) 1986 (1)
Victoria (Australia) Melbourne Boomers 2010–11 (1) 2008–09, 2009–10, 2011–12 (3)
New South Wales Bankstown Bruins (0) 1982 (1)
South Australia West Adelaide Bearcats (0) 1984 (1)
South Australia Noarlunga Tigers (0) 1985 (1)
Victoria (Australia) Melbourne Tigers (0) 1994, 1995 (2)


  • These teams are now defunct.


Main article: List of WNBL Awards

Media coverage[edit]

ABC previously showed one match a week until 2015. The 2015-16 broadcasters a still not confirmed.

See also[edit]


External links[edit]