North-West Thunder chairman Tony Barker reflects on the club’s 2019 NBL1 season

That was the reality that faced the North-West Thunder ahead of its 2019 NBL1 campaign.

With the new league not officially revealed until February and preliminary discussions about where they were going to play starting at the end of October last year, the club was in a holding pattern.

Thunder chairman Tony Barker admitted 2019 had been challenging season, not just on the court as the team struggled for consistency, but off it as well as the move to NBL1 required a host of tasks being added or upgraded.

“This year has been a big learning curve, no doubt about that,” Barker said.

“There were lots of new things and different expectations in a lot of areas that took some getting used to and required some flexibility around our club people.

“I said to them from the outset that things will be very different and expect things to pop up as we go through the season but don’t get too stressed about it, we just have to roll with it if we want to be in this league.

“Even on the court, we always want to be playing finals, but realistically we were behind the eight-ball from the outset in terms of not knowing whether we had a league to play in or not.

“Recruiting-wise we were under the pump and we were trying to be conservative with our budget as well.

“We remained optimistic that we could squeeze into the lower end of the top eight but it wasn’t to be.”

Now with the season over, Barker and his committee can already start planning for 2020, with eight months to go before tip-off.

The club received a good report from league manager Dean Anglin when he visited last month but there is still plenty of areas for improvement.

“The big thing is that we know there is going to be a second season, whereas this time last year, we didn’t know anything and nothing was confirmed until after Christmas,” Barker said.

“We are about six months ahead and have already started the process of locking things away for next season.”

“We’ve got a good idea now of where the league is, what they are pitching to and what the expectations are.

“Dean provided us with a few little housekeeping tips on his visit – he’s really big on the whole visual presentation at a game looking good.

“But generally the NBL1 have been happy with what we can do on game nights and our engagement with the crowd and community, which is a given these days.”

Barker is also hoping that the extra time can help with the sourcing of sponsors and other revenue streams to increase the Thunder’s budget for next season and keep them competitive with the league’s bigger clubs.

“We took a conservative approach with our budget on purpose because our aim is to be around for a long time,” he said.

“But with more time, planning and support our expectation is that we will have a higher budget for next season.”

On the court, coach Sam Armstrong is favoured to return for a fourth-straight season in charge, while former local favourite Mason Bragg could also be back after a social media post on the weekend showing him in a Thunder singlet.

“We’ll be making some announcements in the short-term around the coaching position but we’ve got a process we have to go through first,” Barker said.

“Mason’s definitely on our list of people that will be getting a phone call as well.”

The club will hold its best and fairest count at Ulverstone’s OBC Stadium on Friday night from 6.30pm.