The Queensland Firebirds are entering a new era in 2023, with former Diamonds defender and NSW Swifts assistant coach Bec Bulley taking over the helm for the first time. Bulley, who is signed to the Firebirds on a four-year deal, will be looking to take her new side back into finals for the first time since 2018.
Bulley, 40, has been a successful coach in her own right, having achieved success at every club she's been a part of. Speaking with ESPN, Bulley said that the key to a successful team is its culture, which is something she's looked to instil in the Firebirds environment across the preseason.
"I think the biggest thing for me and what I think we've done a wonderful job is developing an amazing culture," Bulley told ESPN.
"We've worked really hard on that over the preseason and I think it's really paid off because I believe that culture eats strategy for breakfast every day, so that's really what we've been focusing on.
"We've got some amazing leaders that are leading that culture and driving those team values and standards of behaviours and when I look at the team, I see them playing for each other.
"It's not just a simple fix. I guess it's developing a lot of things that make that happen. On court connection, it's off court connection, it's the team values, it's the standards. I guess it's my way of coaching that I try to instill confidence in players.
"There's not a starting seven and three on the bench. We're a team of 10 plus, we have amazing training partners that we want to see them continue to develop and grow.
"They just want this team to be successful and I think it will pay off, I have full confidence that it will."
Whilst this is Bulley's first head coaching role at Super Netball level, she's no stranger to the elite netball environment, having spent time at the NSW Swifts as assistant coach under Briony Akle and a successful player for the Thunderbirds, Firebirds and Giants.
Bulley credited those past experiences for contributing to her becoming the coach that she is today.
"My time at the Swifts was just such an invaluable experience. I really learned so much, I learned so much about high performance environments, I learned so much from Briony and how she manages and communicates to players.
"I learned so much about high performance like staff structures and things like that but I think the coaching that's not the only thing that I've got development from. I also have many years of experience as a player, as I was fortunate enough to be a part of many successful teams as well and that I think shaped me as a coach as well."
Although being a head coach at Super Netball level is a whole new ball game, with Bulley overseeing the Firebirds' high performance environment, Bulley said that the true test will be how her side goes round one against the Thunderbirds -- especially after assistant coach Sara Francis-Bayman's mutually agreed parting from the club just five days out from Round 1.
"At the end of the day as a head coach, the buck stops with you. You're the leader, you have to set the example and you have to be across everything that goes on," Bulley told ESPN.
"First and foremost, you have to care about your players and have their best interests at heart. I feel like maybe all my years of playing and coaching has led to this role and I feel like I'm doing a great job so far but I guess the real test will be how we perform on court."
As a defensive specialist, Bulley will be one of the best people to develop the new-look defensive end at the Firebirds, with Remi Kamo and Ash Unie joining the club, who will accompany 2022 Diamonds debutant Ruby Bakewell-Doran in defence this season.
"I'm so excited, I've been absolutely loving working with the three defenders. I'm so excited to see how they go in Round 1 against the Thunderbirds, they're just great girls, they just listen to everything and they're amazing players as well. I guess for me, it's really just imparting a little bit of my knowledge just to help them as much as I can."
Three out of the four new additions at the Firebirds have come through the Brisbane North Cougars with Kamo, Unie and Macy Gardner joining Mia Stower and Ruby Bakewell-Doran as Cougars Alumni.
Bulley said that it's a true credit to Lisa White and the coaching staff at the Cougars for being able to develop so many Super Netball players with other alumni including Charlie Bell, Laura Scherian, Mahalia Cassidy and the Hinchliffe sisters.
"It's a bit of a joke that we've got half our team made up of Cougars players but that's a credit to the Cougars and their coaching staff in particular Liz White, developing these players to be ready to play SSN," Bulley said.
"They've been given this opportunity and they absolutely deserve it. I think that that connection between them has definitely been really beneficial which means that we haven't had to spend a lot of time trying to develop that connection, it's happened automatically. I think just the little advice or tips that I can give them is hopefully what will continue to grow and we can be a real dominant force in our defence at the season."
Whilst there's plenty to be excited about with this young Firebirds team, Bulley is looking forward to seeing her side grow on a week-to-week basis which fans could already see across the four Team Girls Cup matches.
"I just want to see us continue to grow, we haven't made finals for a few years, we aren't far off the pace like we missed out on finals by one game last season however, we just want to continue to grow," she said.
"Of course I think we have the ability to make finals and once you get into finals anything can happen. I just want the team to keep supporting each other, stick together, play for one another and you know I think keep improving and you know the results will come."
Bulley is no stranger to the Firebirds environment, having pulled on the purple dress back in 2015 and was a part of the club's premiership that season with Bulley vowing to bring back that success and sense of pride from the Queensland community that there was eight years ago.
"That just kind of gives me goosebumps just thinking about that [playing with the Firebirds] because I have such fond memories of my time in 2015 with the Firebirds, I loved it," Bulley said.
"I retired on a high from winning a premiership with the team, I've developed great relationships with all the players that were in that team that year, we were just like just an amazing team.
"So proud of the club and proud to represent the Queensland Firebirds and wear the purple dress and go out and play in front of our Queensland crowd.
"I totally want to bring that back, I want Queenslanders to absolutely love the Firebirds, I want them to be so proud of us, I want us to be successful. I want the players in this team to experience the success that we had as a team back in 2015 and I'm committed to being here for the next four years to make that happen."