Thunder hand teenage talent Learoyd first WBBL deal

At just 18 years old, batter Anika Learoyd is preparing for a unique first season of WBBL with the Sydney Thunder

Talented teenager Anika Learoyd has struck her first Rebel WBBL deal, signing a two-year contract with the Sydney Thunder.

The announcement of the 18-year-old's signing with the Thunder caps an exciting seven months for Leaoryd that included a NSW Breakers debut in February, followed by a contract offer from the Breakers in June.

Learoyd, a top-order batter who also bowls leg-spin, grew up in Coffs Harbour, but packed her bags and departed the family home for Sydney after scoring a contract with the Breakers.

The right-hander rose through the ranks playing for the Northern Districts Cricket Club, last season finishing with 541 runs at an average of 54.1 in the NSW Women's Premier Cricket competition.

Now living out of home for the first time, with the added complexities of the COVID-19 pandemic to contend with, Learoyd is relishing the opportunity to get amongst her Breakers teammates, particularly her Thunder captain and fellow batter, Rachael Haynes.

"We still have to be very careful, but it's been unreal," Learoyd told cricket.com.au.

"Obviously there's a lot of experience to be gained there, everyone is really great in the squad.

"It's been great training with Rachael Haynes, she's been really helpful. She gave me a couple of tips, sent me a couple of messages and gave me a few things to work on.

"Just tapping into her experience is incredible and I'm really looking forward to it."

Image Id: 85A3A1C603394D038A1B16D12B8C8955 Image Caption: Learoyd in action at the NICC // Supplied

Another reason Learoyd has loved heading into training at Cricket NSW is the time she's been able to spend with her good friend and now Thunder teammate Hannah Darlington.

The pair have a longstanding friendship after growing up playing cricket together, including a few trips to Alice Springs for the National Indigenous Cricket Championships.

Learoyd is a Gumbaynggirr woman and has represented the NSW Women's Indigenous team for the past four years at the NICC.

Learoyd said the annual trip to Alice Springs is always a highlight of her year.

"We normally go away for about ten days, and they are my favourite ten days of the year. Hannah Darlington will definitely agree with me on this one, it's a really great experience," Learoyd said.

"Being able to represent your culture, the amount you learn and the different people you meet out there at Alice Springs is just incredible."

Learoyd played a key role for NSW in the 2019 edition of the tournament, leading her team to their thirteenth trophy and finishing as the tournament's leading run scorer.

The off-field aspect of the tournament sparks just as much joy for the young gun, with cultural experiences and activities on offer allowing Learoyd to deepen her connection to her Indigenous heritage.

"We had a painting day, we did a smoke ceremony and just spend some time learning about our culture. There was an opening ceremony with all the teams which was really cool.

"We also try to take some clothing and visit one of the local school and give out stuff we no longer need.

"Just doing stuff like that is really important to me, it feels really cool to be able to connect with that culture and help out the young Indigenous kids."

The Sydney Thunder's commitment to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander engagement is a big part of why Learoyd is so excited to be wearing lime green for the upcoming WBBL season.

"It's really exciting how involved they are and how dedicated they are to showing Indigenous kids the pathways that are out there. It's super exciting how much it's developing."

"Being able to grow up watching someone like Ash Gardner on the screens, she's got the cool Indigenous stickers on her bat and just being able to see all the great stuff she says in the media has been really cool for me."

While plenty remains to be seen around what the structure of the upcoming WBBL season looks like, Learoyd has come to terms with the fact she may be required to spend her first season of Big Bash in a hub.

In fact, Learoyd, who is soon to commence a Bachelor of Wildlife Studies at the University of New England in Armidale, is possibly better equipped than any of her teenaged counterparts in the WBBL to remote learning, having been home-schooled for her entire education.

"It's definitely going to be an interesting experience but one I'm sure I will really enjoy no matter what," Learoyd said.

The announcement of Learoyd's signing with the Thunder follows the signing of allrounders Lauren Smith and Sammy-Jo Johnson, as well as South African quick Shabnim Ismail.

The Thunder have eleven of their 15-player squad confirmed, with two international berths still remaining.

Sydney Thunder squad so far: Rachael Haynes (c) (Aus), Sam Bates, Hannah Darlington, Saskia Horley, Shabnim Ismail, Sammy-Jo Johnson, Anika Learoyd, Phoebe Litchfield, Lauren Smith, Rachel Trenaman, Tahlia Wilson.