Forget the hype, pre-season form means nothing

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NSW Swifts' Catherine Cox in action during the 2008 Netball Finals Series between the NSW Swifts and Waikato/Bay of Plenty Magic in Sydney, Monday, July 28, 2008. The Swifts won 65-56. AAP Image/Jenny Evans

As the AFL pre-season competition kicks into gear, so too does the pre-season competitions for teams competing in this years ANZ Championship, with tournaments being held in different States as well as across the Tasman.

Last weekend, a competition held in Queenstown, New Zealand, saw the Ascot Park Hotel Southern Steel, NSW Swifts, Central Pulse and the LG Northern Mystics, plus the Australian Institute of Sport, compete in a pre-season competition held over two days with the LG Northern Mystics beating last year’s Premiers the NSW Swifts.

So apparently some people now think that the Mystics are the team to beat.

After all they did beat last year’s Premiers, so that has to mean they will be a force to be reckoned with, right?

In my opinion pre-season competitions really don’t prove anything as to whether or not a particular team is going to be “the team to beat” or which teams people think are going to feature in the finals campaign when it comes down to that business end of the season.

After all, under the coaching of Paul Roos, the Sydney Swans have never won a NAB Cup game and yet they have featured in the AFL finals campaign since 1996, except for 2000 and 2002, and even walked away with the Premiership in 2005.

Even before pre-season competitions take off, generally when clubs have announced their player list for the upcoming season, supporters, media and even clubs themselves tend to take their picks as to who will be playing finals, who will finish with the wooden spoon, and then which clubs will be in the middle of the pack.

Yet, despite all these predictions, and the reasoning behind them, so many of them end up being a world away from what actually transpires.

The beginning of the 2008 ANZ championship saw the retirement of legendary players as well as the movement of players both interstate and overseas.

The Melbourne Vixens were labelled as the “Dream Team” and were one of the favourites to take out the premiership. The NSW Swifts were expected to perform well below previous years, due to the retirement of Liz Ellis and the movement of Moonia Gerrard to the Thunderbirds.

And then there was the Waikato Magic.

With a team lined with Silver Fern players such as Irene van Dyk, Maria Tutia, Casey Williams, Laura Langman, Joline Henry and Leana de Bruin, they too were expected to be well up in the mix for premiership contention.

Yet, despite these predictions by many, the Melbourne Vixens finished the season in fourth position and Magic were defeated in the Grand Final by the NSW Swifts, even without their usual star studded defence line.

So, with another pre-season tournament to be held in Sydney from March 6-8, seven of the ten ANZ Championship teams, plus the Australian Institute of Sport, will be competing against each other in what has become the main pre-season tournament for teams each year.

As this, for many clubs, will be their first major hit out since pre-season started, players will no doubt be making sure they remember how to throw, catch and shoot, rather than having the expectation that they will be in finals playing form.

Seeing as though teams have lost players and recruited new ones during the off-season, expect to see them testing new combinations and applying any strategies.

Yet, despite clubs testing and trialling players and strategies throughout the tournament, predictions will still be made.

I wonder, at the end of the day, what is the point of making these predictions when clubs use pre-season in this manner and do these predications really weigh up to anything?

Only finals time will tell.

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