In the wake of last season’s undefeated title-winning season, the dominant Queensland Firebirds were again tipped as ANZ Netball Championship front-runners, paving a path towards back-to-back championships.
In the first game of the 2012 season, it appears the titleholders’ curse may yet strike again.
Since the inception of the trans-Tasman competition in 2008, the champion team from the previous season has failed to qualify in the top-four spots; foregoing a chance to defend their title.
Will the same curse be bestowed upon the single most dominant side in the short history of this competition?
If the Melbourne Vixens are any guide, then it shows that last year’s premiers will now be hunted mercilessly.
Credit is owed where credit is due, with a gutsy Melbourne Vixens battling hard, coming from a seven-goal deficit in the second quarter to pull off a stunning five-goal victory over a Firebirds team, who only weeks ago claimed a 20-goal victory over their Australian counterparts.
A 26-goal turn around in a mere matter of weeks demonstrates what a tightly contested competition this appears set to be this season, teams boasting greater depth than ever seen previously.
Star performances by new shinning light for the Vixens, Karyn Howarth, and a world-class defensive line-up of English import Geva Mentor and Vixens stalwarts Bianca Chatfield and Julie Corletto proved the deciding factor in a game riddled with errant passes and inaccurate shooting.
As solid as ever in defence, Firebirds captain Laura Geitz, who appears to have lost none of her superb ball-ball reading ability in the off season, displayed the tenacity which proved so valuable last season.
She lacked support from a Firebirds back half that appeared baffled, with young defender Amy Steel a half step too slow, and out-rebounded by her Vixens opponent Howard on several occasions – a black mark in any defender’s book.
At the front end, last year’s slickest forward combination of Jamaican Romelda Aiken and Australian Diamonds representative Natalie Medhurst could not re-ignite the blistering form which proved many rival teams’ downfall in 2011.
Aiken, while never the most accurate shooter, was 15 shots down on her average in the 50s last year, and Medhurst appeared shaky under the constant pressure of a relentless Chatfield, with her speed and agility taken out of the game.
While yet to prove themselves as a strong consistent outfit for the 2012 championship, the Vixens will have impressed upon those naysayers counting them out of this year’s finals race. Their variety and unexpected combinations may yet prove the difference.
Will the Vixens prove genuine title contenders, or will a raw and inexperienced front line keep finals and ultimately championship glory beyond their reach?
Lying in bed at 3.30am wide awake, blood still pulsating through my body, legs jerking and hands shaking feverishly post the netball World Cup Grand Final match. You can only imagine how the players and coaching teams from both sides felt post match after a thrilling Netball World Cup final.