So the first official stamp has been placed by Stacey Marinkovich as head coach of the Australian netball Diamonds team.
The first centre pass of the 2020 Super Netball season occurs on Saturday.
Like all sporting competitions, Super Netball has been impacted by COVID-19. Super Netball organisers, players and staff will have to be agile, flexible and resilient.
Originally two first round matches were scheduled for Sydney. Due to the change in border restrictions announced by the Queensland government, just five days after the fixture was announced the organisers had to move the four teams playing in NSW to Brisbane.
The big change introduced in the off season was the two-goal super shot. Similar, to a three pointer in basketball, a shot is worth two goals if it is shot from a certain zone. Players and fans voiced their disappointment at the introduction of the rule and the lack of consultation regarding the introduction. It is designed to attract new viewers to the game, but I am worried it will alienate rusted-on netball fans.
The fact it is only in operation for the last five minutes of each quarter makes it look like a gimmick. If I take a shot from a spot with 5:01 left on the clock it is worth one goal but if I take the same shot with 4:59 left on the clock it is worth two goals. That doesn’t make sense to me. We will have to wait and see what impact, positive, negative or negligible, this rule will have on the game.
Due to the condensed season and considering player welfare this week Super Netball also announced the bonus point and extra time rules will not be in effect for 2020, and match day squads have been increased from ten players to 12 players.
One thing COVID-19 has not impacted is the nations that are represented in Super Netball. Players include Australian Diamonds stars and also includes players from England, New Zealand, South Africa, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago and Uganda.
Here are my thoughts on the teams, their key players and key acquisitions and departures.
NSW Swifts (first in 2019)
The expert tutelage of Briony Akle helped guide the NSW Swifts to the 2019 championship. The team is again relatively stable and will be difficult to beat for this year’s championship.
The shooting circle will again see Trinidad and Tobago shooter Sam Wallace combine her size and athleticism with the speed and creativity of English Rose Helen Housby. Wallace won the grand final MVP. Housby is one of my favourite players to watch. Young gun Sophie Garbin will be putting plenty of pressure on this pair and will also in this condensed season be able to provide a rotation option.
Paige Hadley will bring plenty of experience to the midcourt and had an outstanding 2020. Another English Rose Natalie Haythornthwaite will be again be an important plank in the midcourt. Captain Maddy Proud returns after injuring her ACL during the 2019 season. Sophie Craig was named as a replacement player for Proud when she was injured and has been signed to a full-time contract in 2020. Katrina Rore, who started at wing defence in the grand final, was a temporary replacement player and will not be with the Swifts this year. Kate Eddy has also left the Swifts to head home to the Melbourne Vixens.
In defence Maddy Turner displays athleticism and toughness and Sarah Klau is one of the best defensive rebounders in the business. Lauren Moore rounds out the defensive end and is likely to get more opportunities this year.
Sunshine Coast Lightning (second in 2019)
In their first three seasons, the Sunshine Coast Lightning have played in all three grand finals, including winning the first two titles. One big change for the Lightning is that NZ coach Noeline Taurua is no longer at the helm. However, one of her assistants and Australian under-21 coach Kylee Byrne has been promoted from within to take over the role.
The Lightning have an even more stable line-up than the Swifts. NZ Silver Ferns legend Laura Langman will again captain the team and will provide a lot of the drive for the team through the midcourt. Maddy McAuliffe is an athletic wing defence and Laura Scherian had a wonderful season at wing attack in 2019. Both of these players have been important in the success the Lightning have had to date. The experienced and versatile Jacqui Russell will also have an impact in the midcourt.
The Lightning have three quality shooters in Cara Koenen, Steph Wood and Ugandan Peace Proscovia. This provides Byrne with versatility and she can mix and match her shooters depending on their opponents and on the flow of a game.
The all South African defensive circle combination of Karla Pretorius and Phumza Maweni was absolutely brilliant in 2019. Their consistency made it incredibly difficult for their opponents. Annika Lee-Jones rounds out the defensive circle.
Melbourne Vixens (third in 2019)
Stability and experience is also a positive for the Vixens with defenders Jo Weston and vice-captain Emily Mannix, co-captain midcourters Kate Moloney and Liz Watson and goal attack Tegan Philip having played together for several years.
It is great to see Malawi’s Mwai Kumwenda and Tayla Honey back out of the rehab ward. Kumwenda returned from a knee injury midway through last season and Honey missed the entire season with an Achilles tendon injury.
Caitlin Thwaites returned to the Vixens in 2019 and it was as if she had never left. She will form a versatile combination in the shooting circle with Philip and Kumwenda.
The height and athleticism of Jamaican Kadie-Ann Dehaney will again patrol the defensive circle.
Kate Eddy returns home to Melbourne from the NSW Swifts. Eddy and Honey at wing defence have big shoes to fill in retired Australian netball legend Renae Ingles.
Collingwood Magpies (fourth in 2019)
You could almost call Collingwood the land of the pregnancy and unfortunately the land of the knee injury. Congratulations to Kim Ravaillion, Nat Medhurst and April Brandley, who have all recently had babies. Sisters co-captain Madi Browne and vice-captain Kelsey Browne are both returning from knee injuries. Sadly, Ash Brazill will miss the season after injuring her ACL playing AFLW for Collingwood.
Given this impact to the line up you would expect that of last year’s finalists that Collingwood are the most likely to miss this year’s finals. However, this provides opportunities to other members of the squad such as defender Matilda Garrett, goal attack Gabby Sinclair, midcourter Molly Jovic and Melissa Bragg, who can play wing defence and goal defence.
The Magpies have also recruited Jamaican international Jodi-Ann Ward from Severn Stars in England’s Netball SuperLeague. Ward can play goal defence and wing defence and will fill the gap left by April Brandley.
Co-captain Geva Mentor will again be leading from the front or given she is a goalkeeper that should be from the back. The England representative has been a star in Australia for a number of years.
Another Jamaican Shimona Nelson will only continue to improve at goal shooter. Former Adelaide Thunderbirds midcourter Kelly Altmann has also joined Collingwood as a temporary replacement player. Collingwood have announced the elevation of Nyah Allen and Emma Ryde to their match day 12.
Giants Netball (fifth in 2019)
Giants Netball captain Kimberlee Green has retired, but that is the only significant change to the Giants roster. Training partner Maddie Hay has been promoted to the squad to replace Green.
The defensive combination of Sam Poolman, Kristiana Manu’a and Amy Parmenter performed well last year. Jamie-Lee Price is a dynamo in the midcourt.
The combination of Caitlin Bassett, England star Jo Harten and Kiera Austin should improve this year and this improvement could be enough to lift the Giants back into the finals. Harten and Austin could take advantage of the two goal super shot.
Unfortunately, Teigan O’Shannassy will miss the start of the season with glandular fever.
West Coast Fever (sixth in 2019)
The West Coast Fever made the grand final in 2018 but with largely the same squad other than fan favourite Nat Medhurst in 2019 finished sixth. Medhurst’s old position of goal attack is the biggest problem for the Fever with neither Alice Teague-Neeld or Kaylia Stanton taking a stranglehold on that role.
Jhaniele Fowler, with her height and athleticism continued to cause chaos for her opposition in 2019. The Jamaican Sunshine Girls shooter scored the most goals in the competition for the second year running.
Courtney Bruce and Stacey Francis form an experienced combination in the defensive circle. Australian Diamond Bruce is heavily involved in rebounding, deflections and intercepts. The former English Rose Francis is also agile and dynamic and won the 2011 and 2013 player of the year in the UK Superleague.
The Fever’s midcourt of Verity Charles, Ingrid Colyer and Jess Anstiss have developed a reliable combination in the midcourt, with speed their greatest asset. Anstiss won the Super Netball Young Star Award in 2018.
Stacey Francis can also be used in the defensive circle and Shannon Eagland can play wing defence and goal defence. Sunday Aryang and Emma Cosh have been announced as the 11th and 12th members of the match day squad.
Adelaide Thunderbirds (seventh in 2019)
There have been a number of changes in the Thunderbirds’ squad with Cody Lange and NZ star shooter Maria Folau retired, which is a shame because she could definitely exploit the two-goal super shot.
Midcourter Kelly Altmann has joined Collingwood.
Adelaide’s strength is their defensive end with Jamaican Sunshine Girl Shamera Sterling, Kate Shimmin and English Rose Layla Guscoth. Watching a Shamera Sterling intercept is worth the price of admission (if you are able to attend) or worth watching a game alone. Sterling’s intercepts display athleticism and great anticipation and are breathtaking. South African Shadine Van Der Merwe will spend time at both wing defence and goal defence.
Co-captains Hannah Petty is expected to start at centre and Chelsea Pitman, who has represented both Australia and England will be at wing attack. Maisie Nankivell will also rotate through the midcourt. Nankivell debuted for the Thunderbirds in 2019 as an injury replacement player and in the ANL she won the Southern Force’s MVP and Players’ Awards.
South African Lenize Potgieter has been recruited to bolster the shooting circle. After spending time at Collingwood and the Melbourne Vixens Samantha Gooden will join the Thunderbirds. Charlee Hodges, who has been a training partner for the Thunderbirds since 2016 and young South Australian Sasha Glasgow will also spend time in the circle. All four players are able to play either goal shooter or goal attack. Like a number of other players through the league, Glasgow is returning from an ACL injury.
Queensland Firebirds (eighth in 2019)
The Firebirds have lost Caitlyn Nevins and Laura Clemesha, who both have retired, and Lenize Potgieter who has joined the Thunderbirds. Gretel Bueta, will also miss the season due to maternity leave. Bueta received an amazing honour still being named vice-captain despite not playing this season.
In the shooting circle, the Firebrids use Jamaican Romelda Aiken’s size to their advantage at goal shooter, with a lot of lob passes used to position Aiken under the post. Even if Aiken misses she is more than likely to get the rebound. With Bueta’s absence, Aiken’s partners in crime will be Ine-Mari Venter and Tippah Dwan. South African Venter spent time with the Vixens as an injury replacement for Mwai Kumwenda last year. Dwan has been with the Firebirds as a training partner and a squad member and is a young up and coming shooter. Another goal shooter or goal attack Mia Stower has been announced as part of the 12-member match day squad.
The midcourt is led by the experience of their fiercely competitive captain Gabi Simpson from wing defence and the aggressive Mahalia Cassidy should continue to improve. Jemma Mi Mi in her third year at the Firebirds will also receive plenty of time in the midcourt, watch for her speed and footwork. Lara Dunkley has joined the Firebirds from the Vixens. I am looking forward to see what Dunkley does with more opportunities. Dunkley comes from a sporting family with her father and two brothers all playing AFL. Macy Gardner is another youngster in the midcourt who has graduated from training partner in 2018 to making her Firebirds debut in 2019.
In the defensive circle young guns Kim Jenner and Tara Hinchcliffe, who are in their third season with the Firebirds, will continue to improve. They will be joined by ANL premiership winning defender Rudi Ellis, who has been a training partner with the Melbourne Vixens. It will be great to see the careers of the young defenders blossom and they could be the core of the Firebirds team for the best part of a decade.