Super Netball preview: Vixens’ title defence a bridge too far without big names
According to the tagline for this Super Netball season: “Everything is Possible”.
Given the way the season played out last year, with all eight teams and their support staff spending more than three months in a Queensland bubble with no scandal or public dummy spits, it is an apt spin on netball’s usual mantra of “nothing is impossible”.
Sunday Aryang will be key to Fever’s charge at the title this season.Credit:Getty Images
It also sums up a good news week for the sport, after Monday’s announcement that the 2027 World Cup will be held in Sydney.
But after all the announcements and season launches comes the real business of playing the game and as we go into the fifth season of Super Netball it really is a case of “everything is possible” when trying to work out who are favourites for the title.
Heirs Apparent … or are they?
The logical choice for favourites should be last year’s beaten grand finalists West Coast Fever. They unearthed terrific new talent last year with defender Sunday Aryang and wing attack Emma Cosh slotting in beautifully with their world-class bookends of Jhaniele Fowler and Courtney Bruce. After losing two grand finals in three years they will rightly feel that their time is now. There is no doubting they will be hard to beat, despite an off-season rocked by a salary cap breaches that has them starting the season 12 competition points behind everyone else. The key will be whether this bonds them, or exposes cracks in a club that cannot afford any this year. If it’s the former they will win – but they will need a fast start and to win the early games they lost last year. If it is the latter, they won’t feature in finals.
Prediction: 1st … or last.
Team to Watch
The Queensland Firebirds might be the most exciting team in the competition, having welcomed back some familiar faces and signed a new coach. After impressive performances last year led by a rejuvenated Romelda Aiken, who in her 14th season with the club turned back the clock to showcase the skills that made her famous, there was much excitement about how good they could be when superstar goal attack Gretel Bueta returns from maternity leave this year. This was only heightened with news of the club signing two-time Firebirds premiership player Kim Ravaillion who returns from maternity leave after spending the first three seasons of Super Netball with Collingwood.
Combined with a young defensive line led by Diamond Gabi Simpson, and a fresh approach under new head coach Megan Anderson, there is plenty to be excited about. The key will be whether the old heads can nurse the young guns into favouritism.
Stung into action
The NSW Swifts were embarrassed last year after failing to defend their title. After welcoming back captain and key playmaker Maddy Proud from injury, they felt that they were in a prime position to emulate their barnstorming finish to 2019. But it just didn’t happen. While they showed glimpses of their best last season, they were not consistent. With a stable squad, and an off-season to reflect, they will be in the mix this year. The biggest question is who will fill the wing defence position, which was a weak spot for them last year as they rotated a number of players through it in an attempt to fill the void left by Silver Fern Katrina Rore – a key contributor to the 2019 premierships. If they can get some consistency in wing defence, and keep key players such as Maddy Turner and Helen Housby injury-free, the added impetus of celebrating the 25th year of the club and the 20th year of the club’s first National League title may just propel them to repeat their 2019 heroics.
Swifts player Sophie Garbin during last year’s Super Netball season.Credit:Getty
Losing three big names a bridge too far
Reigning premiers Melbourne Vixens will be desperate to emulate their inaugural win with a repeat performance for their Melbourne fans who were starved of live netball during the long lockdown of 2020. I can’t see that happening. The loss for the season of wing attack Liz Watson to injury is a massive blow. Watson is the best player in the world, and the Vixens’ key playmaker. Her absence will be felt enormously by a front line rebuilding after the retirements last year of experienced goalers Caitlin Thwaites and Tegan Philip, although their brilliant defenders will provide plenty of ball for the new-look front line as they bed in some exciting youngsters.
Every year I tip Collingwood to do well, and every year they let me down. So this year I am doing the opposite, which will probably see me eating my words at season’s end. There is much to be optimistic about for the women in black and white, not the least the return of superstar midcourters Ash Brazill and Kelsey Browne from injury. Their return, combined with a new coach in Nicole Richardson, might be what Collingwood need to be a serious threat this year. Much will depend on the continued development of goal shooter Shimona Nelson and goal defence Jodi-Ann Ward who were impressive in 2020.
Young guns on the rise
Thunderbirds have placed enormous reliance on youth this year, and with an average age of 23.6 going into the start of the season they are the young’uns of the competition. While they will have learned enormously from last year, when they battled for consistency after taking some big scalps – most notably the Vixens, twice – they have lost direction and experience. The decision not to sign veteran international Chelsea Pitman, and former captain Layla Guscoth’s decision to return to England to pursue her medical career may take their toll.
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