The Netball New Zealand review has somewhat overshadowed the lead up to the 2018 ANZ Premiership.
In their first year since the Trans Tasman competition split, New Zealand’s new domestic competition achieved mixed results. And now it has to contend with the distraction of an evaluation of the national program after the Silver Ferns disastrous Commonwealth Games campaign.
Across the inaugural ANZ Premiership season crowd numbers were generally disappointing, even with the introduction of Super Sundays.
While games appeared to be more free-flowing, with the immediate return of trademark Kiwi play that dissipated during the ANZ Championships, it was felt as though the change in style did initially create a bigger margin for errors.
It was probably just a matter of blowing out the Australian cobwebs. After all, it had been a decade since the Kiwis didn’t have to think about their rivals across the ditch and their mechanic and menacing ways.
Round one of the new competition saw margins of between 1 and 23 goals. No warning bells were rung, but results elasticised largely between those numbers across the season.
Almost 50% of matches were decided by a margin of 12 goals or more. Compare that to the first season of Suncorp Super Netball, where a margin that big occurred in less than 1 in 3 games.
Southern Steel were close to flawless from start to finish.
They won 11 of their 16 (straight) games by more than 12 goals, including the Grand Final, but no longer have the luxury of sharpshooter Jhaniele Fowler in the goal circle.
Fowler’s settled in over at West Coast Fever, which surely evens up both competitions to some extent.
Jane Watson’s departure back to the Tactix is another blow for the side, who will do it tough to win back-to-back titles despite retaining the remaining five starting seven Premiership players.
First-time finalists Central Pulse will mirror Steel in needing to slot in players at either end of the court.
Ameliaranne Ekenasio returns to the Pulse after becoming a mother, and Sulu Fitzpatrick, moving from the Stars, is a fair replacement for Phoenix Karaka (Mystics).
There’s plenty of talent in Tiana Metuarau, Claire Kersten and the zippy Whitney Souness, but whether they can back-up their record-breaking season is anybody’s guess.
How much Maria Folau will be involved with the 2018 Northern Mystics has been kept tightly under wraps. Having signed on in the middle of last year for the next two seasons, with a flexible workload, many eyes will be on just how often Folau will front up.
To qualify for the ANZ Premiership finals, a player only needs to have taken part in three matches. But for the Mystics to even qualify for finals one would think that Folau would need to take part in most, if not all, matches.
With captain Anna Harrison still showing good forma, Storm Purvis returning and Michaela Sokolich-Beatson hungry for game time, Phoenix Karaka will be one of a fair few talented defenders across the league who may have to grow accustom to riding the pine.
Largely unchanged, Waitkato BOP Magic could be the team to watch. They narrowly missed a spot in the finals last year – by a matter of goals – but have a strong defensive trio of Sam Sinclair, Casey Kopua and Kelly Jury. Five of their eight losses last year were by five goals or less.
Their midcourt is young, full of speed and they only have to fill one starting seven spot in the wake of Grace Kara’s shift to the Northern Stars.
Ever-potent South African Lenize Potgieter will miss at least the first two rounds as she recovers from an ankle injury.
While Northern Stars had a massive clear out – with more than half of the team new to the purple haven, plus coach Kiri Wills – they have gained England captain Ama Agbeze, fresh from winning Commonwealth Games gold, who has effectively traded places with Leana de Bruin.
With question marks of Kayla Cullen’s dodgy legs and no definitive goal attack as yet, it could be another up and down season for the second Auckland-based side.
Kate Beveridge was a surprise signing for the Tactix. The one-time Australian Diamond will need to rely on her experience to guide the attack end, with as many as five new starting seven saddling up across the court.
With no room in the squad for stalwart Anna Thompson, it will be up to Erikana Pederson to drive the midcourt, alongside Kimiora Poi, who had a brilliant World Youth Cup campaign.
Jane Watson or Zoe Walker look set to play considerable time at wing defence, with Temalisi Fakahokotau and captain Jess Maclennan frontrunners for the defensive circle.
After a wobbly first season, the ANZ Premiership promises to deliver a far more polished product in 2018.
The season begins this weekend with a Super Sunday at Palmerston North. You can see the fixture here.
The Low Down
– 45 games across 13 rounds, plus two Finals.
– Three Super Sundays (Rounds 1, 6 and 12) in Palmerston North, Christchurch and Auckland.
– Team that finishes 1st goes straight to the Grand Final on Sunday August 12.
– Teams that finish 2nd and 3rd play an Elimination Final on August 8. Winner goes to the Grand Final.
– All 47 games LIVE on SKY Sport NZ, as well as Netball Zone.
International rules apply, with the exception of:
– Extra time will occur if scores are tied at the end of 60 minutes, with extra time consisting of 2 x 3min periods. If scores are still locked, teams will continue playing until one has a two-goal advantage.
– Winning teams are awarded two points. Teams are awarded one point if they lose by less than five goals. This rule was in play in the previous New Zealand domestic league.
– Teams can make unlimited substitutions during the match, without the need to call a time-out.
Angela Armstrong-Lush, Jono Bredin, Myron Elkington, Gracey Farquharson, Tania Fink, Gareth Fowler, Ann Hay, Jess Lea, Danielle Maulder, Sasha McLeod, Lisa McPhail, Ken Metekingi, Zak Middleton, Cory Nicholls, Kristie Simpson, Marise Stuart.
Wendy Frew (c), Gina Crampton (vc), Abby Erwood, Dani Gray, Jennifer O’Connell, Olivia Bates, Shannon Francois, Te Huinga Selby-Rickit, Te Paea Selby-Rickit, Courtney Elliot.
Coach: Reinga Bloxham
Katrina Grant (c), Aliyah Dunn, Ameliaranne Ekenasio, Claire Kersten, Karin Burger, Mila Reuelu-Buchanan, Renee Savai’inaea, Sulu Fitzpatrick, Tiana Metuarau, Whitney Souness.
Coach: Yvette McCausland-Durie
Anna Harrison (c), Bailey Mes, Elispeta Toeava, Jane Hume, Maria Folau, Michaela Sokolich-Beatson, Phoenix Karaka, Samon Nathan, Storm Purvis, Tera-Maria Amani.
Coach: Helene Wilson
Waikato BOP Magic
Casey Kopua (c), Amorangi Malesala, Ariana Cable-Dixon, Hayley Saunders, Kate Lloyd, Katherine Levien, Kelly Jury, Lenize Potegieter, Monica Falkner, Sam Sinclair.
Coach: Margaret Forsyth
Grace Kara (c), Ama Agbeze, Christina Oscar, Ellen Halpenny, Fa’amu Ioane, Holly Fowler, Kayla Cullen, Maia Wilson, Olivia Coughlan, Paula Griffin.
Coach: Kiri Wills
Jess Maclennan (c), Brooke Leaver, Charlotte Elley, Ellie Bird, Erikana Pederson, Jane Watson, Kate Beveridge, Kimiora Poi, Temalisi Fakahokotau, Zoe Walker.
Coach: Marianne Delaney-Hoshek
Cover image: Steve McLeod