Contributors: Brigid McNeill, Renee Barnes, Nicole Mudgway, Jaimie Keay, Emily Robyn, Tobias Keddy, Ian Harkin
On Sunday, August 8 2021, the drought was broken. After 13 fruitless seasons, the Northern Mystics got the monkey off their back and claimed their first title with a nail-biting 61-59 victory over Mainland Tactix in the ANZ Premiership decider. The gallant Tactix side was also aiming for a first ever grand final success, but Mystics were able to hang on and clinch an exciting win.
Both of those teams are expected to be in contention again this year, but with new look squads, all six teams have reason to be optimistic. The competition has seen quite a deal of player movement in the off season. There are also a couple of big names who will be missing due to pregnancy, while a couple of others are back after missing most of 2021 for the same reason.
With a view to finishing early ahead of the Commonwealth Games, each team’s 15 home and away matches are being condensed into 12 weeks. There are several double-header weekends of four and five matches. This will test the fitness and durability of players as teams will sometimes have to play games on successive days.
Once again, the spectre of Covid-19 hovers over the season. It’s to be hoped that it doesn’t have a huge impact, but there is always the chance that teams could be forced to play games without key players at some point. How teams manage their squads and overcome any possible withdrawals, will be vital.
In 2022, Netball Scoop has a new team of writers covering all things New Zealand netball, and in this preview, they delve into each team’s prospects of success in this year’s ANZ Premiership.
Tayla Earle, Monica Faulkner, Sulu Fitzpatrick, Fa’amu Ioane, Phoenix Karaka, Grace Nweke, Claire O’Brien, Michaela Sokolich-Beatson, Peta Toeava, Filda Vui
Monica Faulkner (Northern Stars), Phoenix Karaka (maternity leave)
Bailey Mes (WBOP Magic), Kate Burley (Southern Steel), Saviour Tui (Southern Steel)
Where they finished in 2021
Current champions, the Northern Mystics finished at the top of the table in 2021, winning 11 out of their 14 games. The Auckland side will be keen to start as they left off at the end of last season, and as they welcome some recognisable faces back onto the court, it will be interesting to see how the squad performs out of the blocks in round one.
With a couple of key players returning to court, Phoenix Karaka after the birth of her first child and Michaela Sokolich-Beatson coming back from an Achilles injury, fans will be excited to see the Mystics at full strength. Monica Faulkner has moved across town from the Northern Stars, and it will be interesting to see how they manage the shooting circle with just three shooters; Faulkner replacing both Bailey Mes and Saviour Tui who head off to pastures new. Fresh off a call-up to the Silver Ferns, hopefully we’ll get to see more court time from Filda Vui this season, her confidence and smarts in attack making her one to watch.
The Mystics have, arguably, the most formidable defence in the league, with current Silver Ferns Sulu Fitzpatrick and Karaka supported by Fa’amu Ioane and Sokolich-Beatson. In the mid-court, Peta Toeva will continue to bring excitement and flair to the attack end, whilst Tayla Earle and Claire O’Brien provide calm and consistency in the centre.
With Helene Wilson and Rob Wright at the helm once again, things look good in the Mystics camp and they seem to have built a really positive, exciting culture with the current squad; players look content on and off the court, and they seem to know their structures inside and out.
If Faulkner can play with confidence in attack, provide the support for Nweke at goal shooter, and gel well with Toeava at wing attack, then the Mystics will have a real chance of contending for the title again this season. Facing a repeat of round one from 2021 against the Magic, one of their three losses of last season, it will be interesting to see who makes the starting seven and whether they can deliver solid 60 minute performances each week.
Gina Crampton, Holly Fowler, Anna Harrison, Jamie Hume, Kayla Johnson, Amorangi Malesala, Lisa Mather, Mila Reuelu-Buchanan, Elle Temu, Maia Wilson (captain)
Kayla Johnson, Holly Fowler
Monica Faulkner (Mystics), Oceane Maihi (WBOP Magic)
Where they finished in 2021
The Stars came out firing in the 2021 ANZ premiership and dominated the first half of the competition, but faded as the season went on.
The shooting combination of Jamie Hume and Maia Wilson initially worked well, although Wilson’s accuracy succumbed to defensive pressure in the later rounds. As a result, Hume had to shoulder much of the shooting responsibility and she did it well. She dominated the Stars’ awards night, winning Player of the Year and sharing two other awards. She should continue to grow in 2022.
Defensively the Stars were on fire, with Anna Harrison and Elle Temu all over crucial ball and rebounds when needed. Just when the opposition were settling into their shooting; Harrison would intervene, and after 20 years in the game, she still doesn’t show any signs of slowing down. It will be interesting to see if Wills keeps this combination or moves to more court time for their new signings of Kayla Johnson and Holly Fowler. Defensively, the Stars have one of the strongest line ups, and the return of Kayla Johnson after some impressive time in the black dress at the Quad series will add firepower to the group. After a long absence from court, expect Johnson to continue to improve as she builds towards the Commonwealth Games.
The midcourt appears to be strong once again, led by the experience of Silver Ferns captain Gina Crampton at wing attack. Mila Reuelu-Buchanan has also now had a taste of international experience which could see her game go to another level. The underrated Lisa Mather held down the wing defence position in 2021 and was a consistent performer, but could Johnson or Fowler perhaps get the chance in this position in 2022?
The pressure did get to the Stars in 2021, but they have leadership in each section of the court, and these wise heads and experience should add composure to the players around them.
SPLICE CONSTRUCTION WAIKATO BAY OF PLENTY MAGIC
Georgie Edgecombe, Ameliaranne Ekenasio, Claire Kersten, Oceane Maihi, Bailey Mes, Erena Mikaere, [Katrina Rore,] Ivana Rowland (temporary replacement player), Georgia Tong, Khiarna Williams, Samantha Winders (captain)
Ameliaranne Ekenasio (maternity leave, Pulse), Claire Kersten (Pulse), Oceane Maihi (Stars), Bailey Mes (Mystics), [Katrina Rore (maternity leave, Pulse),] Ivana Rowland (Pulse)
Caitlin Bassett (retired), Grace Kara, Temalisi Fakahokotau (originally to Pulse, now opting out of 2022 season), Holly Fowler (Stars), Chiara Semple, Tori Kolose
Where they finished in 2021
Sixth (bottom of the table)
Finishing 2021 with only one win under their belt, the Magic will be eager to put last season behind them. With a new coach (Mary-Jane Araroa), a new team manager (Daz Burns) and a new commercial partnerships manager (Alison Shanks) the comeback has started from the top.
A strength of this team is undeniably leadership and experience. Sam Winders, the Magic’s ever faithful captain (and 2021 Silver Ferns Player of the Year) will be aided by two former Pulse recruits, who together add a wealth of captaincy experience. Last week Katrina Rore, another Pulse recruit, revealed she was again expecting, so the Magic will have to do without her leadership skills.
The teaming up of Silver Fern middies Winders and Claire Kersten has everyone talking, especially with the impending selection for the 2022 Commonwealth Games. This is a chance for the combination between Winders and Kersten to further flourish, possibly presenting themselves as a package deal for the Silver Ferns selectors later in the season.
Caitlin Bassett’s departure left a hole that has been more than filled with the signing of Ekenasio, whose leadership, flair and talent can only be considered world class. Ekenasio is ably supported by Bailey Mes, who with 72 test caps provides shooting experience in addition to versatility and extreme athleticism. She’ll be looking to get that confidence back, with her recent playing history dotted with injury and bench time. It was recently confirmed that young gun Khiarna Williams will miss the first half of the season, so the likelihood of Mes playing shooter is probably quite high, although Williams’ replacement, Ivana Rowland is bound to get some game time.
In the heavily stacked defensive end, Oceane Maihi is a dynamic player and a rising star, with last years’ efforts seeing her named in the Silver Ferns Development Squad. The Stars have re-signed Kayla Johnson, and Oceane’s need for more game time meant her decision to move south was a wise one. She’ll have to prove herself against her new team-mates, but the defensive end’s relative lack of playing time with each other means the opportunity will be ripe for the taking.
A possible weakness, and the question that needs to be asked is who will don the WA bib this year? It could have been Mes, but this seems less likely with Williams being injured. The abundance of defensive players (and competence at WD) might see Winders don WA, Kersten at C (or vice versa) and Edgecombe wearing the WD bib.
The most exciting parts? The recruitment period for the Magic couldn’t have gone better, bringing players with both world class experience and a history of winning. Many members of the team are either current or former Silver Ferns, so the potential is there. The Magic players of last season are out for redemption and with the Commonwealth Games looming, timing couldn’t be better.
TE WANANGA O RAUKAWA PULSE
Aliyah Dunn, Courtney Elliott, Maddy Gordon, Binnian Hunt, Kelly Jury (co-captain), Paris Lokotui, Kristiana Manu’a, Tiana Metuarau (co-captain), Erikana Pedersen (temporary replacement player), Whitney Souness, Amelia Walmsley
Courtney Elliott (Northern Mendi Rays, Queensland), Binnian Hunt (Sunshine Coast Lightning), Kristiana Manu’a (GIANTS Netball), Erikana Pedersen (Tactix/Retirement), Amelia Walmsley (Tactix as temporary replacement player)
Te Amo Amaru-Tibble, Ameliaranne Ekenasio (WBOP Magic), Claire Kersten (WBOP Magic), Parris Mason (training partner), Kelera Nawai-Caucau (Tactix)
Where they finished in 2021
The Pulse starts the season with a new look team, following significant player loss in 2021. However, there is also familiarity, with the return of popular coach Yvette McCausland-Durie.
Defensively, the team will likely still be testing combinations after Temalisi Fakahokotau resigned in January to take a break from netball. Her replacement, ex-Steel and Mystics player Courtney Elliott, will be one to watch. After playing three seasons in the ANZ Premiership, Elliott was surprisingly overlooked for a contract and spent 2021 playing in a semi-professional league in Queensland. She will pair up with Kelly Jury and Kristiana Manu’a, who returns to New Zealand after five seasons of playing with the GIANTS in the Suncorp Super Netball League. Jury and Manu’a started their careers together at the Magic in 2015.
In the midcourt, the big question is who will fill the shoes of Claire Kersten at centre? The answer is presumably Maddy Gordon, although the talented young Silver Fern is currently injured. Her temporary replacement Erikana Pedersen is likely to step into the role in her absence. Despite being new to the squad and having predominantly played wing attack in recent years, Pedersen will bring experience and a level head to the midcourt, having come out of retirement after nine seasons of ANZ Premiership netball.
It would be interesting to see Whitney Souness play centre, demonstrating versatility to Silver Ferns selectors following her recent exclusion from the squad. However, she is formidable in the wing attack role. In 2021, she topped the table for centre pass receives with ease (over a hundred more than the second ranked Gina Crampton).
Down the shooting end, Tiana Metuarau returns to the Pulse after a year away with the Steel and no doubt will continue to wow crowds with her confident shot and dynamic movement. Metuarau and Aliyah Dunn have previously demonstrated such a strong working relationship that for some time Metuarau was the starting goal attack choice over Ameliaranne Ekenasio for the Pulse.
Whilst the Pulse squad features only four players from the team that won the ANZ Premiership in 2020, there are a number of established playing combinations and exciting new players thrown into the mix. They also appear to have a strong team culture and the benefit of the steady leadership of McCausland-Durie.
TRIDENT HOMES TACTIX
Ellie Bird, Karin Burger, Charlotte Elley, Hannah Glen, Vika Koloto, Kate Lloyd, Samon Nathan, Kalera Nawai-Caucau, Kimiora Poi (captain), Te Paea Selby-Rickit.
Hannah Glen, Vika Koloto, Kate Lloyd, Kalera Nawai-Caucau.
Sophia Fenwick, Erikana Pedersen, Jess Prosser, Jane Watson (maternity leave)
Where they finished in 2021
The Tactix will again push for their maiden ANZ Championship this year after second placings in 2020 and 2021. Significant player movement over the off season lays a fresh challenge for the franchise this year.
The team will be without the awe-inspiring Jane Watson (maternity leave) but it leaves opportunity for others to step up and for new combinations to emerge. Kimiora Poi (Ngatī Porou) takes over the captaincy and will be one to watch. The energetic mid-courter is known for her work ethic and calm demeanor on the court. The captaincy is also an opportunity for Poi to display her leadership talents, as she makes a bid for Silver Ferns selection for the Commonwealth Games.
Down the defensive end of the court, Karin Burger returns for the Tactix following a stunning 2021 ANZ season. The pressure will be on for her to quickly forge connections with newly recruited Kalera Nawai-Caucau. Nawai-Caucau impressed at the Pulse last year, particularly with her ability to hunt for ball outside the circle. The ever-reliable Charlotte Elley returns and will be key in providing intercept opportunities for her circle defenders to exploit. It remains to be seen, however, whether the Tactix will be able to build the same fortress-like defensive unit that was put forward in 2021.
The attacking end of the court has been bolstered with the recruitment of talented young shooters Hannah Glen and Vika Koloto for this season. Glen and Koloto are New Zealand Under 21 representatives and their inclusion adds more depth to the shooting circle. The Tactix struggled at times last year when injury forced starting shooters Ellie Bird and Te Paea Selby-Ricket (Ngatī Raukawa) from the court. Koloto also provides potential cover at Wing Attack following the departure of Erikana Pedersen.
The last talking point for the Tactix is their 11th squad member – their loyal fans! In 2021, the Tactix had record crowd numbers that were pivotal in helping the team through some close matches. The COVID-19 Omicron outbreak seems likely to place some restrictions on crowd capacity that may detract from the team’s strong home court advantage.
ASCOT PARK HOTEL SOUTHERN STEEL
Kate Burley, George Fisher, Georgia Heffernan, Kate Heffernan, Shannon Saunders (Captain), Renee Savai’inaea, Te Huinga Reo Selby-Rickit, Saviour Tui, Ali Wilshier, Sarahpheinna Woulf
Kate Burley (Mystics), Georgia Heffernan (injury, 2020 Steel), Saviour Tui (Mystics)
Taneisha Fifita, Tiana Metuarau (Pulse), Kiana Pelasio
Where they finished in 2021
Never underestimate the Southern Steel, even with the loss of significant personnel from their 2021 success. These players include crucial ball-winner Taneisha Fifita and new Silver Fern goal attack, Tiana Metuarau. However, the Southern Steel should rebound from these losses as they’ve picked up significant players in Kate Burley and Saviour Tui who have moved from the 2021 champions, Northern Mystics. Expect these players to continue their momentum from the Mystics, giving the Steel extra talent to push for the Grand Final series in 2022.
The shooting end has massive potential to repeat last year’s success. Georgia Heffernan returns from injury and will compete in the rising star battle with Saviour Tui for the starting goal attack position. This is a crucial season for these new players who came down to the Steel to increase their game time.
They have a fantastic opportunity to work with the dominant English Roses star, George Fisher. Scoring 585 goals in her first season at 91% accuracy, expect most shooting to go through her. The goal attack chosen needs to move the ball around to open the feeding lines into Fisher and take some of the shooting load off her to create an offensive headache.
The midcourt of Shannon Saunders, Kate Heffernan and Renee Savai’inaea will be crucial to Steel’s 2022 success. All three have great attacking and defensive games that allow them to interchange positions. This gives them an unpredictable edge and will create the need for careful strategy from their opposition. Expect Saunders to be a big part of this success, captaining the team from the midcourt once again. Her experience sees her play with flair and confidence in moving the ball around to get it inside the shooting circle.
Look out for former Northern Mystics defender, Kate Burley, who has signed with the Southern Steel for 2022. Kate is a tenacious defender who never gives up. She was in the top 10 in deflections and defensive rebounds last season, so expect her to be picking up a lot of ball.
The Steel have a weakness with no distinct goalkeeper to create a defensive foundation. While Kate Burley, Te Huinga Reo Selby-Rickit and Sarahpheinna Woulf can play the position, they are predominantly goal defences. Last season, Taneisha Fifita filled this role brilliantly, being in the top four in intercepts, deflections and defensive rebounds, and her departure will leave a noticeable hole in the side. Finding their goalkeeper will create a solid defensive combination that will translate to picking up enough ball to scare their opposition’s offensive flow.
ANZ Premiership Past winners:
2017 – Steel
2018 – Steel
2019 – Pulse
2020 – Pulse
2021 – Mystics
Sun Mar 13 – 2:10pm – Magic v Mystics
Sun Mar 13 – 4:10pm – Tactix v Steel
Mon Mar 14 – 7:15pm – Stars v Pulse
New Zealand viewers can watch all games on Sky Sport, while those outside NZ, can watch the free live streaming on the ANZ Premiership website thanks to Netball New Zealand.