The 2023 ANZ Premiership season is upon us once again – another 15-round season condensed to just 12 weekends.
It’s the seventh edition of the league, since the parting of the trans Tasman competition.
Only three sides have claimed the Minor Premiership to date – Southern Steel and Northern Mystics once each and Central Pulse four times. The Minor Premier has gone on to win the title in five of the six previous seasons, with Southern Steel’s stunning comeback in the 2018 final against Central Pulse the only time the away team have become competition champions.
Last year was the first time the team who finished on top after the regular season – Pulse – did it with just 10 wins to their name, and the second time the Bonus Points system affected the top three on the table, with Northern Stars slipping to second position even they enjoyed one more win than Pulse across the season.
It was also the first time the team who finished in last place – Mainland Tactix – managed to secure five wins. The previous best was Northern Stars (2018) and the Mystics (2019) with four wins.
Due to venue issues, the Grand Final location has been determined ahead of the season starting, with the 4000-seat GLOBOX Arena in Hamilton to stage the event on June 4.
It affords sufficient time for the Silver Ferns side for the Netball World Cup – which begins July 28 – to be named, and space for an international hit out, which occurred in 2019 ahead of the World Cup in Liverpool (against Fiji, the New Zealand Men and an All Stars team), and last year prior to the Birmingham Commonwealth Games, which featured New Zealand A , New Zealand Men and a Mixed Invitational side.
Sulu Fitzpatrick (c)
Katie Te Ao
In: Carys Stythe (Mystics training partner)
Out: Fa’amu Ioane (Central Pulse)
Coach: Tia Winikerei
Where they finished in 2022: Third
Key player: Grace Nweke
Nweke was key to the Mystics’ equation in 2022, where a table-topping season fell away after she suffered an almost-season-ending injury mere weeks from the finals.
Finishing third, the Mystics went on lose the Elimination Final against the Northern Stars in Nweke’s return match, unable to secure the title for retiring coach Helene Wilson.
With the World Cup later in the year, Peta Toeava will be determined to show her connection with Nweke can’t be rivalled, and Phoenix Karaka and captain Sulu Fitzpatrick will both be vying for limited defensive spaces.
The Mystics should go in to the 2023 as favourites, with a brilliant mix of experience and upcoming talent – Carys Stythe and Katie Te Ao injecting freshness into a settled team.
Maia Wilson (c)
In: Samon Nathan, Kelera Nawai-Caucau (Mainland Tactix)
Out: Kayla Johnson (pregnant), Greer Sinclair (Mainland Tactix), Anna Harrison (retirement)
Coach: Kiri Wills
Where they finished in 2022: Runners Up
Key player: Elle Temu
On paper the Northern Stars are reliable, but perhaps slightly underwhelming.
Anna Harrison and Kayla Johnson are considerable losses to the defensive end, although it does afford Elle Temu the chance to show how far she has come in the past few seasons, and how much she managed to absorb from Harrison during their time together.
Kelera Nawai-Caucau is set to replace Harrison on court, and along with former Tactix midcourter and teammate, Samon Nathan, the pair will hope to make a positive impact.
The shooting end remains unchanged, the trio of Maia Wilson, Amorangi Malesala and Jamie Hume should continue to grow in skill and combinations.
The Stars have competency on their side, so an important focus this season will be consistency, securing as many wins as possible early on.
WAIKATO BOP MAGIC
Ameliaranne Ekenasio (c)
Georgia Takarangi (Tong)
In: Charlotte Elley (Mainland Tactix), Amy Christophers (NNL)
Out: Sam Winders (Southern Steel), Oceane Maihi (injury)
Coach: Mary-Jane Araroa
Where they finished in 2022: 4th
Key player: Ameliaranne Ekenasio
A disappointing season in 2022 – plagued mostly by injury – saw Waikato BOP Magic struggle to secure wins, something they won’t want to repeat this year.
With Ameliaranne Ekenasio back to full fitness, she will no doubt seek to bring out the best in her teammates and reinforce why she’s the captain of the Silver Ferns.
The loss of Sam Winders in the midcourt is a blow, however well-established midcourters Claire Kersten and Charlotte Elley will hopefully minimise that heartbreak, along with the younger talent.
Like last year, the team feels like a bit of a dark horse – they’ve got the goods, but can they deliver? The team has the experience and talent and skills, however the are further pressured by being the only club to have not made the final three since the league’s inception, finishing fourth in both 2017 and 2019.
Kimiora Poi (c)
Te Paea Selby-Rickit
In: Aliyah Dunn (Central Pulse), Greer Sinclair (Northern Stars), Laura Malcolm ( Manchester Thunder – NSL), Hannah Glen (ACL injury)
Out: Ellie Bird (Leeds Rhinos – NSL), Samon Nathan and Kelera Nawai-Caucau (Robinhood Stars), Charlotte Elley (Waikato Bay of Plenty Magic)
Coach: Marianne Delaney-Hoshek
Where they finished in 2022: 6th
Key player: Jane Watson
Having won every game in the recent pre-season tournament, the Tactix are looking formidablem, with the lineup stacked with exciting new or returning talent in each third of the court.
Jane Watson’s return from parental leave to the defensive end will be welcome and her pairings with not only Ferns teammate Karin Burger, but newbie Kate Lloyd, look solid. Similarly, the signing of Aliyah Dunn in the shooting circle and England midcourter Laura Malcolm bolsters the side.
The addition of Greer Sinclair will only strengthen the Tactix already strong defence. Sinclair was a sought after replacement player last season, playing for the Stars, Mystics and Magic.
However, where strong Tactix sides have fallen down in recent times is the finals. They made it to the Grand Final in both 2020 and 2021, losing to a strong Pulse outfit and then the Mystics in a two-goal thriller.
Will this be the side that can finally cast aside those results? Quite possibly, although the race will likely be against seasoned-campaigners in the Mystics and Pulse, who have had a taste of winning and know just what it takes.
Te Huinga Reo Selby-Rickit (c)
In: Sam Winders (Magic), Courtney Elliott (Pulse)
Out: Ali Wilshier, George Fisher (injury), Shannon Saunders (parental leave)
Coach: Reinga Bloxham
Where they finished in 2022: 4th
Key player: Kate Heffernan
Southern Steel are an unpredictable quantity this season.
On one hand, they’ve lost two star players in Shannon Saunders and George Fisher (the latter most recently in a devastating ACL injury). On the other, they’ve gained the formidable Sam Winders, who impressed during pre-season playing out of her usual position at wing attack, while Kate Heffernan continues to go from strength to strength.
From the outside, it appears the Steel have a solid team culture, which no doubt will continue to be championed by their captain Te Huinga Reo Selby-Rickit, who is set to achieve an incredible milestone in the form of her 200th national league match this season.
Kelly Jury (c)
In: Joyce Mvula (Manchester Thunder – NSL), Fa’amu Ioane (Northern Mystics), Ainsleyana Puleiata and Parris Mason (Central Manawa – NNL)
Out: Aliyah Dunn (Mainland Tactix), Paris Lokotui and Binnian Hunt (injury rehabilitation), Erikana Pedersen (retirement)
Coach: Yvette McCausland-Durie
Where they finished in 2022: Champions
Key player: Kelly Jury
Once again, Central Pulse look to be a standout side.
They have retained most of the team who won last year’s title and have several experienced heads on court, including Kelly Jury who was last season’s championship Most Valuable Player.
They’ve boosted their line-up with formidable Malawi and former Manchester Thunder goaler, Joyce Mvula, and retained the services of their highly successful coach Yvette McCausland-Durie.
Pulse have built up a winning culture within their environment, having made the ANZ Premiership finals every year, except 2021.
However, the team failed to secure a win at the Ōtaki pre-season tournament. It may have been down to new combinations in each third of the court, some of which there has been limited opportunity to test. There’s fifteen matches to get it right.