NETBALL SCOOP: Our burning questions for the Team Girls Cup

NETBALL SCOOP: Our burning questions for the Team Girls Cup

2022 is going to be another fascinating season for Suncorp Super Netball, with a new broadcast deal, fresh collaborations, concerns over international viewing access, team changes, the ongoing impact of Covid, and the announcement of the Diamonds’ Commonwealth Games team. While some of these broader issues will play out over the months ahead, the Team Girls Cup, held from the 25th to the 27th February, will hopefully answer some questions fans have about each of the clubs.

In general news, Fox Netball and Kayo Sport have exciting plans in store for their coverage, with more to be revealed in coming weeks. One thing is for sure – they’ve been listening to fans and what they want from broadcast. A move to primetime slots on Saturday night, and away from grassroots playing fixtures, is just one of the innovations that will help fans to tune in.

One of the collaborations that has caught our eye is between the Confident Girls Foundation and the Tie Dye Project. During the Team Girls Cup, a sets of bibs signed by each club will be auctioned, with proceeds going to the Confident Girls Foundation. This season, the Tie Dye Project has raised almost $100 000 for sarcoma research.

There’s been some movement of players in recent months, a few retirements – none bigger than Caitlin Bassett – and others will be returning from injury. However, athletes will have little time to impress the national selectors, with the Diamonds team set to be announced after Round 4. While it seems unfathomably early, it’s a requirement from the Commonwealth Games governing body, rather than the Diamonds’ preference.

Added to the mix is Covid, with the Omicron variant now rampant in Australia. Players have been missing from recent pre-season games, while the Firebirds had to cancel two matches when 12 of their on and off court team were struck down with illness. The recalcitrant Western Australian government has announced a new border opening date of March the 3rd, meaning that opposing teams will no longer have to isolate going into the state, and Fever should be able to travel freely. Unfortunately they will still have to quarantine for a week after the Team Girls Cup.

It’s likely that all teams will have to dip heavily into their benches and training partners at various times during the season, and the squads which can best adapt to any bouts of ill health should feature at the end of the season. With all those factors in mind, Netball Scoop looks at the burning questions that the Team Girls Cup – returning from a Covid-enforced absence since 2019 – will hopefully answer.

 

 

A Confident Girls and Tie Dye Project collaboration

 

 

 

 

West Coast Fever

There’s always interest about what a team will look under an incoming coach, and to complicate matters Dan Ryan was only able to assemble his full squad on Valentine’s Day, some 11 weeks after preseason had commenced. With Courtney Bruce, Sunday Aryang, Janiele Fowler and Stacey Francis-Bayman sweating it out in Darwin-based quarantine, the remaining squad assembled in Perth.

Fans will be hoping to see training partner Ruth Aryang, Sunday’s talented younger sister, take to the court in defence, while it will also be fascinating to see how Alice Teague-Neeld and Sasha Glasgow thrive under the reins of Ryan, a specialist shooting coach. The pair have been used interchangeably at goal attack in the past, with neither taking a firm grasp on the bib.

Already one of the more flexible squads, the arrival of Rudi Ellis gives the Fever even more options, as Courtney Bruce could potentially spend more time at goal defence. It’s a position from where Bruce can still fly at the ball, but also attack down court in her inimitable style and potentially reduce her at-times costly penalty count.

One of the signings of the season is Chelsea Pitman as training partner, and if she receives court time, it could bring her right back into the mix for the Roses’ Commonwealth Games team. Pitman will move west after the Team Girls Cup, and her experience and leadership will be invaluable for Fever’s youngsters.

 

Adelaide Thunderbirds

Tippah Dwan’s move to the Thunderbirds has created plenty of chat, with fans wondering just how she and Georgie Horjus will be used. The Thunderbirds still haven’t consolidated their midcourt after Chelsea Pitman’s 2020 dumping, and it’s likely that Horjus will swing out to wing attack to assist with playmaking possibilities, with Dwan ahead of her at goal attack.

Training partner Lucy Austin has reportedly shone in preseason games, and could receive her first official call up if Lenize Potgeiter, still recovering from her documented mental health challenges, isn’t yet right to play sixty minutes of netball.

Latanya Wilson has been tipped by former Diamonds’ coach Lisa Alexander as a rising defensive star. Her long arms and athleticism created havoc in Jamaica’s test series against England (although centre probably isn’t her position!), and her combination with Shamera Sterling should put most shooting circles to the sword. It’s going to be one of the toughest defensive pairings in the league – if they can keep their penalties low.

 

Collingwood Magpies

The Magpies stormed home in 2021, and will be looking to be build on that form this season. Shimona Nelson is finally fulfilling her promise at goal shooter, and will be looking to threaten the Jamaican one-two order of Janiele Fowler and Romelda Aiken. Who will partner her at goal attack is the million dollar question? Incumbent Gabi Sinclair could see more bench time in favour of Sophie Garbin, who moved south from the Swifts in search of more playing opportunities.

Predominantly a goal shooter, Garbin needs to get out on court to cement her place in the Australian team. If she can add goal attack to her resume it will strengthen her case, but will her conditioning be equal to the challenge?

Her 2021 form marred by a pre-season back injury, Geva Mentor is now fighting fit again, and her combination with Jodi-Ann Ward will continue to grow. Ash Brazill’s decision to step away from AFLW before the Commonwealth Games should see her looking fresh out on court, while one of the keys to the Pies fortunes will be whether Kelsey Browne can keep her error rate low as she feeds the circle. Overlooked for the Diamonds squad, Browne is unmatchable for speed, but can spray the ball at times.

 

Melbourne Vixens

There was an Australia wide sigh of relief as Liz Watson performed strongly in the January Quad series, after sitting out the 2021 season following foot surgery. The world’s best wing attack was all class, and will be critical to the Vixen’s form this year, lifting a heavy burden from centre Kate Moloney’s shoulders.

All eyes will be on Kiera Austin’s return to the court, although the Team Girls Cup might be too soon for this to happen. She will be going almost head to head with Sophie Garbin for a place in the Diamonds’ shooting circle, so expect comparisons to be made between the pair. Austin debuted well in the 2021 Constellation Cup, albeit with lower shooting accuracy than she would have liked, but with the Commonwealth Games team announced after Round 4, it might be too soon for her to fight her way back into the team.

Buzzer beating two point specialist Rahni Samason should receive plenty of court time, as Austin works her way back onto court.

Emily Mannix has cruelly been robbed of court time in recent seasons following some ill-fortune with injury, and fans will be hoping she’s fighting fit in 2022.

 

GIANTS Netball

Sam Poolman and Kristiana Manu’a are huge defensive losses, and it will be intriguing to see how Julie Fitzgerald rejuvenates this end of the court. Their shoes will be partly filled by Lauren Moore, who has made the move from cross town rivals, NSW Swifts, while Tilly McDonnell should part company from the bench where she’s spent the best part of the last two seasons. April Brandley has been ultra impressive since returning from maternity leave, and will continue to be a wise head in the circle.

Amy Parmenter received a well-earned call up to the national squad, and should demonstrate the growth and confidence from those training camps.

It’s unlikely that there will be much change to the front four, and another year of development from Maddie Hay and Sophie Dwyer will only strengthen the GIANTS. Hay was a revelation in 2021, and still has room to grow with her cuts, drives and passing around the circle. Coming from a defensive background, her spin on wing attack is quite unique, and she can always be relied on for crucial gains.

However, with Jo Harten, Dwyer, Hay and Jamie-Lee Price receiving more game time than any other player across the league last year, the limited development of other bench players could prove costly if one of the “Big Four” is ill or injured.

 

NSW Swifts

The Swifts have won two premierships in the last three years, crafted largely on having a true squad of ten and the ability to roll seamlessly through positional changes. How will they look in 2022? While the Swifts have retained their starting seven, they’ve lost Natalie Metcalf (nee Haythornthwaite), Sophie Garbin and Lauren Moore. All three had the ability to step onto court and immediately impact, a rotational policy that allowed the Swifts to play both a safe but high octane brand of netball. Will the Swifts game style change as they embed new combinations?

After a quieter domestic season in 2021, Helen Housby fired on all cylinders for most of the international series, while Maddy Proud might have a point to prove after just missing selection for the national team. Time is slipping away from the former national U21 captain, and fans would love to see her in the green and gold.

Sarah Klau has quietly gained in confidence over the past few seasons, and was one of the best performing Diamonds at the recent Quad series. She’s become a big game player, pulling off match-winning intercepts as needed. Her partnership with shut-down specialist Maddy Turner also continues to thrive, but after leading the league for penalties in 2021, Turner will need to tidy up this aspect of her game.

 

Queensland Firebirds

All eyes will be on Kim Ravaillion. She made the move back to the Firebirds in 2021, laying down a strong season, but was overlooked for the national squad. She’s now also the captain of the Firebirds, after Gabi Simpson stepped down from the role, and fans will be keen to see how Rav responds to the highs and lows of recent months.

There’s been speculation swirling around the Firebirds’ personnel for months, heightened by their social media whoopsie that showed Western Australian star Donnell Wallam training with the team. The vision was taken down, but Wallam is reportedly on trial for a position as a training partner – along with other players -, having turned down a similar opportunity with West Coast Fever.

Gretel Tippett will have a big say in the Firebirds’ fortunes, and is back to her brilliant best, but eyes will be on how the defensive end fares after the loss of Rudi Ellis and Tara Hinchliffe to rival clubs. Formidable English defender Eboni Usoro-Brown should team up with Kim Jenner, but the pair will need to keep their penalties under control.

Unfortunately the Firebirds had to cancel two pre-season hitouts after 12 of their on and off court personnel contracted Covid. How the athletes health recovers from this setback could be critical to their fortunes in the early stages of the season.

 

Sunshine Coast Lightning

There’s a huge South African sized hole in the defensive end after the departure of Phumza Maweni and the pregnancy of Karla Pretorius. Add in the retirement of underrated wing defence Maddy McAuliffe, and the Lightning have some rejuvenation to do. However, Kadie-Ann Dehaney will hope to nail the starting goal keeper bib, while Tara Hinchliffe is returning from an ACL injury and should be back on court soon. Kate Walsh (nee Shimmin) has also had limited opportunities over the last few years, but her early combination with Dehaney is looking the goods.

At the opposite end of the court, Steph Wood is reportedly in fine form after some niggling knee injuries have impacted her over recent seasons. After a strong Constellation Cup in 2021, Cara Koenen spent a significant amount of time on the bench in the recent Quad series, with Gretel Bueta the preferred option at goal shooter. The only Australian currently playing in that position domestically, Koenen is masterly along the baseline and will be looking to add variety to her game as she presses for Diamonds’ reselection.

The Laura Scherian and Mahalia Cassidy midcourt combination last year ticked over smoothly, but the loss of Lightning’s back three, together with their considerable leadership ability, will be a challenge to overcome.

 

Tie Dye Project auction – watch the Tie Dye Project and Confident Girls Foundation socials for further details.

The Team Girls Cup will run from Friday 25th to Sunday 27th February, with matches to be broadcast on Kayo Sport.

 

 

The Tie Dye Project logo

About the Author:

Physiotherapist, writer and netball enthusiast. Feature articles, editorials and co-author of "Shine: the making of the Australian Netball Diamonds". Everyone has a story to tell, and I'm privileged to put some of them on paper. Thank you to the phenomenal athletes, coaches and people in the netball world who open a door to their lives, and let me tiptoe in.