It’s (almost) Suncorp Super Netball time! With overseas leagues underway, Australian fans have been waiting impatiently for the 2023 championship race. And with excitement building, changes aplenty, and a buzz in the air, Netball Scoop casts an eye over each of the eight Australian teams. In this two part series, we cover each team’s changes, strengths and challenges, but fall well short of knowing who to tip for the title.
Contributors: Kate Cornish, Georgia Doyle, Ian Harkin, Katrina Nissen, Tash Rudd, Jenny Sinclair, Ariane Virgona
Part 1 (teams ranked 8th to 5th in 2022)
SUNSHINE COAST LIGHTNING
Reilley Batcheldor (Injured)
Charlie Bell (Replacement player)
Coach: Belinda Reynolds
Finish in 2022: 8th
Ins: Charlie Bell, Ashleigh Ervin, Karla Pretorius
Outs: Reilley Batcheldor (ACL Injury), Maddie Hinchliffe (Collingwood Magpies), Kate Walsh (retirement)
Training Partners: Ava Black, Bridey Condren, Martina Reekers, Leilani Rohweder
Keys to success
The return of Karla Pretorius is set to bolster not only the team’s defensive stocks, but also add experience and leadership, even if she lacks a ‘formal’ leadership role. If her performance during the recent Quad Series is anything to go by, and like many of the athletes we’ve seen return from maternity leave, Pretorius’s best netball days may still be ahead of her. And with four circle defenders in the roster, expect to see her used across wing defence and goal defence this year, as versatility will be a key for the Lightning’s defensive end.
Lightning fans will also be hoping that Cara Koenen and Steph Wood can carry on their red hot international form to the domestic season. In 2022 they were inconsistent, and Wood seemed to struggle under the pressure of captaincy. With the return of Pretorius, and the confidence gained from her recent Diamond performances, it could be a big year for Wood who will need to shoulder more of the super shot load with Reilley Batcheldor expected to be out for the season.
With a defence heavy team selection, the midcourt will need to play extra minutes, but Mahalia Cassidy, Annie Miller and Laura Scherian all have the legs to do it. And while Miller is a relative newcomer to Suncorp Super Netball, her speed and drive at the Team Girls Cup should see her log plenty of minutes at wing attack.
New coach Belinda Reynolds is also set to bring a wealth of experience plus a new set of eyes to the team, off the back of the West Coast Fever Premiership as assistant coach. Known for her clear messaging and tactical astuteness, a few minor tweaks from Reynolds to the already established team should be enough to lift them out of last year’s eighth place.
The loss of up and comer Reilley Batcheldor to an ACL injury sustained during the Australian Netball Championships will be a blow to the Lightning’s shooting circle, especially with the Super Shot here to stay for Season 2023. They’ve recruited cross town tall timber Charlie Bell, who, despite a lack of exposure at the top level, looked impressive at the Team Girls Cup.
There has also been minimal time for new combinations to gel in the defensive end, with Pretorius, Hinchliffe and Dehaney all away on international duties for various portions of pre-season. While all are excellent players in their own right, how they combine and how they are utilised by first time head coach Belinda Reynolds will be key to their ability to redeem themselves from the wooden spoon performance of 2022.
Several stars will have to align for Lightning to succeed in 2023. No doubt the disappointing 2022 campaign will provide plenty of motivation, but with several new faces and a new coach on board, the team will have their work cut out for them if they are to jump back into finals contention. The consistency of Koenen and Wood, as well as growth of newbie Charlie Bell will be integral to their success. If her performance at Team Girls Cup is anything to go by, Bell will have few qualms facing up against the best defenders in the league, and will only continue to grow each time she steps out on court.
Traditionally having struggled against West Coast Fever since the departure of Geva Mentor, Lightning will be grateful to not have to face them until Round 7, when they will have had the chance to iron out any kinks and decide on the best defensive combination to combat the reigning premiers. But it will be their ability to take on these top teams that really test Lightning, and where their chance to push back into finals will lie.
Coach: Tania Obst
Finish in 2022: 7th
Ins: Lucy Austin, Eleanor Cardwell
Outs: Elle McDonald (Leeds Rhinos, NSL), Lenize Potgieter (Manchester Thunder, NSL)
Training Partners: Chelsea Blackman, Sophie Casey, Lauren Frew, Jessie Grenvold, Tyler Orr
Keys to success
It’s no surprise that the Thunderbirds’ main key to success is their defence. In 2022, their backline superstars Shamera Sterling and Latanya Wilson each finished in the top five for intercepts, deflections, and possession gains. As a team, the Thunderbirds averaged just shy of 10 intercepts per game throughout 2022. That’s nearly four more than their closest rival.
What’s more impressive is that they kept their penalty count respectably low with no Thunderbird appearing in the top 10 for contacts. 2023 will be the third consecutive year that this defensive combination, including Matilda Garrett, has been together, which means there will be more speccy intercepts and deflections which will really test opposition. In the preseason, Thunderbirds looked at their best running a backline of Sterling, Garrett and Wilson in goal keeper, goal defence and wing defence respectively, and this combination should see plenty of court time.
And while the defensive end will pick up plenty of ball, critical to the Thunderbirds success will be the addition of Eleanor Cardwell. In her last few seasons in the UK’s Super League, the English shooter has developed into a formidable target. Playing across both goaling positions, Cardwell has strong hands, is confident shooting from any range, and is a fierce competitor who knows how to win.
With four goalers in the 2023 side, Thunderbirds coach Tania Obst will be spoilt for choice as she has, arguably, the most diverse shooting options in the league. Youngster Lucy Austin has proven to have nerves of steel in her few outings and is a strong holding target. Tippah Dwan is a smart, impact player, who is impressive in super shot range. Georgie Horjus has fantastic movement and is confident and accurate from any distance, and can also play out at wing attack.
The addition of former England head coach Tracey Neville to the coaching roster also shouldn’t be underestimated. Neville is one of the most tactically astute coaches in the business, and brings clarity and experience to the team.
For all their defensive gains in 2022, the Thunderbirds biggest weakness was their ability to convert to goal. On average, they were guilty of 30 turnovers per game, by far the most in the league. This and their lack of consistency, have been sore spots for the Thunderbirds for several years, with many of the turnovers or breakdowns happening in their goal third. As a result the Thunderbirds shot the least number of goals by some margin, and this metric urgently needs to change for them to make their way up the ladder.
Players like Maisie Nankivell and Hannah Petty have been with the club for a few seasons now, and together with Tayla Williams, who impressed last year, they need to combine for greater ball security during transition through court. Their case will be helped by their defenders, who are prolific ball carriers, and the attacking nous of Horjus when she’s at wing attack.
Errors can come about through fitness issues in the late stages of each quarter and the game, but conditioning shouldn’t be an issue for the Thunderbirds this year, with them all looking like they’ve have a big pre-season in the gym.
There’s a real buzz around the Thunderbirds this season. If they can find some consistency through their midcourt and transition play while also swiftly developing their new front-line combinations, they may be close to unstoppable in 2023.
They could drop a few games early on, while the shooters adjust to the new combinations. However, by the second half of the season, expect to see them really push the top teams and be in the mix for finals. The big question is – will their lack of big match experience, particularly when a game is tight, be costly?
Coach: Rebecca Bulley
Finish in 2022: 6th
Ins: Macy Gardner, Remi Kamo, Emily Moore, Ashlee Unie
Outs: Gretel Bueta (pregnancy), Kim Jenner (West Coast Fever), Jemma Mimi, Eboni Usoro-Brown (retirement)
Training Partners: Olivia Dijkstra, Leesa Mi Mi, Isabelle Shearer, Hulita Veve
Keys to success
With a season under her belt, a Diamonds debut and now a full preseason, Donnell Wallam will be the integral spearhead in the shooting circle for the Firebirds. A key will be the ability of the less experienced Mia Stower and Emily Moore to combine well with Wallam, as well as integrating their games with the mid court. Once they find their feet at this level, both Stower and Moore are play making goal attacks who will create space for Wallam to shine, whilst also being able to shoot the super shots.
Kim Ravaillion, Lara Dunkley and Macy Gardner will need to use their experience and adapt to a goal attack that is vastly different in style to superstar Gretel Bueta. While the creativity of Jemma Mi Mi, who left the team due to the birth of her twins, is a loss, Firebirds ranked second in 2022 for being able to convert centre passes to goals. If Firebirds can get the mid court flowing with their new shooting circle, through patience and good execution, they have the ability to win games.
On court combinations are like gold dust, and many of the Firebirds have previously played together in the Sapphire Series. The reunion of Remi Kamo and Ruby Bakewell-Doran, who were almost unstoppable as a defensive duo, should be exciting.
Any side losing Gretel Bueta, one of the best shooters in the world, needs to adapt but the real challenge lies in the defensive end. Last on the list for intercepts in 2022, their most experienced player will be Ruby Bakewell-Doran, who had an incredible debut year in 2022 which saw her gain her first international test cap. She is joined by Ash Unie and Remi Kamo, who will be lining up for their first seasons as fully contracted Firebirds, with Unie previously contracted to Sunshine Coast Lightning in 2021 before suffering an ACL injury during pre-season.
The other challenge for Firebirds in the defensive end will be the question of who will fill the backup goal keeper role. Kamo is the only true specialist on the roster, but at just 180cm in height she may struggle against some of the other team’s spearheads. While both Bakewell-Doran and Unie are more known as goal defence/wing defence players, the most likely solution will be to move Bakewell-Doran back, as she is the tallest of all three defenders. However, if you have to move a player out of their most dominant and best position in order to cover another, will you still get the best from them?
Having a defensive end with prior connections through the Queensland Sapphire Series, and who dominated that league for many years, will come in handy for the group. They have the ability to take it to all attacking circles in the league. If they can get humming and the attackers combine well with their new shooting unit, then anything can happen and Firebirds may just surprise a few tipsters in where they finish.
That said, a top four finish is most likely out of reach this season for incoming coach Bec Bulley and her squad. While they will be aiming for the wins, it’s more of a development year for this new look team, who will have to adapt to the numerous changes.
Coach: Briony Akle
Finish in 2022: 5th
Ins: Sophie Fawns
Outs: Kelly Singleton
Training Partners: Romelda Aiken-George, Lili Gorman-Brown, Kelea Iongi, Audrey Little, Chelsea Mann, Dakota Thomas, Grace Whyte
Keys to success
There is a real family feel to this NSW Swifts team. A total of six starting players, as well as coach Briony Akle, have all been with the club since the inception of Super Netball in 2017. That this core has stuck solid into their seventh season is an amazing achievement and a great credit to the club. This connection has seen the team go on to claim the title on two occasions and will hold them in good stead as they try for number three.
This group of six players includes the dynamic Maddy Proud. She had a simply outstanding 2022, racking up huge attacking numbers in terms of feeds and assists, and she did that with a shooting circle that didn’t always function well due to their well-documented injury issues. Proud’s midcourt combination with the ever-reliable and versatile Paige Hadley is one of the strongest in the league. Hadley just goes about her job week in, and week out. In 2022, she often played a support role to Proud, but she was no less important.
It’s much the same story in the defensive circle. The duo of Sarah Klau and Maddy Turner perform consistently well against a variety of opposition. When Swifts are under pressure, it’s likely to be Klau who will come up with a spectacular intercept at just the right moment. But while it’s Klau who usually ends up with more possession gains, Turner is just as vital to the team. Her relentless four-quarter pressure forces opponents into error and provides the opportunity for Klau to pounce.
Rounding out the six players who form the backbone of this Swifts team, is the international shooting pairing of England’s Helen Housby and Trinidad & Tobago’s Sam Wallace. The two of them work so incredibly well together and have starred in both of Swifts’ grand final victories. Sadly, Wallace has been on the sideline since rupturing her ACL in the opening round last season. The team performed admirably in 2022 without her, finishing a mere super shot away from making the semi-finals, but a fit and firing Wallace would be a big boost to the team’s chances this year.
It’s not a bold statement to suggest that a successful Super Netball season for the NSW Swifts will largely depend on the effectiveness of the shooting circle. With Wallace on the comeback trail, how coach Akle utilises the shooters she has at her disposal, will go a long way to deciding Swifts’ fate. Wallace’s injury was severe, and at this stage, it is still unclear exactly when she will return to full form and fitness.
With that in mind, the signing of former Firebirds champion Romelda Aiken-George as a training partner has been a masterstroke. Her big-game experience (and height) will be invaluable in covering the goal shooter position. Meanwhile, 19-year-old Sophie Fawns, who joined the team as injury replacement last year, is improving with every single game and has been so impressive, she’s earned a full-time contract. Akle will be hoping that some of the pressure can be taken off Housby who had to work overtime in the circle last season.
One position that has been a problem area for Swifts over the years is wing defence, with no player able to consistently hold down that spot successfully. This season, once again the job is likely to be shared by Allie Smith and Tayla Fraser. Another option however is to move both Klau and Turner out one position and play Teigan O’Shannassy at goal keeper. This move was used to good effect on occasions last season.
Having so narrowly missed out on finals action last season, Swifts would obviously be looking for that touch of improvement that will see them back in the top four in 2023. And there’s no reason why they can’t achieve it. The shooting circle alone should be more effective this season, and that could well be enough to see them back in the semi-finals. It must be remembered that this year’s team contains the entire starting seven of the victorious 2021 Swifts squad. So, they know all about winning.