Contributors – Ian Harkin, Katrina Nissen, Andrew Kennedy, Jenny Sinclair, Alexia Mitchell, Kate Cornish, Esther Nelson and Jane Edwards
A Race In Three?
By Ian Harkin
The excitement is building. There is great anticipation for the 2021 Suncorp Super Netball season starting this weekend. And there are so many question marks over the competition. Can Vixens recover from the loss of so much talent and experience? Can Fever recover from the loss of twelve points? It promises to be perhaps the closest Super Netball season we’ve seen. Here at Netball Scoop, we thought we would try to gaze into the crystal ball and see what we could come up with. So we’ve gathered the thoughts of some of our writers on which teams we think will make up the top four come season’s end. And given how close the competition is expected to be this year, it was perhaps surprising that our thoughts were very similar. Three names kept popping up time after time.
NSW rivals, the Swifts and Giants both got a unanimous seal of approval from our writers, while the Queensland Firebirds got seven mentions out of eight. The consensus from our judges is that Giants and Firebirds who both failed to make the finals last season, are on the verge of something big, while Swifts are predicted to improve on their fourth placed finish. After those three standout picks, the next team on the list is Lightning who received four mentions, while three people answered yes to the question of whether Fever could still make the playoffs despite their 12 point penalty. Even last year’s two bottom placed sides, the Thunderbirds and Magpies both got the nod from one of our writers. The only team which did not feature in any of our picks was, yes you guessed it, the defending premiers, the Melbourne Vixens! Incredible.
Now on to the predictions. Will we be close or will we be way off the mark?
Firebirds – I think they have the formula to go all the way. They are an exciting unit who learns and grows from each outing and gained a lot of momentum toward the end of last year. With Gretel Bueta back, they now have unpredictability in the front end which will be a nightmare for defenders. Kim Ravaillion has rediscovered her passion for the game and will do great things for the side by adding versatility.
Giants – They are also looking strong and more settled after last year’s turmoil. If they can keep their penalties down and stay calm during clutch moments they will do well.
Swifts – They are always contenders but never hit the right gears last year.
Thunderbirds – They will be the surprise packet this year. They pushed sides last year and fell short on a couple of occasions, so we know they can do it. Shamera Sterling and Lenize Potgieter are the barometers for this side. So, when they are calm and enjoying their netball they lift the side. With Latanya Wilson buddying up in defence, Shamera’s game will go to a new level.
I left out Vixens because they need to rebuild. Replacing three high calibre players and expecting a top four finish with athletes who have had minimum game time at this level is a big ask. Fever may push for a middle of the pack finish but I don’t think they will overcome the 12 point deficit early enough to make that impact.
Giants – After a disjointed and controversial 2020, the 2018 minor premiers will regain the edge thanks to the most flexible team in defence, the best line-up of super-shotters, and the best defensive midcourt.
Swifts – Assuming they don’t have any key injuries, they are one of the epitome of a champion team, and have the coaching nous to overcome those bogey teams of 2020
Fever – Despite the three-game handicap due to salary cap breaches, West Coast can actually make quite a break on the lesser teams and scrape into fourth, from where they will have as good a shot as anyone in achieving glory; however this year they are back to the draining travel schedule and this may be a thorn in their side
Firebirds – With a midcourt and shooting line to die for, the defensive end simply don’t have the height or experience to really scare the top teams just yet.
Fever – Fever face an uphill battle to make the top four – given the 12 points against them and the additional travel burden. However, they’ve recruited wisely in the off-season, have learned valuable lessons from their two narrow grand final losses, and will want to farewell outgoing coach Stacey Marinkovich with a win. They have a tough start to the season with five away games in the first seven rounds, but if they can notch up early wins their confidence will be high. If Fever do make the finals #everythingispossible. There are some pitfalls to avoid, including how they handle the super shot, which wasn’t their greatest strength in season 2020.
Firebirds – The Firebirds shooting line will be the most formidable in 2021, but their defensive end has been heavily penalised in the past, and it’s still too soon to tell how their midcourt will settle into it’s new combinations. However, I’m tipping them to make the grand final under new coach Megan Anderson.
Giants – The Giants have looked settled in their pre-season games and ready to put the tribulations of 2020 behind them. They are another team that will have a formidable shooting circle, but their lack of midcourt attacking options in a heavily defensive based line up might hurt them at times. Kiera Austin needs to reduce her error rate, but will be a key part of their team again in 2021.
Swifts – Swifts looked out of sorts last year as they tried to reintroduce skipper Maddy Proud and manage their injuries, and I expect that 2021 will see a much improved showing. A settled and strong wing defence remains an issue for them, having lost Katrina Rore and Kate Eddy in the past few years.
Firebirds – They’ve got the winning feeling and formula. The vibe and self belief is very 2015-esque and it just feels like there’s a laser focus, paired with a lot of raw talent and skill – although their defence may need one more year to form something formidable.
Lightning – You can’t deny how strong their defence is, with Karla Pretorius being such a weapon and Kate Shimmin coming into the fold as one of the best bench players. They might have lost the Langman flare, but Mahalia Cassidy is one of the coolest midcourters and should fill the role seamlessly. Steph Wood is their key to scoring big, and a lot relies on her remaining injury free as well as relaxed. Last year she cracked under the pressure a bit but I’m hoping she’ll be able to settle into the super shot rules this year.
Giants – Yes they have the dream shooting combination for this format of the game, but I’m not completely confident in their defence – they’re always strong but I’m unsure if they’ll be able to match something as dynamic as a Firebirds or Fever attack line.
Swifts – They’ve got all the right players and a lot of stability, it’s just a matter of if they will be the perfectly oiled machine that they were in 2019. With anything less, they could scrape through but should be cautious with Fever closing in on the top 4 towards the end of the season.
Overall, I think it will be one of the most competitive seasons yet. Fever are on a knife edge but if any team can recover from a 12 point deficit, it’s them. The Thunderbirds have all the talent to push close, but lack the gel that Chelsea Pitman provided, and have a not-so-flashy midcourt (although I will stan Maisie “Nank the Tank” Nankivell). Let’s just let the Vixens rebuild from a series of injuries while we see what a returning Ash Brazill can do to reinvigorate the Magpies.
Giants – They look amazing this pre-season. Jo Harten looks like a different player. Her energy, both positive or negative affects this team greatly and this year she looks fresh and ready to have a great season. Last season she looked liked she carried a heavy load. Their ability to have versatility across the court and the genuine depth in their team (including their training partners) is probably the best in the competition.
Firebirds – Kim Ravaillion and Gretel Bueta bring so much confidence to the Firebirds. The connection with Romelda Aiken is seamless and they will get a lot of free points with this tried and tested combination. The Hinchliffe and Jenner defensive unit is close to the best that netball can offer. With one more year under their belt as a combination we can expect to see some thrilling games including them both. Megan Anderson is a breath of fresh air for a team and a club who needed to re-invent themselves and get back in the good-graces of the netball community after Indigenous round 2020.
Swifts – The Swifts have a mostly unchanged line-up, but huge ‘in’ for them is Bec Bulley being assigned the assistant coach. I think this is the point of difference that could make the Swifts a huge threat in 2021. Bulley gives the Swifts the change they needed, without having to introduce new players. I am excited to see what she can bring to the defensive end of the Swifts, who were quiet last year, and I look forward to watching the growth of Sarah Klau, Maddy Turner and Lauren Moore under her guidance.
Lightning – They’ve had a year with Kylee Byrne at the helm after former coach Noline Taurua left, not before creating the most successful franchise in Super Netball. This season I am excited to watch Cara Koenen play more of a leadership role in the team. Koenen lines up with Steph Wood who will be looking to have a big year after her latest knee injury has kept her out of international netball. Mahalia Cassidy joins the Lightning and her combination with Laura Scherian should be a joy to watch. Of course, the best goal defence in the world, Karla Pretorius, plays for this team – and that name alone means that the Lightning are always in with a fighting chance.
Swifts – The Swifts have a consistent and stable line up. Compared to all of the other teams with their numerous changes it is easier to predict their performance.
Giants – In my heart I would say Giants as number 1 for all the reasons outlined by others but I am not sure whether they have the grit to win the GF. Especially if it was against the Swifts.
Lightning – I don’t think you can count out the Lightning as they have been consistent performers across all of the SSN seasons to date. They are strong all the way through court with ball winners like Pretorius.
Magpies – This was a difficult decision. Collingwood is a bit like the Thunderbirds in that they can have brilliant games against the top teams.
I think the Firebirds need more time together before taking out a top four spot. I don’t think the Fever will overcome their 12 point deficit to be in top 4 contention. The Vixens suffered a huge blow with no Liz Watson and the retirements of Philip and Thwaites so I think this season will just be rebuilding for them.
Firebirds – the return of Buetta, and the options available with Dwan and Aiken will be reminiscent of Vixens 2020 winning formula. The goal circle defence continues to grow in stature, and Ravaillion will add experience and inspiration in the midcourt.
Swifts – Team stability and the hunger to replicate their 2019 premiership will carry them through to the grand final.
Lightning – They finished second at the end of the 2020 regular rounds, and have hung on to key players including Their three-prong international shooting circle, and the South African defence line of Karla Pretorius and Phumza Maweni.
Giants – That shooting circle lineup will be a formidable challenge for every other team in the league, and the midcourt is strong and domineering. The only query is whether the defence can win enough turnovers, and April Brandley‘s successful integration will be the key. The other big question is team temperament – can they find a more sustainable motivation for victory?
Swifts – They never really quite hit their straps in 2020. Beset with niggling injuries along the way, especially to Helen Housby and Maddy Turner, they struggled to get their best lineup on court. But they’re a very settled lineup now and providing the injuries don’t strike again, they look ready to revert to their winning form of 2019.
Fever – By the time the 2020 Super Netball season concluded, Vixens and Fever were clearly the best two teams in the league. Well, now, Vixens have lost some very big names while Fever have seemingly grown stronger. Yes, that 12 points penalty is certainly a real handicap, but people will underrate them at their peril. What a story it would be.
Giants – There’s just something about them this year. Are we all being sucked in to the same thing? They looked so good in the pre-season. No matter which side of the fence you were on regarding the controversy over Caitlin Bassett last year, the fact is the team will surely be far more settled this year without that drama hanging over their heads.
Firebirds – Despite not making finals in 2020, come season’s end, the Firebirds were arguably the third best team in the competition. And now they have Gretel Bueta back in the team. And they have Kim Ravaillion. It will be interesting to see how Ravaillion fits back into the lineup, as she’s a different style of player to Mahalia Cassidy.