By Bethany Slaughter
This weekend, the ANZ Premiership will have its first centre pass for 2021. And, after a whirlwind off-season, the ball is in anybody’s court. On paper, there are reasons why every team can rise up the table, beat any opposition on their best day, and hold the trophy aloft at the pointy end of the season.
Reigning Premiers the Central Pulse have dominated the past two seasons, but their side has lost a raft of premiership heroes (namely Karin Burger, to the Mainland Tactix, and Katrina Rore, to maternity leave) and some promising youngsters. This week also brings us the news that Silver Ferns captain Ameliaranne Ekenasio will miss at least the start of the season due to fatigue. If she will be back at all this year is still undecided. Will the disruption to the starting seven cause too much turbulence, or can new head coach Gail Parata and their remaining Silver Fern representatives steer them to a triple crown?
In contrast, 2020 grand finalists Mainland Tactix have made just one change to their squad, and it is a formidable addition. Karin Burger will partner with fellow Silver Fern Jane Watson in what is bound to be one of the toughest, intercept-hungry defensive combinations in the league. After proving they are capable of the competition’s biggest stage, can the Tactix build on their good work and go one step further, with the most stable line-up remaining of any team?
The Northern Mystics were one of only two teams to defeat the eventual premiers last season; at their best form, they leave teams scrambling to match their pace. Rising Goal Shooter Grace Nweke remains every opposition defender’s worst nightmare—a tall, athletic, and accurate target—with Bailey Mes returning from injury (Patella cartilage) to partner her in the goal circle. The defensive end also has some new names, perhaps the most notable one in former English captain Ama Agbeze, who will step back onto the professional netball court as a temporary replacement player (for Michaela Sokolich-Beatson, Achilles injury). Will this added experience be the missing piece in the Mystics’ puzzle?
The Northern Stars have overhauled their team after falling short of the finals series last year. Spearhead Maia Wilson will now be joined by recent international debutante Monica Falkner in the goal circle, while the club has also lured Gina Crampton north to boost their midcourt. In defence, the Stars also pulled off a surprise (second) return from retirement for Anna Harrison. Will these key recruits in each third lift this revamped Stars team into the finals?
Despite avoiding the wooden spoon, the Southern Steel had a year to forget in 2020, marred with injuries which prevented them from forming solid attacking combinations. This season, they have acquired the services of fan-favourite English international George Fisher and the Pulse’s reliable impact player Tiana Metuarau. Shannon Saunders returns to steady the midcourt, with Te Huinga Reo Selby-Rickit leading the defensive end. With a raft of future stars signed to their first ANZ Premiership contracts, which breakout players will buoy the Steel in 2021?
The Waikato Bay of Plenty Magic have scored one of the jewels of the Australian netball landscape (pun intended) by luring Caitlin Bassett across the Tasman. Along with the Diamonds leader, the club has also recruited defensive experience in Silver Fern ball-winner Temalisi Fakahokotau. After a surprise axing from the Stars, Grace Kara also returns to her former club to bolster the midcourt. With these reliable, internationally-capped players added to every third, all eyes will be on the Magic this year. How far up the ladder can they climb?
With so many storylines to play out in 2021, netball fans both in Aotearoa and around the globe will be hoping to enjoy another complete season of New Zealand’s elite netball competition. If the off-season is anything to go by, the twists and turns awaiting us when the competition kicks off on Sunday will be unmissable.
ROUND ONE FIXTURE
Sunday 18 April – Central Pulse vs Northern Stars: 4.15pm NZT
Sunday 18 April – Southern Steel vs Mainland Tactix: 6.15pm NZT
Monday 19 April – Northern Mystics vs Waikato Bay of Plenty Magic: 7.15pm NZT
All games of the 2021 ANZ Premiership will be broadcast live in New Zealand through Sky Sport. Free live streaming is available for those living outside of New Zealand through the ANZ Premiership website: https://netballnz.streamamg.com/
By Jaimie Keay
Coach: Gail Parata
Te Amo Amaru-Tibble
Claire Kersten (Captain)
In: Te Amo Amaru-Tibble, Parris Mason (Pulse training partner), Whitney Souness (Waikato/BOP Magic), Kelera Nawai, Paris Lokotui (BEKO – Central Manawa).
Out: Karin Burger (Mainland Tactix), Tiana Metuarau (Southern Steel), Renee Savai’inaea (Southern Steel), Elle Temu (Northern Stars), Katrina Rore (Maternity leave)
Finish in 2020: Champions
Advantage: Once again the Central Pulse go into the season as the defending champions and will have yet another target on their backs. The Pulse come into 2021 with a much younger and less experienced side however.
Highly touted Parris Mason is one who is tipped to show her potential at the national level, with her athleticism exciting many netball fans. In her first year out of high school, many would have spotted Mason in action for the New Zealand U21 team during last year’s Cadbury Netball Series. She will be a valuable addition to the Pulse defence end and could team up alongside other young defender in Paris Lokotui.
Claire Kersten continues to show she is one player that ages like a fine wine. Her courtcraft is steady, consistent and composed, a key component to their recent success. Look to see her again combine with Souness who is back in yellow after last year lining up for the Waikato/BOP Magic.
Obstruction: The announcement in the last few days that Ameliaranne Ekenasio will be unavailable for the foreseeable future due to being on extended medical leave will be a massive loss for the side. Not only is she arguably the best goal attack in international netball right now, but she has grown over the last few years into a real leader with the Pulse side.
Te Amo Amaru-Tibble will likely take the starting GA position and while she has had a number of years previously for the Pulse, she will need to bring consistency to the court.
Play on: The Pulse are the only team in the competition this year with a new coach with Gail Parata returning to New Zealand after being involved with Scottish Netball as both the head coach of the Thistle but also Severn Stars in the UK Superleague.
Parata has formerly had experience as an assistant coach with both the Mystics and the Pulse during the trans-tasman competition. The influence that Yvette McCausland-Durrie had on the Pulse side, both on and off the court, is well documented so it will be interesting to see what Parata brings to the side.
The final score: Prior to the announcement about Ekenasio, we would say finals definitely for the Wellington-based team but now we think her loss might even push them out of the top 4.
Coach: Marianne Delaney-Hoshek
Te Paea Selby-Rickit
Jane Watson (Captain)
In: Karin Burger (Central Pulse).
Out: Temalisi Fakahokotau (Waikato/BOP Magic).
Finish in 2020: Runners-up
Advantage: The Mainland Tactix have the most consistent roster from last season with their only change, Karin Burger, who has shifted down to Christchurch from Wellington after the four years with the Central Pulse. Fans have seen Burger in action with Tactix captain Jane Watson in the goal circle recently for the Silver Ferns and they will be hoping this combination continues to grow throughout the season.
Centre Kimiora Poi was another who brought some spark and energy to the final two Constellation Cup games and has become a key cog in the Tactix attack end. Poi is also known for her strong defensive presence and after finishing last season with 11 intercepts, will no doubt be looking to emulate that this season.
Obstruction: After suffering an ankle injury in preseason against the Mystics, the Tactix will be hoping for a quick recovery to Te Paea Selby-Rickit. Jess Prosser had some good moments during her limited minutes last season, but the 80% accuracy of Selby-Rickit will be sorely missed.
The Tactix are not at home until Round 4 when they face the Waikato/BOP Magic, so getting wins on the board on the road will be crucial for their season.
Play on: In their second season together, Te Paea Selby-Rickit and Ellie Bird will look to continue to grow their combination. At times last season the duo showed they were unstoppable and will be looking to replicate that if they are to go one better in 2021.
After starting last year’s final considerably off the pace, Canterbury fans will be hoping the experience will be what the team need to win their first ever national netball title. At the recent preseason competition held in Ōtaki, the Tactix were the only side who did not have a loss, proving they will be the hunted come game 1.
With a poor showing in the previous trans-tasman competition, it would be one heck of a party if the team can pull it off.
The final score: This COULD be the year the Tactix finally get their hands on a trophy.
Coach: Helene Wilson
Sulu Fitzpatrick (Captain)
In: Kate Burley (Northern Stars), Ama Agbeze (UK Superleague/Severn Stars), Fa’amu Ioane (Northern Stars), Filda Vui (Elevated from training partner).
Out: Michaela Sokolich-Beatson (Achilles injury), Phoenix Karaka (motherhood), Courtney Elliott, Dani Gray, Emma Iversen.
Finish in 2020: 3rd
Advantage: Having Silver Fern Bailey Mes back into the shooting circle will no doubt aid the Mystics this season after she was ruled out last year with a knee injury. While the young side still made the finals last season, expect this year to have Grace Nweke receiving a bit more support from her GA. Saviour Tui was thrown into the deep end last year with Mes out and she showed some future promise that was also carried into the Cadbury series for NZ U21.
With Phoenix Karaka not suiting up this season after having her first child the Mystics have recruited from home-town rivals the Stars both Kate Burley and Fa’amu Ioane. The team have also signed Ama Agbeze who brings a wealth of experience across a number of years. The former Roses captain last played in New Zealand for the Central Pulse in 2018 so will be no stranger to Kiwi fans.
Sulu Fitzpatrick was one of the Silver Ferns best performers in the recent Constellation Cup win over the Diamonds and alongside either Burley or Agbeze it should prove to be a tough task for opposition teams.
Young gun Tayla Earle came into last season with big wraps after impressing in the Beko league but by her standards would have been disappointed with her consistency in 2020. Look for her to have a bigger impact alongside pocket rocket Elisapeta Toeava with last season under her belt. Earle is one of the best defensive centres when she is at the top of her game and will be a crucial piece in the Mystics through court defense.
Obstruction: One of the unluckiest netball players going around would have to be Michaela Sokolich-Beatson who again has to rehab back from her second ruptured achilles. It will be once again disappointing to not see her back on court this season. The Mystics have consistently been the team heading into a season, on paper that look the goods but have trouble translating that to wins on the court. That of course can come with pressure and again it might be asked how they will handle the expectations of their fans once again. Lets not forget, the Mystics are yet to win a title in their franchise history.
Play on: The announcement of former Collingwood Magpies head coach Rob Wright to the Mystics was definitely news netball fans needed in the off-season. Wright had a disappointing tenure at Magpies and unfortunately is currently still in Sydney, unable to get into Auckland due to COVID-19 restrictions. However, with the bubble opening on April 19th, one would expect to see Wright on the coaching bench at some stage during the season. He has been actively involved in all team trainings via Zoom and it will be interesting to see what defensive tactics he brings to the side.
The final score: Always hard to pick how the Mystics will go – could go either way. How about, they will be around the middle. Could sneak into finals but could also just miss out.
Coach: Kiri Wills
Maia Wilson (Captain)
In: Gina Crampton (Southern Steel), Monica Falkner (Waikato/BOP Magic), Anna Harrison (back from ‘retirement’), Oceane Mahi (Stars – training partner), Amorangi Malesala (Australia), Elle Temu (Central Pulse).
Out: Kate Burley (Northern Mystics), Fa’amu Ioane (Northern Mystics), Grace Kara (Waikato/BOP Magic), Julianna Naoupu (motherhood), Storm Purvis (retirement), Daystar Swift (not retained).
Finish in 2020: 4th
Advantage: The Stars have made some strong off-season recruitment moves that have the potential to take the Northern side back to the grand final in season 2021. In the COVID-19 affected season last year, the Stars were unable to take advantage of not travelling for the first 7 rounds and despite some close games against eventual grand finalists, the Central Pulse and Mainland Tactix, they were unable to close out the tight games. With the inclusion of Silver Ferns Gina Crampton at WA and Monica Faulkner at GA to go alongside the best GS in the country in Maia Wilson, it finally looks like their attack end will live up to expectations.
Amorangi Malesala returns to the ANZ Premiership after spending the last two seasons in Australia as part of the NSW Swifts Academy, but Kiwi fans will also remember her from two seasons with the Waikato/BOP Magic in 2017 and 2018. While Maia Wilson is once again likely to spearhead the shooting circle, Malesala provides a strong option in both shooting positions for the Stars.
Meanwhile Anna ‘The hoist’ Harrison returns to the court once again and will be already causing a few shooters to have nightmares after giving them a taster at the pre-season tournament last month in Ōtaki. She will combine with Elle Temu who has ventured north from the Central Pulse and alongside Oceane Mahi who last season as a training partner showed great athleticism. This could be one of the best defensive circles of the competition. Both Temu and Mahi will no doubt be soaking up all the knowledge that Harrison will impart on them throughout the season.
Obstruction: Expectations will be high from within the Stars that they can earn a chance to win their first ever ANZ Premiership title so how the team can tackle that challenge will be crucial to their success. In her first season in the purple last year, Jamie Hume combined with Maia Wilson in the circle at GA but has lacked consistency across the season. Since making her debut in 2017, Hume hasn’t finished the season shooting more than 67% and with Monica Faulkner joining the team she will need to lift her accuracy to maintain her spot on court.
Play on: The Stars were no doubt disappointed to not make the finals last season after a grand final appearance in 2019. At the pre-season competition in Ōtaki in March the side made a number of changes across the games and showed that this season they have a strong bench to not only provide an impact during games but to also push those starters around them to maintain their spot on the court.
The final score: Finals netball will beckon in season 2021, with even a chance at the title a probability.
Coach: Regina Bloxham
Shannon Saunders (Captain)
Te Huinga Reo Selby-Rickit
In: George Fisher (UK Superleague/Saracens Mavericks), Tiana Metuarau (Central Pulse), Kiana Pelasio (Steel training partner), Renee Savai’inaea (Central Pulse), Ali Wilshier (Waikato/BOP Magic training partner), Sarahpheinna Woulf (Australia).
Out: Gina Crampton (Southern Steel), Kendall Corkery, Abby Erwood (Central Pulse training partner), Kalifa McCollin (SSN/Collingwood Magpies), Georgia Heffernan (injury), Jen O’Connell (injury).
Finish in 2020: 5th
Advantage: Luring Tiana Metuarau down to the South is a big get for the Steel. After spending the last couple of years with limited playing time at the Central Pulse she has ventured down to the cold in search of more game time. While typically a GA, Metuarau spent last season as an impact WA off the bench and had a great impact. It will be interesting to see where coach Reinga Bloxham chooses to use Metuarau.
George Fisher’s long-awaited arrival for the Steel is another big talking point in the off-season. For Kiwi fans their first real taste of Fisher was during last year’s January Quad Series where she shot 21/22 at 95% and Steel will be hoping she brings that accuracy to their team.
An interesting signing is Sarahpheinna Woulf who has joined the team from Australia after previously spending time with the Sunshine Coast Lightning as a training partner.
Obstruction: It can’t be overstated just how much of a loss Gina Crampton is for the Steel. Having owned the WA bib for the best part of a decade and formed a formidable combination with Shannon Saunders, she leaves big shoes to fill. Another big loss for the team is Kalifa McCollin heading to Suncorp Super Netball with the Collingwood Magpies. After a stuttering start for the Steel she was one of their most consistent players in 2020.
Play on: Look for Shannon Saunders again to lead from the front in the Centre, the quintessential workhorse will be out for a strong campaign after not seeing a lot of game time in the recent Constellation Cup.
The final score: With the changes on court, the mountain looks a bit too high for the southerners to make the playoffs in season 2021.
WAIKATO BAY OF PLENTY MAGIC
Coach: Amigene Metcalfe
Sam Winders (Captain)
In: Caitlin Bassett (SSN/Giants Netball), Temalisi Fakahokotau (Mainland Tactix), Grace Kara (Northern Stars), Georgie Edgecombe (Waikato/BOP training partner), Chiara Semple (UK Superleague/London Pulse), Tori Kolose (BEKO League/Northern Comets).
Out: Abigail Latu-Meafou, Kelsey McPhee, Georgia Marshall, Ariana Cable-Dixon (Maternity leave), Holly Fowler (Injury), Jenna O’Sullivan.
Finish in 2020: 6th
Advantage: If you haven’t heard about the Magic signing former Australian Diamonds captain Caitlin Bassett for season 2021 then you might want to reconsider calling yourself a netball fan. After her much talked about departure from Giants Netball, Bassett will no doubt be a welcome addition to the Waikato team. For the Magic, finishing last season with the wooden spoon would have really hurt the proud franchise and expect them to not repeat that feat in 2021.
Recruiting Temalisi Fakahokotau from the Mainland Tactix is another strong move from the team. After forming a devastating defensive circle with Jane Watson, look to see Fakahokotau rise to another level alongside Mikaere and Georgia Tong.
Former Magic mid-courter Grace Kara returns back to her former franchise after a couple of seasons with the Northern Stars and brings not only her silky skills at WA but her enormous leadership to no doubt aid captain Sam Winders. With a number of years experience feeding a tall, holding shooter, look for Kara to be the go-to into Bassett.
Captain Sam Winders was arguably one of the form Silver Fern players not only in the recent Constellation Cup but also in the series against the England Roses last year. Her tenacity and grit was on full display for the Magic last season and look for her to again showcase again why she is becoming the starting WD for Noeline Taurua.
Obstruction: The Magic once again are probably a tad light on their bench for impact players. Defender Georgia Tong will likely see a bit of court time again this season but it will be interesting to see how Amigene Metcalfe goes with her younger girls.
They are also another side who could potentially find the hype and expectations of a stronger season an additional challenge to overcome. Having a player the calibre of Caitlin Bassett spearheading your attack, the question will be can they utilise her to make a run at the title.
Play on: Chiara Semple has returned home to her country of birth following a few years plying her trade in the UK Superleague for London Pulse and previously Team Northumbria. Semple represented England at the 2017 World Youth Championships and can play GA and GS. The Magic already having Bassett as an import have been granted an exemption by the competition to have both players in the team.
The final score: We expect Magic to return to finals in 2021. If the team has two wins under their belt by Round three when they race the Stars it could give a strong indication as to if they can challenge for the trophy.
WHO DO THE EXPERTS PICK FOR THE FINALS?
Ravinder Hunia (Sky Sport NZ)
They have kept their same line-up bar one player in Karin Burger (not a bad pick up!) which means their structures and combinations can only be strengthened this season in a familiar environment. They have proven they have what it takes to make finals away from home being stuck in Auckland last year, but this year have the luxury and motivation of more home games. An already solid Tactix side will continue to build and are real contenders for the title.
The Stars have a lot of shooting power in their recruitment with 4 durable shooters to rotate. The GA position has always been questionable one for this team now they have options – throw in a world-class WA in Gina Crampton? That is a deadly combination. Anna Harrison’s inclusion brings the leadership and depth to defence and will add to the ‘whanau’ environment Kiri Wills has created while giving the younger players not only quality teammates but role-models as well.
They have a classy line-up. It’s just bringing it all together. The return of Bailey Mes means the return of leadership to settle a young attack end supporting Grace Nweke and Saviour Tui in critical moments of the game – and who better to guide them than new assistant coach Rob Wright? Elisapeta Toeava’s netball IQ always keeps defenders guessing and is will only grow in attack. In defence Sulu Fitzpatrick demands excellence and her new prodigy Kate Burley is sure to pay attention and take full advantage as she continues to strengthen her game.
Bridget Tunnicliffe (RNZ)
Squad continuity worked well for the Central Pulse when they took out back-to-back titles and I think it will work well for the Tactix. One of the strengths of the Tactix is that they have a pretty settled starting seven, but if they suffer a major injury to a key player, it might affect them more than other teams. The side is led brilliantly by Jane Watson who looks like she’s on a mission to bring home the trophy. The players would have learnt a lot from the grand final loss to the Pulse last year.
The Stars have recruited really well and will provide plenty of entertainment with Gina Crampton feeding Maia Wilson and defender Anna Harrison back on the netball court. The Stars will need their goal attack to be a strong support to Wilson and with Monica Falkner moving to the franchise they have quality options there.
It’s hard to know what you’re going to get sometimes with the Mystics. I think shooting wise they should be on fire this year. With Bailey Mes back in the side, there will be less pressure on Grace Nweke who put up a majority of the shots last year. Assistant coach Rob Wright, who’s regarded as one of the best strategic minds in the game, could help find that missing ingredient to get the side playing to its full potential.
I would have included the Pulse in my top three but with Silver Fern Ameliaranne Ekenasio unavailable for part of the season it will be a more difficult task for the defending champions.