In Part 1 of Netball Scoop’s Suncorp Super Netball 2021 preview, we run the umpire’s whistle over the four teams who finished in the second half of the ladder last year. Check out the Queensland Firebirds, GIANTs Netball, Adelaide Thunderbirds and Collingwood Magpies ins, outs, strengths, weaknesses and what fans can expect from them this year.
By Katrina Nissen
Coach: Megan Anderson
Team: Romelda Aiken, Gretel Bueta, Lara Dunkley, Tippah Dwan, Rudi Ellis, Tara Hinchlifee, Kim Jenner, Jemma Mi Mi, Kim Ravaillion, Gabi Simpson (captain).
In: Gretel Bueta (from maternity leave), Kim Ravaillion (from Collingwood Magpies).
Out: Mahalia Cassidy (Sunshine Coast Lightning), Ine-Mari Venter (Saracens Mavericks), Macy Gardner (Firebirds – Training Partner)
Finish in 2020: 5th
Advantage: Things have gotten nostalgic for the Firebirds over the offseason. The Queenslanders built over the 2020 season and start 2021 with a stronger squad thanks to the reintroduction of a raft of their 2016 premiership winning contributors. On the court, the Firebirds have welcomed back Gretel Bueta from maternity leave. The athletic attacker is looking fit after delivering her son in early January and is on track to take the court in Round 1. In the midcourt Kim Ravaillion also rejoined the side after three years with the Collingwood Magpies. Ravaillion is versatile across all three midcourt positions and will give the side the calm it needs down the attack end.
Former Diamonds assistant coach, Megan Anderson has taken the reins from Roselee Jencke as Firebirds head coach and is being assisted by another of the 2016 premiership team, in Clare Ferguson (nee McMeniman). Both coaches have international playing and coaching experience and have an holistic, player-first approach to coaching which will help gel the athletes and give them much needed self-confidence.
Obstruction: The Firebirds defensive combo of Kim Jenner and Tara Hinchliffe have regularly featured in the top tiers of penalties over the last few season. In previous years, the duo has been excused for being young and relatively new to this level of competition. But, as they enter their fourth year as a partnership, they need to tidy it up. Hinchliffe is a great student of the game and Jenner has the ball hunting instincts, so they need to use these skills to play smarter, not harder.
The Firebirds also have a problem of potentially too much talent on the bench which, if not managed correctly, could fester into problems within the whole squad.
For the shooters: Tippah Dwan had a fantastic breakout season and finished in the Top 5 for the Suncorp Super Shot. Romelda Aiken is the queen under the post and often holds a top two position for offensive rebounds. So, with Bueta re-entering the side, who is going to miss out on court time and who is going to be used as the impact player/s? With Romelda Aiken nursing niggling injuries over the last couple of years, and Bueta’s missed season, the options may be a blessing in disguise. But it will be a shame to see any of the three spend too much time riding the pine.
The same problem could crop up in the midcourt. We saw last year when Lara Dunkley hit her stride in the WA bib, talented athlete Jemma Mi Mi spent a lot of the backend of the season on the bench. With Mahalia Cassidy exiting the problem could have been resolved. But with Ravaillion joining the squad and looking fitter than ever, it would be madness not to utilise her. The silver lining is her ability to play all midcourt positions which could potentially see her used as a utility player, more so than a specialist like Gabi Simpson, or Dunkley.
Play on: The Firebirds will be riding high after, arguably, the best off-season reinvigoration of any SSN side. What we have seen from them so far this preseason is extremely promising. If they can harness the momentum, manage their roster rotation and keep the penalties down, there is no reason why they can’t make it all the way this year.
The final score: They’re going all the way to the Grand Final.
by Andrew Kennedy
Coach: Julie Fitzgerald
Team: Jo Harten (captain), Kiera Austin, April Brandley, Sophie Dwyer, Maddie Hay, Kristiana Manu’a, Matilda McDonell, Amy Parmenter, Sam Poolman, Jamie-Lee Price
In: Sophie Dwyer (elevated from training partner), April Brandley (elevated from training partner)
Out: Caitlin Bassett (to Waikato Bay of Plenty Magic), Teigan O’Shannassy (training partner with NSW Swifts), Claire O’Brien (to ANZ Premiership), Toni Anderson (retired from elite netball)
Finish in 2020: Sixth
Advantage: Giants should enter their fifth season filled with confidence after four convincing wins in preseason games, including over premiership clubs Lightning and Vixens. This is in a large part due to the stability and lack of injuries in their squad, with essentially only one change in personnel at goal shooter, Dwyer in for Bassett. The new young goaler suits the preferred game plan in attack better than her predecessor. Like Harten and Austin, Dwyer is more mobile, plays goal attack well, and is capable of sinking supershots reliably. In fact between the trio they should be the number one team for 2-pointers. Although they now lack a tall holding shooter, Harten is still an outstanding target and leader, with top-notch timing, netball smarts, flexibility, and accuracy, plus she was the most prolific supershot scorer in the inaugural season of the “power five”.
The midcourt is a talented, settled lineup, with Hay, Price, and Parmenter. While all three started their careers as wing defences, Fitzgerald has moulded them to new roles. During season 2020 Hay slowly became established as the starting wing attack, committing few turnovers and choosing safe, practical feeds. She will now have the confidence that comes with cementing her spot, and much more attacking experience. Still, coach Fitzgerald has experimented in the preseason, putting Parmenter in wing attack at times with Manu’a in wing defence. This will require fine tuning, as Parmenter is consistently the best at winning possession for her team, with more intercepts in 2020 than Poolman and Manu’a combined. The young wing defender peaked early last year and won less possession through the middle rounds – perhaps a change of role will be reinvigorating for Parmenter and the whole squad.
Possibly the biggest boost for Giants is the brilliant form of past Australian Diamond, Brandley. In 2020 she was roped in last minute as a training partner, having recently given birth, and then was whisked off to Brisbane for the hub. Now with months of team preparation under her belt she has dominated the preseason games, not only tagging her goal attack tightly but coming out far more often for intercepts than in her past. Her combination with McDonell boasts greater footspeed, switching, and elevation, and is likely to be seen frequently.
The final positive switch for Giants is their recent Constellation Cup experience. Austin’s massive minutes for Australia, alongside Price, are a wildcard for her future – incorporating the different styles of shooting partner and coaching advice can boost her season and also pump up the Giants in 2021.
Obstruction: It is crunch time for coach Fitzgerald and her charges. After controversies and a frustrating, mediocre finish in 2020, expectations are high from the team and club faithful that they will return to finals netball. There might be an unmerciful exit for some if results are poor again.
Despite being home at last, the lead-in to this season has had its disappointments. Small outbreaks of coronavirus have stopped Giants having normal attendance at some preseason hitouts, and ongoing problems with leaks at their new arena caused the cancelation of their popular “fan day”.
The selection of only three midcourters used to be an exception, but several teams now are electing to go without specialist wings. Giants lack an experienced wing attack who would provide the right mix of control and zing in the front line. The experiment of Austin covering that position in 2020 resulted in large numbers of turnovers, so it will be vital to play safe and let Harten and Price use their leadership to set up plays and the juniors to read and slot in.
Play on: After top-three finishes in the first two years of Super Netball, Giants have slid down the ladder to fifth in 2019 and then sixth last year. Whilst in the Queensland hub they drew two matches and lost three games by two goals or less – if they had won all those games they would have finished second on the ladder. Something as simple as having their new home court advantage at Ken Rosewall arena should be enough to flip the outcome in close clashes.
The other area bringing renewed success is the defence end. There will be less reliance on the foundation players Manu’a and Poolman, using the combination of Brandley and McDonell in a very versatile backline.
The final score: Consistency and consolidation are the ally of Giants this year. Many other squads have had major changes and challenges, and they seem set to rapidly rise again, potentially to the top two, but certainly into finals at the end of 2021.
Coach: Tania Obst
Team: Matilda Garrett, Samantha Gooden, Georgie Horjus, Elle McDonald, Maisie Nankivell, Hannah Petty, Lenize Potgieter, Shamera Sterling, Shadine van der Merwe, Latanya Wilson
In: Matilda Garrett (From Collingwood Magpies), Georgie Horjus (elevated from training partner), Elle McDonald (from Melbourne Vixens), Latanya Wilson (Celtic Dragons)
Out: Sasha Glasgow (West Coast Fever), Layla Guscoth (VNSL – Team Bath), Chelsea Pitman (not retained), Kate Shimmin (not retained – Sunshine Coast Lightning).
Finish in 2020: 7th
Advantage: Despite a lowly seventh placed finish, there were definitely positives to emerge from Thunderbirds’ 2020 season. In goal attack Georgie Horjus, they have unearthed one of the most promising young players in the competition. And it’s a similar situation with midcourter Maisie Nankivell who debuted in 2019, but firmly established herself in the side last year with impressive performances.
Horjus is just 19 and Nankivell 21. Both players show calmness and maturity well beyond their years, and seem set to become fixtures in the team for years to come. If Thunderbirds can build a team around them, the future looks bright.
Apart from her cleverness in general play, Horjus is also one of the most consistent exponents of the “super shot”. Along with Samantha Gooden, they are one of the better-equipped teams to handle this new rule. For the other 40 minutes of the game when the super shot is not in play, they are able to rely on one of the world’s best goal shooters in South African Lenize Potgieter.
Potgieter is one of four overseas players in the lineup. Fellow Protea Shadine van der Merwe returns, as does Jamaican superstar Shamera Sterling who will once again lead the defence end. Sterling was a little quiet by her own very lofty standards last year, and will be looking to dominate once again. She is likely to be joined in the circle by countrywoman Latanya Wilson, fresh from a short but encouraging stint with Celtic Dragons. Matilda Garrett is also a handy defensive signing from Collingwood.
Obstruction: Whatever reasons the club had in not offering co-captain Chelsea Pitman a contract for 2021, one thing it does do is leave a big hole in the midcourt that needs to be filled. New signing from Vixens, Elle McDonald, may be entrusted with the job at wing attack. For Thunderbirds, it is the midcourt which has proved most problematic in recent seasons. It is to be hoped that Nankivell can continue to progress and really put her stamp on the midcourt, but she will need the support of McDonald and Hannah Petty, to provide the team’s shooters with the service they need to fire.
Pitman’s absence also highlights another potential problem. Like Pitman, Kate Shimmin was also unwanted by the club this year, while Layla Guscoth decided to return to England to play for Team Bath. Between these three, that is many games worth of experience now missing. When the going gets tough, will Thunderbirds have the required experience and leadership in their current lineup to steady the ship?
Play on: In 2013, the Adelaide Thunderbirds won the ANZ Championship grand final in what was captain Nat von Bertouch’s last game. von Bertouch was a Thunderbirds legend; a great player and a great captain, and the team has struggled since her retirement. But her absence is certainly not the only reason for their lack of success in recent years.
It has been one long tale of woe, with some misfortune and missteps along the way, resulting in the team not even going close to playing finals since that success in 2013. Thunderbirds have won just 20 of their 96 games in the past seven seasons, and finished in the bottom two Australian teams each year.
It is this continued lack of success that threatens to derail any move up the ladder. Quite simply, the club has grown accustomed to losing, and they will have to break out of that mentality if they are to succeed this year. It’s important that the team gets off to a good start, so the doubts don’t creep in.
The final score: It will be tough to achieve in such a competitive league, but it wouldn’t be a huge surprise to see Thunderbirds climb the ladder this season. A finals spot may be out of reach however.
By Cara Gledhill
Coach: Nicole Richardson
Team: Geva Mentor (captain), Melissa Bragg, Ashleigh Brazill, Kelsey Browne, Molly Jovic, Kalifa McCollin, Shimona Nelson, Jacqui Newton, Gabrielle Sinclair, Jodi Ann Ward
In: Kalifa McCollin (from Southern Steel in the ANZ Premiership), Jacqui Newton (elevated from Vixens training partner)
Out: Nyah Allen (Magpies Training Partner), Kelly Altmann (delisted), Madi Browne (VNSL Leeds Rhinos 2022), Matilda Garrett (Adelaide Thunderbirds), Nat Medhurst (retired), Emma Ryde (Magpies Training Partner)
Finish in 2020: 8th
Advantage: The defensive back three of Geva Mentor, Jodi Ann Ward and Mel Bragg were a highlight for the struggling Magpies in 2020. Mentor had the most deflections in the league last year and did plenty to lift the spirits of a relatively youthful team who were away from home. Ward and Mentor are still learning to read each other’s games but look for them to lift their combination in 2021.
Ash Brazill will also return from a knee injury and off the back of an AFLW finals series where she starred. Brazill exudes leadership and maturity and will be a welcome addition to a midcourt which lost three of its experienced players to injury last season and struggled to convert defensive gains and opposition turnovers. Kelsey Browne is also on return from a knee injury which saw her miss the latter half of the 2020 season and her speed and smarts around the circle edge will be crucial.
The signing of Kalifa McCollin who has come over from playing for the Southern Steel in the ANZ Premiership is an exciting one for the Magpies and should inject some different options in the attack end. While the combination of Shimona Nelson and Gabby Sinclair is continuing to grow, McCollin is an accurate and creative player who may be able to offer something different in the attacking end.
Obstruction: The Magpies still lack maturity in the shooting circle. While McCollin offers international experience, this is the main area of the court where they lack experience. Losing perhaps one of the best netball brains in the world in Nat Medhurst to maternity leave last year had a significant impact in 2020. It remains to be seen whether the injection of McCollin will bring back the court craft that made the Magpies such a dangerous outfit in 2019.
The Pies struggled with turnovers last year, despite earning plenty of defensive gains. While the return of their two midcourt superstars will no doubt help the cause, their lack of time playing together last year could make the first few games messy.
Play on: The Magpies line up in the midcourt is an unknown with Browne still on return from injury and Molly Jovic proving herself to be a decent option in centre at this level over the course of the 2020 season. With Bragg a viable option at wing defence, Brazill will likely take the centre bib with Browne the most likely player at wing attack.
Given the calibre of a player like Jovic who may spend a decent amount of 2021 on the bench, we could still see rotation through the midcourt where the team is struggling. But given the difficulties with turning over the ball in the midcourt and in attack last year, coach Nicole Richardson may opt for a tried and true lineup and limit the changes while the Pies build their own distinctive style of play.
With Sinclair placing second in successful supershots in 2020, there is a good chance the Magpies will look to her during the last five minutes of each quarter. Given the problems in turning over the ball the Pies had in attack last year, we can expect to see the strategy change slightly so that the Pies take the simple shots when they’re on, rather than relying on Sinclair to bring them back into games where they are trailing.
With Richardson known for her defensive prowess, we can also expect to see the defensive efforts of the team lift across the court. The Pies lacked defensive through court pressure in 2020, so expect to see a shift in this mindset. The Pies also have great versatility in defence with Ward (GD, WD), Brazill (WD, C), Bragg (WD, GD) and new signing Jacqui Newton (WD, GD, GK) able to play across multiple positions.
The final score: There is no doubt that finals will be a struggle for the Magpies this year, but they do have a world class midcourt and defensive end if they can all stay injury-free. But given the amount of player movement from other teams in the off-season and the 12-point penalty to the West Coast Fever, they are still in with a chance. If the Magpies can limit turning the ball over and sort out their struggles in attack, they will be a force to be reckoned with in 2021.