Contributors: Kate Cornish, Georgia Doyle, Ian Harkin, Katrina Nissen, Tash Rudd, Jenny Sinclair
Photographers: Clinton Bradbury, Simon Leonard, Marcela Massey, Shaun Sharp
Collingwood Magpies 71 def NSW Swifts 63 (20-13, 19-16, 18-19, 14-15)
West Coast Fever 62 def Melbourne Vixens 61 (17-12, 15-16, 16-18, 14-15)
Sunshine Coast Lightning 66 def GIANTS Netball 50 (16-13, 16-9, 16-12, 18-16)
Queensland Firebirds 44 def by Adelaide Thunderbirds 59 (17-15, 11-12, 9-13, 7-19)
Sara Francis-Bayman and the Firebirds parted company just six days before the start of the SSN. While no reason was given due to ‘confidentiality issues’, it’s a blow for the embattled team ahead of their 2023 campaign. Two days before taking the court for Round 1 the club announced former Firebirds captain, Lauren Brown (nee Nourse) as their new assistant coach. However, due to her other work commitments, Brown will only be available for game days and occasionally through the week, so Gretel Bueta will also be assisting the club with coaching duties while on maternity leave. Time will tell how this disruptive style of coaching will affect the Firebirds 2023 campaign.
Will Jhaniele Fowler be the league’s MVP for six years running? Perhaps not due to a change in voting structures. The MVP will now be decided via a 3-2-1 system voted on by a panel of experts each week.
Belinda Reynolds in her first year of Head Coach has put a lot of faith in her Lightning side, backing in the combinations she has put on and allowing them to flourish. In particular young gun Annie Miller and the experience of Laura Scherian did a power of work, really taking the cuts and drives whilst using great ball speed to keep the Giants heads turning. Kadie Ann Dehaney looks like a completely new player, as she had a brilliant outing behind returning mum Karla Pretorius.
It’s only early days, but things are looking up for two clubs. The teams which finished in the bottom two spots on the 2022 Super Netball ladder, now occupy the top two spots after round one. It was a very impressive performance from last year’s wooden spooners Sunshine Coast Lightning. They were always in control against an injury-hit GIANTS team and turned in a classy showing with not a single poor player. In the last match of the round, last year’s seventh-placed Adelaide Thunderbirds struggled early on, but steadily improved and their dominant last quarter was that of a potential finals team.
In the grand final rematch in Perth, West Coast Fever had their third straight victory over Melbourne Vixens, but it was far from easy. Against a team lacking Australian Diamonds defender Jo Weston due to injury, many were expecting a comfortable victory for the home side, but Vixens fought all the way and only went down by a late Jhaniele Fowler goal. In the other match on Saturday, Collingwood Magpies may have surprised some with their comfortable win over NSW Swifts. They were impressive, and showed signs that they’re not going to be easy to dislodge out of the top four.
Jamaican players dominated across the league this week, with all four MVP awards being nabbed by the Sunshine Girls. The Jamaican national side has been slowly rising through the world netball ranks, with their highest ever placing at a pinnacle event silver at last year’s Commonwealth Games. Given the current match winning form of Jhaniele Fowler, Jodi-Ann Ward, Kadie-Ann Dehaney and Shamera Sterling international coaches will be needing to keep a close eye on them as the Netball World Cup approaches. Sterling set a new record Nissan Net Points score with 158, while the others all scored over 100.
Whilst known for being able to bring themselves back into games with the super shot, GIANTS Netball battled to penetrate through the goal third. In particular, they found it tough through not having a solid wing attack option in their rostered 10 for this game, with Maddie Hay absent through injury. Both Amy Sligar and Amy Parmenter are strongest in wing defence. They struggled to make the cuts and drives and ultimately the finesse on the feeds to their shooting duo. So ball supply to the young shooters was starved and didn’t give them that opportunity to eat their way into the deficit via the super shot.
Most goals – 55/55 Jhaniele Fowler (Fever v Vixens)
Most supershots – 7/11 Matisse Letherbarrow (Lightning v GIANTS)
Most intercepts – 5 Shamera Sterling (Firebirds v Thunderbirds)
Most deflections – 11 Shamera Sterling (Firebirds v Thunderbirds)
Most goal assists – 29 Steph Wood (Lightning v GIANTS)
Most feeds – 43 Annie Miller (Lightning v GIANTS)
Most gains – 11 Shamera Sterling (Firebirds v Thunderbirds)
Most turnovers – 7 Kelsey Browne (Magpies v Swifts)
Most penalties – 21 Courtney Bruce (Fever v Vixens)
Tara Hinchliffe suffered an ACL injury during the preseason, and will sit out 2023 for rehab. It’s a cruel blow for newly minted Australian Diamond, ruling her out of both the Lightning’s SSN campaign, and World Cup contention. Training partner Leilani Rowheder joined them for Round 1 however, Lightning are yet to name an official replacement player.
Melbourne Vixens duo Jo Weston and Rahni Samason were ruled out of the season opener. Weston missed her first ever game for the Vixens, as she is still rehabilitating the calf injury that saw her miss the Quad Series and Team Girls Cup, while Samason has sustained a leg injury and will reportedly miss an extended portion of the season.
Emily Mannix received an ominous looking head knock in the final quarter of the Vixens clash with West Coast Fever. Initially looking dazed and confused, she was ordered off by the umpire only to return to court two minutes later reportedly cleared of any concussion.
Jo Harten and Maddie Hay were both missing from the Giants game due to knee injuries. Still rehabilitating from knee surgery in the off season, after struggling through the international calendar, it is the first game Harten has missed for the team in orange. While newly appointed vice captain Hay, suffered bone bruising in training nearly two weeks ago and is yet to be cleared to return to play.
With her Round 1 cap, Paige Hadley (NSW Swifts) became the longest-serving current one-club player in Australian netball history. Interestingly, that mantle used to belong to newly minted Swifts player, Romelda Aiken-George who played 197 games with the Queensland Firebirds between 2008 and 2021.
Melbourne Vixens head coach, Simone McKinnis OAM celebrated her 150th match as head coach.
Giants Netball head coach, Julie Fitzgerald AM entered her 25th season as a national league coach.
Queensland Firebirds had two debutantes, Remi Kamo started the match and shooter Emily Moore was injected during the third quarter.
Break-out Performance of the Round
Despite it being her first appearance on the Super Netball court, Firebirds goal keeper Remi Kamo was phenomenal on debut. For three quarters she had the Thunderbirds marquee signing Eleanor Cardwell rattled, forcing uncharacteristic errors and below average shooting percentage. Kamo had six gains – all hefty rebounds – and five deflections in her 60 minute performance. Expect to see her continue to improve as she gets more exposure at this level.
While it’s not a player, the commentary trio of Will McCloy, Stacey Francis-Bayman and Kiera Trompf were outstanding. They provided a terrific blend of information, gentle humour and analysis, while Trompf’s knowledge was put to better use as a sideline commentator than we usually see. Hard to believe Stacey Francis-Bayman has only just started her career behind the microphone, but she was a stand out.
MAGPIES 71 def SWIFTS 63
By Kate Cornish
The NSW Swifts have never beaten the Collingwood Magpies in Melbourne. It’s a surprising statistic for the Swifts considering their recent authority over the competition, resulting in two premierships in 2019 and 2021. But the Magpies had a point to prove at John Cain Arena in front of their home crowd, after a winless campaign at the recent pre-season Team Girls Cup tournament, and if first-round domination of the Swifts indicates what their 2023 season could be, their fans should start to get excited. They are a line-up who have built a solid starting-seven combination over the past few seasons, and adding the resume of Diamond and Sophie Garbin to their ranks, season 2023 could be the year of the Magpie.
With this game Swifts captain and a long-time servant of the sport, Paige Hadley, became the longest-serving one-club (current) player as she embarks on her 12th season with the Swifts. It’s an honour previously held by her now teammate, and former Queensland Firebird stalwart, Romelda Aiken-George.
Having a solid start to a game was something that the Magpies struggled to do in 2022. While they were good enough to win two or even three out of the four quarters of a game, their lackluster starts often cost them the whole match. However, with the first lot of premiership points on the line, they were the team who shell-shocked their opposition with a fast start and confident 15 minutes, eventually enjoying a win based around a solid first quarter that they won, 20-13. Unfortunately, for Swifts this was a deficit they were unable to pull back even though they won the last two-quarters of the match (19-18 and 15-14).
The blistering speed of Magpies midcourt Kelsey Browne and Molly Jovic was on display. Their fast release of the ball into Jamaican goal shooter Shimona Nelson meant that the usually solid backline defense of Sarah Klau and Maddy Turner for the Swifts was left exposed and unable to generate any impact. Klau, at goal keeper, only managed four deflections for the whole game. And while seasoned coach Briony Akle tinkered with her defensive line-up throughout the game, the dominance of Nelson under the high ball was impossible to stop. Nelson finished the game with 100 percent accuracy, shooting 53/53.
When Sophie Garbin joined the Magpies at the start of the 2022 season, she looked out of place in the position of goal attack – her strength is undeniably at goal shooter. And for most of the season she struggled to find her place in the team and lacked belief in her game. However, a resurgence of form at the international level late in 2022 and with one season under her belt as a goal attack, the Garbin of round one 2023 looked a far cry from the player who often faded into the background for the Magpies last year and was benched. It seems she has found her footing and understands the role she needs to play in the team. Contributing 12 goals (six being super shots) in this match, Garbin also showed a strong work ethic outside the circle with 21 feeds into Nelson and 13 centre pass receives.
The eventual MVP of the game, Jodie-Ann Ward, continued to display the form that helped the Jamaican team win a silver medal at the recent Commonwealth Games. She has stepped out of the defensive shadow of heavy weight goal keeper Geva Mentor and is now a formidably defensive player in her own right for the Magpies. Her ability to turn over the ball while staying in play and avoiding the umpire’s whistle makes her a huge threat in this competition; it also means that the Magpies defensive circle has both defenders in play and searching for the ball more often. The form of Ward and protection she offered Mentor in this game saw the 219-game veteran have the best start to a Super Netball season she has had in a few years.
Where was the match won and lost?
The Magpies starting seven, finished the game on court together. Coach Nicole Richardson recognised she was on to a winning combination and left them out there to take home the spoils. If there is to be a criticism of the Magpies, it could be the depth of their bench. However, the seven that started this match should be able to match it with the heavy-hitters in Super Netball. While rolling substitutions can create impact, and Richardson has in the past moved her midcourt around like chess pieces, her coaching decision to leave her original team on court and in unchanged positions proved the right move.
With credit to the pressure the Magpies applied during the game, at no point did the Swifts shooting or defense combinations look settled. Akle used her entire bench during the game to find a solution, but there was not an obvious answer to the lack of cohesion amongst the team, who usually look so sharp. Their star goal shooter, Sam Wallace, is still on the sideline after a messy ACL injury suffered in round one, 2022, and though they have the experience of Aiken-George at their disposal, Akle was not prepared to play her for the whole game (she played 45 minutes), which perhaps would have been the best option in this match.
The holding style and ‘target option’ that the 196 cm tall Jamaican provides is like that of Wallace, and that option has proved a winning one for the Swifts in the past. While the moving circle of Sophie Fawns and Helen Housby has its merits, the attacking midcourt combination of Hadley and Maddy Proud are at their best when they can hit the circle edge and release the feed quickly into the circle. A holding shooter like Aiken-George allows them that option.
The Swifts options at wing defence were also not effective in shutting down Browne, who was able to find space and feed the ball from anywhere within the shooting third to Nelson (Browne finished on 30 feeds). Akle tested Turner and Allie Smith against the speed of Browne, but neither had much impact. Interestingly, Tayla Fraser, who has made a name for herself at wing defence for the Swifts over the past two seasons, was not given the opportunity by Akle. However, she was the player who could have matched Browne for speed.
Which players/combinations stood out?
If the Magpies are going to have a successful year, it will be mainly due to the amazingly effective combination that Browne and Nelson have developed. Their connection on court needs no words. Browne now knows the exact weight and height required to ensure the ball ends up safely in the hands of Nelson under the post. It is not a typical feed, it is much higher than usual, but it is the time the ball spends in the air and the timing of the elevation from Nelson that ensures defenders, on most occasions, watch the ball sail over their heads.
Sophie Garbin 12/16 (75%)
Shimona Nelson 53/53 (100%)
Romelda Aiken-George 31/37 (84%)
Sophie Fawns 6/8 (75%)
Helen Housby 19/23 (83%)
MVP: Jodi-Ann Ward
FEVER 62 def VIXENS 61
By Jenny Sinclair (originally published for Fox Netball)
Missing the services of star defender Jo Weston, and long bomb specialist Rahni Samason, an injury-plagued Melbourne Vixens came agonisingly close to upsetting reigning premiers West Coast Fever. Thirsting to avenge last year’s grand final defeat, and reward coach Simone McKinnis’ 150th game in charge, the Vixens stayed in touch with Suncorp Super Netball’s heavyweights, but couldn’t quite get the job done.
A war of attrition unfolded as neither side were able to string together a run of goals. Both teams went to their bench in an attempt to shift momentum, and it was Vixens’ energetic keeper Liv Lewis who struck first. Whenever Fever snuck out to a small lead, Lewis managed to get up to a high ball into match MVP Jhaniele Fowler, sending her team into attack.
With Fever leading by the narrowest of margins during the third term, Fever’s newest recruit Kim Jenner was inserted at goal defence. Instructed by coach Dan Ryan to add some physicality and disrupt play, she forced a turnover immediately.
With players scrapping for the ball, a head knock to Vixens’ defender Em Mannix saw her briefly taken off court. Wiradjuri woman Gabby Coffey made a debut cameo in her stead, but fortunately Mannix was cleared to play on, and returned to the match shortly afterwards.
With the game hanging in the balance, Ryan called a brief time out, telling his troops, “The harder we work, the more opportunities we get!” The Vixens weren’t listening however, as two supershots from Kiera Austin leveled the game. A Fowler goal almost on the death knock finally put the game beyond reach.
Goal percentage was the main difference between the two sides – despite more scoring opportunities, Vixens’ 85% accuracy couldn’t compete with the Fever’s 95%.
Speaking after the match, Vixens’ coach Simone McKinnis praised her team’s pressure and ability to claw back a lead, but said, “I’m disappointed, I hate losing and the opportunity was there.”
“It was super tough and competitive, and we had to work hard to stay in the game.
“I was happy with the fight and the contest, and backing each other up on court, but it’s going to be a good one to go back and look at the things we can improve on.”
INJURY STRIKES TWICE
In a double blow for the Vixens, both long range shooter Rahni Samason, and star defender Jo Weston, were ruled out of the game with injury. Samason will miss a chunk of the season with an unspecified leg injury, but Weston is hoping to be back on court soon. The Diamonds’ star goal defender has had minimal court time since last year’s Commonwealth Games, as she recovers from a calf injury.
There was some good news however, as Weston said of her injury, “This is the first Vixens’ game that I’ve ever missed which is quite a good track record. All is going according to plan, and I’m hoping to be back out there soon.”
In spite of it being a night to forget on court, Simone McKinnis racked up her 150th game in charge of the Vixens. Along the way, the straight-talking former Diamond has led the club to two premierships and four minor premierships, becoming one of the modern era’s most successful domestic coaches.
Jhaniele Fowler 55/55 (100%)
Sasha Glasgow 6/9 (67%)
Mwai Kumwenda 37/40 (92.5%)
Kiera Austin 21/30 (70%)
MVP – Jhaniele Fowler
LIGHTNING 66 def GIANTS 50
By Georgia Doyle (originally published for Fox Netball)
Last season’s Suncorp Super Netball wooden spooners, Sunshine Coast Lightning, started the year with a bang, dominating a depleted GIANTS Netball team by 15 goals, who were unable to secure a win for head coach Julie Fitzgerald as she enters her 25th season as an elite coach. Conversely, it was a dream start for new head coach Belinda Reynolds, despite the recent devastation of losing fresh Diamond debutante Tara Hinchliffe to her second ACL injury in three years. Helped by the fact that GIANTS were missing Jo Harten and Maddie Hay from their usual starting line up, Lightning pounced on the opportunity to get a fast start to their season, as they attempt to improve on their forgettable eighth place finish last year.
Stepping up as captain in Harten’s absence, Jamie-Lee Price was visibly and audibly frustrated for much of the match. From pleading with her players at time outs, to letting her trademark physicality get out of control at times, she attempted to claw back a lead spiraling further out of reach. This physicality was not exclusive to Price, across the court, GIANTS had a massive 64 penalties, compared to Lightning who were the cleanest of the season so far with just 34.
Defensive statistics were dominated by Lightning goal keeper and MVP Kadie-Ann Dehaney with four intercepts, nine deflections and three rebounds. Her attackers rewarded the efforts, converting 77% of the defensive ball she won them. This went a long way in seeing them steam roll the GIANTS who only converted 60% of defensive wins.
After a slump in their 2022 domestic form, Cara Koenen and Steph Wood continued their scintillating performances from the international season to tear apart the GIANTS defenders. In contrast, the NSW based team were forced to attack the super shot every quarter. Desperately trying to give the scoreline some dignity, unfortunately the radar was patchy for Matisse Letherbarrow and Sophie Dwyer who were unable to bring GIANTS back into the game.
Julie Fitzgerald has – almost – achieved it all in her 25 seasons as a national league coach. Five time premiership coach with the NSW Swifts, a stint across the ditch guiding Waikato Bay of Plenty Magic to three consecutive finals appearances, but after seven years with GIANTS she will be hoping 2023 is the year they steal their maiden premiership, after falling short in two previous grand finals.
GLORIOUS PRETORIUS RETURNS
Karla Pretorius made her Suncorp Super Netball return for Sunshine Coast Lightning, following the birth of her daughter last year. Not missing a beat, she wreaked havoc through the GIANTS attack end seemingly appearing out of thin air to win back ball she had no right to be anywhere near.
GIANTS MISSING THEIR HARTEN SOUL
Injured captain Jo Harten missed her first match for the GIANTS since the club’s inception seven years ago. Despite her heroics during pre-season, rookie Matisse Letherbarrow was unable to replicate this tantalizing form when it really mattered.
Cara Koenen – 51/57 90%
Steph Wood – 14/20 70%
Matisse Letherbarrow – 30/36 83%
Sophie Dwyer – 11/15 73%
MVP – Kadie-Ann Dehaney
THUNDERBIRDS 59 def FIREBIRDS 44
By Tash Rudd
In a debut coaching game for Firebirds incoming coach Rebecca Bulley, fans watched with interest to see how this new look team would perform. All eyes were also on the Thunderbirds after a brilliant preseason and adding the strength of import Eleanor Cardwell. But they started their 2023 campaign a bit shakily.
The South Australians began the game with the option of two talls in the shooting circle in Lucy Austin and Cardwell, whilst Maisie Nankivell started in the middle. After the Firebirds came out strongly in the second quarter and took an eight goal lead, Thunderbirds called a timeout and made wholesale changes. Tayla Williams replaced Nankivell, Austin went to the bench, Cardwell moved back to goal shooter and Tippah Dwan entered the game at goal attack. In the defensive end Latanya Wilson moved out to wing defence, Matilda Garrett came on at goal defence and Hannah Petty got a rest on the bench.
The changes paid dividends and momentum began to shift their way with the defence end, in particular Shamera Sterling coming into the game, taking her usual incredible intercepts. The shooters capitalised and Thunderbirds narrowed the gap. A quick change in the back end of the quarter saw Macy Gardner enter the court for the Firebirds with Lara Dunkley going to the bench. Gardner brought a lot of speed in the attack end but also helped defensively for the Firebirds.
Coming out of the half time break, Firebirds had a one goal lead but the Thunderbirds started the second half strongly, continuing the momentum from the first. The hard work of the Firebirds defensive unit of Gabi Simpson, Ruby Bakewell-Doran and Remi Kamo started to pay dividends with some important gains and strong rebounds off some uncharacteristic misses from Cardwell to bring the score back level midway through the 3rd quarter. However at the same time, eventual game MVP Shamera Sterling began to get right on top of Donnell Wallam with the high ball. Anything in the air was contested by Sterling and if the pass was not 100% accurate, she would come up with the ball.
With six minutes to go in the third quarter, Firebirds called a timeout and debutant Emily Moore came on to court for Mia Stower. After a back and forth final few minutes, Thunderbirds went into the final break up 37-40.
The fourth quarter saw things fall apart for the Firebirds and in turn Thunderbirds capitalised. In the first five minutes Thunderbirds went on a 7-1 run off the back of a few unusual misses from Donnell Wallam and an offensive contact from Kim Ravaillion which completely swung the momentum and opened the door wide open for Thunderbirds to push on and take the win.
Firebirds fought until the end and unfortunately the score line didn’t reflect how good the game was, particularly the first three quarters.
Thunderbirds brought their good pre-season form after settling their line up from the changes made in the send quarter which looked to be the smoothest line up for them. Firebirds showed some real glimpses of what they can do this season if they put out a full 60 minute performance. Nothing that can’t be fixed for Firebirds, a few small things such as elevating their shooting percentages to ensure they capitalise in crucial moments and they will bounce back.
Kamo on debut at the age of 27 said post game it was “surreal” to think the Sapphire Series athletes (QLD State League) were beginning to start training this week, while she was in preparations to make her Suncorp Super Netball debut. And not only a debut but a starting position for a full 60 minutes. Something she can’t believe was her last year preparing for the Sapphire Series and being an older athlete now having this opportunity she thought would never come!
Kamo also mentioned how although she was nervous, preseason has been incredible with her teammates who she feels back her in 100% which gave her the confidence to go out and show what she can do. Kamo felt she had some good moments in the game reading the play but possibly a step behind in order to gather the tips and deflections she had. She will seek coach Bulleys knowledge as an exceptional defender herself for her next outing.
After debuting in the Suncorp Super Netball league, English Roses import Eleanor Cardwell spoke about the nerves going into the game and that could be a possibility as to why she had a shaky start. Cardwell also said when asked the difference in stepping out on the SSN court “you can’t have lapses in concentration, you have to be on it the whole time and it’s going to be a tight contested game each and every week!” And when asked about her thoughts on the super shot? “I love it” she said.
Donnell Wallam – 35/42 (83%)
Mia Stower – 5/11 (45%)
Emily Moore – 2/3 (66%)
Lucy Austin – 7/9 (77%)
Eleanor Cardwell – 31/38 (81%)
Tippah Dwan – 17/21 (81%)
MVP – Shamera Sterling
Karla Pretorius, Sunshine Coast Lightning Defender
on the impact of new coaching duo Belinda Reynolds & Jenny Brazell
“Belinda and Jen gave us clear instructions, we know exactly what the game plan is and what our roles are in the team, it’s just a matter of executing it. They instill confidence in all of us, and it really brings out the best in the group.”
Belinda Reynolds, Sunshine Coast Lightning Head Coach
On the game plan heading into the match against GIANTS Netball
“continue the strong one on one defense, while also staying clean. I think that’s where we got the upper hand on the GIANTS today, our penalty count was low so we were in the contest”
Rebecca Bulley, Queensland Firebirds Head Coach
“I was very pleased with the first three quarters, we played brilliantly and it was disappointing to let that blow out in the last quarter.” Consistency will definitely be a work on and she is happy her team tried some new things out there as she said you don’t know if they will work or not unless you try.”
(Team. Pts. %)
Thunderbirds . 4 . 134.1%
Lightning . 4 . 132.0%
Magpies . 4 . 112.7%
Fever . 4 . 101.6%
Vixens . 0 . 98.4%
Swifts . 0 . 88.7%
GIANTS . 0 . 75.8%
Firebirds . 0 . 74.6%
All matches will be shown live on Fox Sport and Kayo Sports. Sunday matches will be available on Kayo Freebies for those who don’t have a subscription
All matches listed in AEDT
Sat 25 March 5pm – Firebirds v Lightning – Nissan Arena (4pm local time)
Sat 25 March 7pm – Thunderbirds v Swifts – Netball SA Stadium (6:30pm local time)
Sun 26 March 2pm – GIANTS v Fever – Ken Rosewall Arena
Sun 26 March 4pm – Magpies v Vixens – John Cain Arena