It’s here. Suncorp Super Netball is about to get underway for 2023 with four games full of interest. In Australia, the matches will be broadcast on Fox Sports and Kayo. In New Zealand, the matches will be shown on Spark Sport. And in the Pacific Islands, two games of each round will be shown on PacificAus TV. Elsewhere in the world, you can stream all the games on Netball Australia TV. You can also follow live scoring and statistics thanks to Champion Data.
Before we get on to this week’s games, here is some other reading for you
RAHNI SAMASON – SPEED BUMPS AND SUPPORT SYSTEMS
COLLINGWOOD MAGPIES v NSW SWIFTS
John Cain Arena, Saturday, Mar 18, 5pm AEDT
(7pm NZ, 4:30pm SA, 4pm AEST, 2pm WA, 6am UK)
The 2023 Suncorp Super Netball season begins with a match-up of the teams which finished fourth and fifth last year. In 2022, they had one win apiece against each other, and in an incredible ending to the regular season, Collingwood made the playoffs over Swifts by a mere 0.19%. There was only a super shot in it. As if that wasn’t enough, the two teams met in the recent Team Girls Cup, and they couldn’t be separated. It finished 42-42. It’s hard to take too much from that game however as both teams were understrength.
Collingwood has two new signings for 2023, in midcourter Maddie Hinchliffe and shooter Nyah Allen. Unfortunately, Allen is out for an extended period through injury, with former Swift Kelly Singleton coming in as her replacement. Sophie Garbin is expected to be the starting goal attack though.
More renowned as a goal shooter, Garbin struggled at times in the less familiar position last season. However, her form during the January Quad Series was tremendous, and Magpies will be hoping that the added confidence she has gained, will lead to a strong showing this season. It will be a real battle against Swifts’ goal defence Maddy Turner, who won’t give her a moment’s peace. If Garbin can do her job effectively under such pressure, it would go a long way toward winning the game for Collingwood.
After almost 200 national league games for the Firebirds, Romelda Aiken-George is set to play her first Super Netball game for the Swifts. She has been brought in to cover for star shooter Sam Wallace who is on the comeback trail from injury. Aiken-George brings much-needed experience (and height) to the team and significantly, she will also take some pressure off Helen Housby, allowing her to play to her strengths.
Without Wallace in 2022, Swifts went from being one of the most efficient shooting teams in the competition to one of the least efficient. Meanwhile Housby, unfortunately, finished with the equal most turnovers in the competition. The addition of Aiken-George could help rectify both of those problems, although she does come up against the one and only Geva Mentor here. No easy task.
Aiken-George versus Mentor and Garbin versus Turner are just two of the interesting clashes in this game. It’s only round one, but this is a crucial match between two teams who could possibly compete for a spot in the finals again. The home venue is an advantage for Collingwood, but this promises to be a close one that could go either way.
Shooters – Shimona Nelson, Sophie Garbin, Kelly Singleton
Midcourt – Kelsey Browne, Molly Jovic, Ash Brazill, Maddie Hinchliffe
Defence – Jodi-Ann Ward, Geva Mentor, Jacqui Newton
Shooters – Romelda Aiken-George, Helen Housby, Sophie Fawns
Midcourt – Paige Hadley, Maddy Proud, Allie Smith, Tayla Fraser
Defence – Maddy Turner, Sarah Klau, Teigan O’Shannassy
WEST COAST FEVER v MELBOURNE VIXENS
RAC Arena, Saturday, Mar 18, 4pm WA time
(9pm NZ, 7pm AEDT, 6:30pm SA, 6pm AEST, 8am UK)
Time for the grand final rematch. In 2022, the fortunes between these two teams changed dramatically. Vixens had the better of Fever twice during the regular season, but come season’s end, it was the team from Perth that was dominant in the playoffs. They won the major semi-final on Vixens’ home court, and then took out the grand final by 11 goals in front of almost 14,000 fans at this venue. Fever has since carried on their merry way, winning the Team Girls Cup, while Vixens finished third.
Fever has had just one team change in the off-season, with defender Kim Jenner recruited from the Firebirds to fill the vacancy left by the retirement of Stacey Francis-Bayman. Early indications are that this will be a terrific signing. It’s hard to find a weakness in this team. The bookends, Jhaniele Fowler and Courtney Bruce, are the stars, but every player in the team knows their role and executes it well under Dan Ryan’s guidance.
One such player who has become an integral part of the team is Sasha Glasgow. She was a deserving grand final MVP, and she followed it up by getting player of the match honours again in the Team Girls Cup final. She provides just the right balance between shooter and feeder to keep the opposition guessing. Her form at goal attack has proved to be the last piece of the puzzle for Fever.
Vixens come into 2023 with an unchanged team. However, they’ve been hit by withdrawals, with shooter Rahni Samason set to spend a period of time on the sidelines, and star defender Jo Weston not coming up in time as she recovers from injury. Weston would have been the one given the task of keeping Glasgow quiet. To beat Fever, Vixens will have to recapture the outstanding form they displayed in rounds four and 10 last year. Liz Watson was enormous for them in both games, as the Melbourne team played with great control. On both occasions, they gave up just 15 general play turnovers and beat the Fever at their own mistake-free game.
They would have been disappointed with their two playoffs losses, although there were good signs in both. Goal attack Kiera Austin had a fine game in a beaten side in the grand final, and with Samason out, Vixens will be looking for her and Mwai Kumwenda to combine well against a strong Fever defence.
With the added confidence achieved from their first title win and the recent Team Girls Cup victory, Fever will be favoured to continue their winning run and take this out at home. Vixens can be a challenge for them if they can minimise their turnovers, but the withdrawal of Weston is a big blow to their chances.
Shooters – Jhaniele Fowler, Sasha Glasgow, Emma Cosh
Midcourt – Alice Teague-Neeld, Verity Simmons, Jess Anstiss
Defence – Sunday Aryang, Courtney Bruce, Kim Jenner, Rudi Ellis
Shooters – Mwai Kumwenda, Kiera Austin, Ruby Barkmeyer
Midcourt – Liz Watson, Kate Moloney, Kate Eddy, Hannah Mundy
Defence – Olivia Lewis, Emily Mannix, Gabby Coffey
SUNSHINE COAST LIGHTNING v GIANTS NETBALL
UniSC Arena, Sunday, Mar 19, 1pm AEST
(4pm NZ, 2pm AEDT, 1:30pm SA, 11am WA, 3am UK)
This is the first of two Sunday games in Queensland, and it’s a battle between teams with contrasting fortunes in 2022. Sunshine Coast Lightning had a season they would rather forget, not only missing the finals for the first time in their history but eventually finishing with the wooden spoon. Their opponents, GIANTS, finished third after losing a preliminary-final thriller to the Vixens. At the Team Girls Cup, Lightning showed signs of better things to come with a promising fourth-place finish, while GIANTS were sixth.
New coach Belinda Reynolds takes over a different-looking Lightning team to last year. Sadly, Tara Hinchliffe is out, suffering her second ACL injury in less than two years. Meanwhile, Reilley Batcheldor also ruptured her ACL for the second time last season and is yet to return. A replacement player for Hinchliffe has yet to be named, but highly promising shooter Charlie Bell is the player to take Batcheldor’s place at this stage.
The big plus is the return of star goal defence Karla Pretorius who took 2022 off to have a baby. Without her brilliance and tenacity last season, Lightning simply couldn’t maintain any defensive pressure. They had the lowest number of possession gains per game of any team and conceded over 80 goals on three separate occasions. Pretorius showed signs of just what she’s capable of in the recent Quad Series, and Lightning will be hoping for more of the same.
GIANTS Netball has entered 2023 with an unchanged lineup, but unfortunately, they’ve suffered two major blows going into round one. Captain and shooter Jo Harten, and ever-reliable wing attack Maddie Hay, will both miss the first round of the season. This is the first game Harten has missed since joining GIANTS as one of their inaugural team members in 2017. She is expected to return next week.
While not the best way for it to happen, this presents a great opportunity for Matisse Letherbarrow. At the Team Girls Cup, she showed that she is a more than capable replacement in the shooting circle, both in close and as a sharpshooter from distance. To cover for the loss of Hay, Amy Sligar is expected to play in the midcourt, while training partners Ang Frketic and Erin O’Brien have been added to the team. Expect the new players to lift and give a good showing.
This is very much a case of the unknown now. On last year’s form, GIANTS would be warm favourites, but so much has changed. Both teams are hampered by injuries. There’s a sense of excitement about Lightning this year with Pretorius back. Will she be able to get them over the line, or will the replacement players step up and do the trick for GIANTS?
Shooters – Cara Koenen, Steph Wood, Charlie Bell
Midcourt – Laura Scherian, Mahalia Cassidy, Annie Miller
Defence – Karla Pretorius, Kadie-Ann Dehaney, Ashleigh Ervin, Leilani Rohweder
Shooters – Matisse Letherbarrow, Sophie Dwyer, Ang Frketic
Midcourt – Jamie-Lee Price, Amy Parmenter, Amy Sligar, Erin O’Brien
Defence – April Brandley, Matilda McDonell, Lauren Moore
QUEENSLAND FIREBIRDS v ADELAIDE THUNDERBIRDS
Nissan Arena, Sunday, Mar 19, 3pm AEST
(6pm NZ, 4pm AEDT, 3:30pm SA, 1pm WA, 5am UK)
The round closes with a matchup of the teams which finished sixth and seventh last season. They had one win apiece in 2022. But the prospects of both teams in 2023 are seen by many to be quite different. At the recent Team Girls Cup, Thunderbirds impressed, making it to the grand final before going down to Fever. Firebirds started poorly, before gradually improving with each game. They eventually finished seventh.
New Firebirds coach Bec Bulley will really have to be on top of her game in 2023. The Firebirds have lost a lot of experience in the off-season and come into this season with a very new look, especially in the defensive end. Ruby Bakewell-Doran is entering just her second year on a full-time contract, yet she has the most big game experience of the trio. Remi Kamo has been her partner at the Cougars club in Brisbane, and she now gets her chance at the top level, along with former Lightning player Ash Unie. This trio also lacks height in comparison to other teams and this could be a problem.
In the shooting circle, Gretel Bueta will be a huge loss. Bueta is taking time off to have her second child, and she is basically irreplaceable, as nobody plays goal attack like her. It will be Mia Stower who gets the big opportunity to fill that role, and how she handles the position will go a long way toward deciding Firebirds’ fate this year. Bench shooter Emily Moore is another new face to the team.
It has been a long period of frustration for Thunderbirds fans. The team last tasted success in the 2013 ANZ Championship, after which inspirational captain Nat von Bertouch retired, and the club has never made the playoffs since. There is great optimism at the Thunderbirds this year, however.
Last season, they had clearly the most possession gains of any team, thanks to the extraordinary defensive combination of Shamera Sterling and Latanya Wilson, but they weren’t capitalised upon. This year’s attacking lineup looks more capable, with the signing of England Rose Eleanor Cardwell and promising local Lucy Austin. Everything about Cardwell’s game suggests she will be a hit. She can play the holding shooter role, the feeding role, and she’s also an expert longer-range shooter. Now it is up to the midcourt, including last season’s surprise packet in Tayla Williams, to make the most of the possession they have.
This will be interesting. Firebirds have the home-court advantage, but they will have to be at their very best to win this one. It’s a big test, especially in a tumultuous week where they have parted ways with assistant coach Sara Francis-Bayman. Certainly, if Thunderbirds are to make a charge up the ladder as many expect this year, this is a game they would be looking to win.
Shooters – Donnell Wallam, Mia Stower, Emily Moore
Midcourt – Lara Dunkley, Kim Ravaillion, Gabi Simpson, Macy Gardner
Defence – Ruby Bakewell-Doran, Remi Kamo, Ash Unie
Shooters – Lucy Austin, Eleanor Cardwell, Tippah Dwan
Midcourt – Georgie Horjus, Tayla Williams, Hannah Petty, Maisie Nankivell
Defence – Latanya Wilson, Shamera Sterling, Matilda Garrett