1 Apr 2016

Netball: How do the ANZ teams shape up?

11:44 am on 1 April 2016

Sports Call: With the ninth edition of the ANZ netball competition starting tonight, Bridget Tunnicliffe casts an eye over the teams and looks at who could have a chance at glory and who might struggle.

Kayla Cullen will be in the thick of it at the
Northern Mystics.

Kayla Cullen will be in the thick of it at the Northern Mystics. Photo: Photosport

Northern Mystics

The Mystics have plenty of talent: Long-bomb queen Maria Tutaia, the quick-as-lightning Kayla Cullen, and nimble English international Serena Guthrie. Oddly, those potentially winning ingredients at the Mystics haven't always meshed well. Coach Debbie Fuller has a defence-heavy squad with the only recognised shooters being Tutaia, Cathrine Tuivaiti (nee Latu), and 2.04m-tall basketball recruit Megan Craig. To get some perspective on just how tall 2.04m is, picture the Steel's Jhaniele Fowler-Reid and add 6cm.

They have lost Laura Langman, but Guthrie and Cullen will likely share duties in the centre bib. Although Cullen looks like she was born to defend, she was actually recruited by the Mystics as a rookie shooter. Hard to believe now. She's obviously incredibly versatile but she will have to really use her head to get a handle on the centre position. Veteran Anna Harrison will make a return to the defensive end and she - along with Temalisi Fakahokotau - will be looking for a big campaign to push their Silver Ferns claims.

Look out for:

By all accounts Cathrine Tuivaiti is the fittest she's ever been and has added another dimension to her game, having spent some time out at goal attack. The fact is the Mystics can't win the competition if Tuivaiti can't stand up to the best of the Australian defenders, which she's had trouble with in the past. If the 29-year-old can do that, the Mystics can be real contenders.

Magic

The Waikato Bay of Plenty Magic have the most stable line up of all the teams. While they've lost inspirational defender Casey Kopua, Kristiana Manu'a stepped up to the plate last year while Kopua was recovering from injury. Their track record is quite remarkable. The Magic have finished the best of the New Zealand teams nearly every year since the start of the competition and there's no reason to think they won't again this year.

They are the only New Zealand side that seem to be able to challenge the Australian sides on a regular basis. Australian coach Julie Fitzgerald does a good job of nurturing young talent and it will be interesting to see how the likes of midcourter Sam Sinclair goes this year with a full season under her belt.

Look out for:

The battle for court time between Silver Ferns aspirants Malia Paseka and Ellen Halpenny. Paseka in particular, who was dropped from the national side late last year, has plenty to prove.

Pulse

Of all the players the Central Pulse couldn't really afford to lose, it was Jodi Brown, but an ACL injury in the pre-season tournament robbed her of a final swan song in which she would have played a key role. The Pulse have the trans-Tasman netball league's most-changed side - eight changes now from last years line-up - and new coach Tanya Dearns is almost starting from scratch. However, they are a bit of an unknown quantity and the surprise factor could trip up a few teams.

There's a real Australian flavour to the Pulse, having added former Australian international Chelsea Locke (nee Pitman) and defender Jacinta Messer, both former team-mates of Ameliaranne Wells at the Firebirds. This will be Wells' second season at the Pulse and she'll really need to step up in the shooting circle with Brown now out.

Look out for:

Former Diamond Chelsea Locke, whose mother is from New Zealand, will bring welcome speed to the attacking end at wing attack. She is eligible to play for the Silver Ferns and it's not beyond comprehension that she could be whisked into the national side, the same way team-mate Ameliaranne Wells was.

Ameliaranne Wells will have to take charge in the Pulse shooting end.

Ameliaranne Wells will have to take charge in the Pulse shooting end. Photo: Photosport

Tactix

After a number of poor seasons the Mainland Tactix will be desperate for a better showing. It's unfortunate that the Silver Ferns first choice goal shoot Bailey Mes is at the same franchise as the talented Mwai Kumwenda, who wears the same bib. Coach Sue Hawkins has indicated the pair could do a bit of swapping without much disruption but it can't be denied that both players are at their best under the post. Still, they will be a handful to opposition defences.

Hawkins would have been disappointed not to have recruited a big name defender. Jess Moulds, who was added to the Silver Ferns squad at the end of last year, must take charge down that end to prove she's ready for higher honours.

Look out for:

The Mes and Kumwenda combination will be an entertaining one. They got better as the season wore on last year and have fine aerial skills. They both have jack-in-the-box type jumps. Kumwenda is unorthodox and Mes is a superb athlete.

Steel

It will be interesting to see if new coach Noeline Taurua can get the Southern Steel running at their full potential. The Steel just snuck into the play-offs last year under the rejigged format but bowed out at the first hurdle. The Steel need to get better at playing Australian opposition if they want to go deeper into the competition. With Jamaican import Jhaniele Fowler-Reid standing at 1.98cm, the goal-shoot is a formidable scorer.

The Steel have been accused of leaking too many goals in the past but surely that's a by-product of being a team that scores quickly via Fowler-Reid, and courtesy of the alternate centre pass. Storm Purvis is another defender who will be putting her hand up for the Silver Ferns. Gina Crampton at wing attack has real pace and could push for full Ferns status later this year. Captain Wendy Frew is a workhorse in the mid-court and an under-rated player.

Look out for:

Just how much impact a new coach can have on a side. Noeline Taurua is the only coach to have taken a New Zealand team, the Magic in 2012, to the championship. She seems to bring out the best in her players and has a way with words during team huddles.

Jhaniele Fowler-Reid of the Steel.

Jhaniele Fowler-Reid of the Steel. Photo: Photosport

Melbourne Vixens

Hearing the letters ACL is a netballer's worst nightmare these days. Just ask Madi Robinson, who went down in the early rounds last year and now her team-mate Tegan Philip (nee Caldwell) will miss the entire season after she succumbed to the same knee injury in the pre-season. Robinson's absence hurt the Vixens last year and Philip's will too.

The squad otherwise is largely unchanged, the notable omission being former captain Bianca Chatfield. Geva Mentor and Karyn Bailey will anchor either end, while Robinson will no doubt run rings around her opponents. The success of the Vixens this year will come down to how well the lesser-known players step up to the plate.

Look out for:

A big season from goal shoot Karyn Bailey. She's been there or thereabouts for a few seasons now but if she can put out a number of commanding performances she could push her way into the Diamonds at the expense of back up shooter Caitlin Thwaites.

New South Wales Swifts

You get the feeling redemption is a large part of what is driving the Swifts this year. The were on the losing side of an epic grand final last year that was all but theirs until the final minute. They will be highly competitive again this year. They have made a handful of changes to their roster - the most significant addition is of Silver Ferns midcourter Laura Langman, which signals that coach Rob Wright is leaving no stone unturned in his pursuit of the title.

Where they could be slightly vulnerable is at goal defence after the retirement of Julie Corletto. The former Diamond was one of the best in the business, absolutely relentless. One weak link in a tightly contested game is all it takes for a title to slip out of a side's grasp.

Look out for:

Fans here will be eager to see how Silver Fern Laura Langman travels in a top Australian franchise. The first Silver Fern to head over there, if anyone can do it, it would have to be Langman with her work ethic and durability.

Silver Fern netballer Laura Langman

Silver Fern netballer Laura Langman Photo: PHOTOSPORT

Queensland Firebirds

No team has won back to back ANZ titles, but the Firebirds could be the team that finally does after retaining the starting seven which claimed grand final glory last season. Romelda Aiken at goal shoot is almost unstoppable when she's on song and Diamonds captain Laura Geitz will dual with the best of them at goal keep. They've got talent to burn throughout the court.

The scary thing for everyone else in the league is that their younger players haven't fully hit their straps. Gretel Tippett will be more dangerous this year with a season under her belt. Gabi Simpson is another who'll be pushing her case for Diamonds selection, especially now that the wing defence spot is wide open.

Look out for:

If basketball convert Gretel Tippett improves on her shooting accuracy she will be difficult for sides to shut down. Her height and athleticism alone at goal attack make her one of the more dynamic attackers in the game.

Queensland Firebirds player Gretel Tippett.

Queensland Firebirds player Gretel Tippett. Photo: Photosport

Adelaide Thunderbirds

The Thunderbirds could struggle again this year. They lost their most consistent player when Diamonds wing defence Renae Ingles announced her pregnancy over summer. They have got an able replacement in English import Jade Clarke, who the Swifts let go of. They rely a lot on goal shoot Carla Borrego, a player whose form tends to come and go a bit.

Erin Bell is a key player for them, the goal attack is a fine long range shooter, who feeds well too. They don't have any super stars in the defensive end but Amy Steel and Kate Shimmin are hard workers and probably haven't reached their full potential yet.

Look out for:

Kate Shimmin, who's become a big proponent of the lift manoeuvre. Since Anna Harrison introduced it to the game in 2012 to much fanfare, only a handful of players have been able to execute it. Shimmin is able to do it on a semi-regular basis.

West Coast Fever

The Fever had their best season to date last year and would fancy their chances of going deeper into the finals this season. They've only made one change to their squad - the return of Verity Simmons who will slot in at wing attack, in place of Khao Watts, who's gone to the Thunderbirds. They boast one of the best shooting partnerships in the competition in the form of Diamonds duo Caitlin Bassett and Natalie Medhurst as well as a nippy midcourt.

Perhaps that talent wasn't quite matched last year in the defensive third but up and coming players like April Brandley (nee Letton), who's now got three test caps for Australia, is another defender who'll be pushing for Diamonds spots left open with the retirements of Julie Corletto and Rebecca Bulley.

Look out for:

Veteran Natalie Medhurst, who despite being studied by opposition teams for years now, can still fool the best defenders with her footwork and slight of hand. She's proof that you don't have to have an amazonian build to compete in the circle at the top level.

West Coast Fever shooter Natalie Medhurst.

West Coast Fever shooter Natalie Medhurst. Photo: Photosport