Today sees the beginning of the third edition of New Zealand’s elite netball league, the ANZ Premiership. The first two years have provided many highlights, and remarkably ended up with the same winner in the Southern Steel, despite two very contrasting storylines. Who will take out the title this season? There are reasons for all six sides to have some level of confidence going in. Here is a look at the make up of each team and their prospects.

 

Charlee Hodges (Photo: Sue McKay)

NORTHERN STARS

Temepara Bailey (C/WA)
Kate Burley (GK/GD)
Kayla Cullen (GD/WD)
Leana de Bruin (GK/GD)
Holly Fowler (GD/WD/C)
Ellen Halpenny (GA/GS)
Charlee Hodges (GA)
Storm Purvis (GK/GD)
Mila Reuelu-Buchanan (C/WA)
Maia Wilson (GS)

Captain: Leana de Bruin

Coach: Kiri Wills

The Northern Stars will be looking for an improved showing this season. In 2018, they lost their first seven games (six narrowly), and despite a good finish to the year, they collected the wooden spoon.

In the off-season, captain Grace Kara withdrew from the team as she announced she was expecting her first child. Then came the bombshell. 43 year old assistant coach Temepara Bailey was chosen as her replacement. Silver Ferns legend Bailey hasn’t played for five years, but her mere presence on court will surely lift some of the younger players.

The Stars certainly won’t be lacking in terms of experience, as 2017 captain Leana de Bruin also returns to the team and reclaims the captaincy. 41 year old de Bruin clearly didn’t want to exit the sport on the back of last year’s horror winless season at the Adelaide Thunderbirds. She will be keen to set things right this year.

Another player who’s come from the Thunderbirds is Charlee Hodges. The young Australian shooter has impressed in a losing side over the past two seasons. It’s likely that she or Ellen Halpenny will partner with Maia Wilson in the shooting circle. It’s a big year for Wilson as she looks to impress with World Cup spots up for grabs.

One of the important pieces of the Stars jigsaw puzzle could be Kayla Cullen. In recent seasons, she’s had numerous fitness problems, and she’s also been a victim of her own versatility, shuffled around the court as miss fix-it. But Cullen is back, looking healthy and ready to be utilised in what is really her position; goal defence.

Joining de Bruin and Cullen in a strong defensive unit are Holly Fowler, Kate Burley and Storm Purvis, who joins the Stars from cross town rivals, the Mystics. That means half the squad has the ability to play in the defensive circle. It’s hard to know where they all fit into the lineup, but Fowler is likely to be given a run at centre.

Rounding out the Stars’ squad of ten is Mila Reuelu-Buchanan, who makes the move this season from Pulse. The talented midcourt player is still yet to turn 21 and looks set for a big future in the game.

Prediction: There are a lot of unknowns with this year’s Stars squad, but with the talent assembled, this is a team that will cause others headaches. They should be right in the running for a spot in the top three and their first playoff berth.

Players To Watch: A return to top form for Kayla Cullen is vital to Stars’ chances and Mila Reuelu-Buchanan is very promising.

 

NORTHERN MYSTICS

Kristina Brice (GS)
Tayla Earle (WD/C)
Jamie Hume (GA)
Emma Iversen (C/WA)
Phoenix Karaka (GK/GD)
Grace Kukutai (WD/C)
Bailey Mes (GA/GS)
Erena Mikaere (GK/GD)
Michaela Sokolich-Beatson (GD/WD)
Elisapeta Toeava (C/WA)

Captain: Phoenix Karaka

Coach: Helene Wilson

Looking to improve on last year’s fourth placing, this year’s Northern Mystics squad is missing two very big names. Anna Harrison’s retirement, and Maria Folau’s move to Australia means this year will be a completely fresh start for the team.

Folau’s replacement is not exactly like for like. At 196cm tall, Australian import Kristina Brice is a strong holding shooter. After a terrific 2017 for the Giants, Brice’s form dipped slightly last season. But if she can regain that best form, she has the ability to be a dominant presence under the post.

It will be interesting to see just how Brice combines with Bailey Mes and Jamie Hume in the shooting circle. Now that the athletic Mes is one of the most experienced players in the squad, it’s all set for her to step up and lead by example.

Returning to New Zealand after four seasons in Australia, rangy defender Erena Mikaere is the one filling the vacancy left by Harrison’s retirement. They’re big shoes to fill, especially for a player who hasn’t been a regular starter.

She will share defensive duties with Michaela Sokolich-Beatson and Phoenix Karaka. All three are past or present Silver Ferns, and for Karaka, she has added responsibility now, having been chosen as the Mystics’ new captain.

Only one specialist midcourter, Elisapeta Toeva, remains from those contracted in 2018. Toeva’s form at wing attack last season was so good that she went on to claim her first test cap for the Silver Ferns. She was also voted MVP and Players’ Choice at Mystics’ end of season awards.

Joining her in the midcourt will be two players elevated from training partner to the main squad after strong performances last season; Grace Kukutai and Emma Iversen. And then there is Tayla Earle. Still only 18, she was the 2018 Secondary Schools player of the year, and can play all three midcourt positions.

Prediction: Losing players of the calibre of Harrison and Folau, expectations are probably low. But opponents shouldn’t take them lightly. They could finish anywhere from 3rd to 6th. A playoff spot isn’t out of the question.

Players To Watch: Bailey Mes and Kristina Brice are both crucial. They need to find their best form and combine well.

 

WAIKATO BAY OF PLENTY MAGIC

Ariana Cable-Dixon (C/WA)
Monica Falkner (GA/GS)
Sydney Fraser (C/WA)
Kelly Jury (GK)
Casey Kopua (GK/GD)
Abigail Latu-Meafou (GA/GS)
Kelsey McPhee (GS)
Lisa Mather (WD/C)
Jenna O’Sullivan (GK/GD)
Sam Sinclair (WD/C)

Captain: Casey Kopua

Coach: Amigene Metcalfe

The 2018 season was a disappointment for Waikato Bay of Plenty Magic. The team’s fifth placing was its worst result at the elite level for 16 years. Certainly a big reason for the poor performance were the injuries to key defenders Casey Kopua and Kelly Jury. Magic didn’t win a game after Kopua’s injury in the warm up for round 9.

Both players are back and no doubt looking to make amends. Kopua has said this will be her last season. One of the legends of Magic and New Zealand netball, she deserves to bow out on her terms. Jury and Kopua will be the preferred defensive combination, but back up Jenna O’Sullivan impressed when called up last year.

One player no longer with Magic is star shooter, Lenize Potgieter. She will certainly be missed, but her departure opens up an opportunity in the circle. Monica Falkner looks set to step up in her absence. The athletic Falkner has strong hands and accuracy on the shot, and she is ready for a breakout year.

New Zealand born but Australian raised, Abigail Latu-Meafou is Falkner’s likely shooting partner. She’s shown promise playing for Firebirds and Thunderbirds, and gives the impression the ANZ Premiership will suit her. Goal shooter Kelsey McPhee also gets her chance in the big time after impressing in the Beko League.

The Magic midcourt has an exciting look about it. And it will be led by Sam Sinclair, a player who is under pressure to retain her place in the Silver Ferns. A below par performance in the recent Quad Series saw her lose her starting spot. She will need to be at her dynamic best this season if she’s to go to the World Cup.

Sydney Fraser has been beset by injuries for the past two seasons. Finally, she gets a chance for a good run at the top level. Along with the speedy Ariana Cable-Dixon, she will be an option at centre/wing attack. Not yet 20, Lisa Mather looks to have a bright future in the midcourt after being elevated from training partner in 2018.

Prediction: The only coaching change in this year’s competition happens at the Magic as club stalwart Amigene Metcalfe takes over the reigns. It won’t be an easy job for her, but there is enough talent in this team to give hope of a top 3 finish.

Players To Watch: Sam Sinclair needs to have a big year and Monica Falkner looks like a future star.

 

Katrina Rore (Photo: Simon Leonard)

 

CENTRAL PULSE

Karin Burger (GD/WD)
Aliyah Dunn (GS)
Ameliaranne Ekenasio (GA/GS)
Sulu Fitzpatrick (GK/GD)
Maddy Gordon (WD/C)
Claire Kersten (WD/C)
Tiana Metuarau (GA/GS)
Katrina Rore (GK/GD)
Whitney Souness (C/WA)
Elle Temu (GK/GD)

Captain: Katrina Rore

Coach: Yvette McCausland-Durie

For most of 2018, Pulse were the competition pacesetters and looked like premiers in waiting. Six goals up with less than four minutes to play in the grand final on their home court and it was surely just a mere formality? A magnificent Steel team had other ideas though and the Pulse players were left shattered.

Can they pick themselves up from that and contend again? They will want to right the wrongs of that grand final nightmare. And if they are to win their first title, captain Katrina Rore (nee Grant) is likely to play a big part in it.

If Rore needed any extra motivation at all, she got it when surprisingly left out of the Silver Ferns team for the Quad Series last month. This was a big comedown for someone who was test captain until relatively recently. She was also the ANZ Premiership MVP last year, so there’s no reason why she won’t star again in 2019.

Combining with Rore in defence will be goal keeper Sulu Fitzpatrick, who had such a tremendous 2018, it was enough to earn a test recall after seven years. Meanwhile, youngster Elle Temu gets her chance after shining in the Beko League.

South African-born Karin Burger, previously a circle defender, excelled at wing defence last year. So much so that she went on to make her test debut there for New Zealand. Another who changed positions was Claire Kersten, moving to centre and doing it with aplomb.

Complementing the calmness and stability of Kersten, Whitney Souness has all the speed and flair at wing attack. She too has been rewarded with test selection. And then we come to Maddy Gordon, who like Temu, was a part of Central’s winning Beko League team. She may have only recently turned 19, but based on the form shown in the pre-season, she won’t be a bench warmer for long.

In the shooting circle, Pulse have a settled trio with the experienced Ameliaranne Ekenasio and the talented teenagers, Aliyah Dunn and Tiana Metuarau. They seemingly have most situations covered, whether a holding shooter or a more mobile combination is wanted. Ekenasio’s form in the recent UK tests was tremendous.

Prediction: Will Pulse put last year’s disaster behind them and go on to take the title? It remains to be seen, but given the talent in this team, they have every chance of getting another shot at it. They should finish top two with little trouble.

Players To Watch: Katrina Rore has no shortage of motivation and Maddy Gordon looks a real talent.

 

MAINLAND TACTIX

Kate Beveridge (GA/GS)
Ellie Bird (GS)
Charlotte Elley (WD/C)
Temalisi Fakahokotau (GK)
Sophia Fenwick (GK/GD)
Brooke Leaver (GA/GS)
Kate Lloyd (GK)
Lily Marshall (GD/WD)
Erikana Pedersen (C/WA)
Kimiora Poi (C/WA)
Jane Watson (GK/GD)

Captain: Jane Watson

Coach: Marianne Delaney-Hoshek

2018 was undoubtedly the best season yet for Tactix. Claiming their first ever playoff berth in their eleventh season, long suffering Tactix fans at last had something to cheer about. While it was a team effort, the star of the show was certainly goal keeper Temalisi Fakahokotau who had an outstanding season.

Then came the dreadful news. In September, Fakahokotau ruptured her anterior cruciate ligament (ACL). Although she is still listed in an eleven player Tactix squad for 2019, it’s considered unlikely that she will play. This is a huge loss, as she was clearly the best defender in the ANZ Premiership last year.

If Tactix are to make the playoffs this year, their ever reliable captain Jane Watson will have to be at her very best once again. Watson has been a very consistent performer at this level for several years. But who will fill the other position in the defensive circle? It’s likely to be Kate Lloyd. The tall goal keeper has returned to Christchurch after a year with Magic.

Shooter-turned-defender Sophia Fenwick has been brought into the squad as the eleventh player to cover for Fakahokotau’s injury, while 20 year old Lily Marshall can also cover GD and WD.

The midcourt trio that served Tactix so well in 2018 are back. Charlotte Elley has done a good job as the first choice WD, while Kimiora Poi and Erikana Pederson fill the C and WA positions respectively. Poi’s form in particular has been such that she was recently rewarded with her first test cap during the Quad Series in England.

Goal shooter Ellie Bird was one of the biggest improvers of last season. Her confidence grew with every round. She now has the game to take full advantage of her height of 196cm. At goal attack, the experienced Kate Beveridge and Brooke Leaver will share the responsibility of making sure Bird gets enough ball and in the best position.

Prediction: The loss of their star goal keeper will be hard to overcome for Tactix. She won so much ball for her side last year. But this team is still capable of a strong showing. They should be right in the hunt for the third playoff place.

Players To Watch: Look for Jane Watson to have another big year and for Ellie Bird to keep improving.

 

SOUTHERN STEEL

Jennifer O’Connell (GS)
Gina Crampton (C/WA)
Courtney Elliott (GK/GD)
Abby Erwood (GK/GD)
Kate Heffernan (WD/C)
Kendall McMinn (C/WD)
Lenize Potgeiter (GA/GS)
Shannon Saunders (C/WA)
Te Huinga Reo Selby-Rickit (GK/GD)
Te Paea Selby-Rickit (GA/GS)

Captains: Gina Crampton and Te Huinga Reo Selby-Rickit

Coach: Reigna Bloxham

2018 was a perfect demonstration of the fighting qualities of the Southern Steel. Down at three-quarter time in both finals matches, they somehow found a way to win, and claimed their second straight ANZ Premiership.

As they try to make it three in a row, there is one big in and one big out. After a long time as the heart of netball in the south, inspirational captain Wendy Frew has retired. Steel clearly decided it takes two players to replace her, as Gina Crampton and Te Huinga Reo Selby-Rickit now take over as co-captains in Frew’s absence.

The big in is dominant South African goal shooter Lenize Potgieter. Athletic, solid and accurate on the shot, she is undoubtedly one of the top shooters in the world today. Her move from Magic to Steel this year gives the two time champions an even more formidable look, and a shooting trio that should prove hard to counter.

Potgieter is likely to team up in the shooting circle with Te Paea Selby-Rickit, a player who will be keen to show Silver Ferns selectors she’s still worthy of a spot. Then there’s Jennifer O’Connell, who at 193cm tall, is a more than just a capable back up. She showed in 2018 that she can handle big game pressure.

The attacking midcourt has a settled and familiar look with Crampton and Shannon Saunders (nee Francois) once more calling the shots, as they have done for much of the past seven years. Meanwhile, the vacancy at WD is likely to go to the promising Kate Heffernan, although Kendall McMinn also has claims.

People looking for a possible weakness in the two time champs, may point to the defensive end. But Selby-Rickit has all the experience (and ability) needed to lead the defence, while Courtney Elliott showed more than enough in 2018 to suggest she could be a star. Abby Erwood is also a good backup option.

Prediction: Can the team from the South go back to back to back? Given the squad they’ve assembled, there’s no reason why not. It’s scary to think that this team may be even better now with Potgieter’s arrival. Mark them down for a top two finish.

Players To Watch: How well Lenize Potgieter fits in will be important and Kate Heffernan is one on the rise.

 

Lenize Potgieter (Photo: Marcela Massey)

 

CRYSTAL BALL

There appear to be two standout teams in this year’s ANZ Premiership; Pulse and Steel. They should both make the top 3, and it would be somewhat of a shock if one of them didn’t go on to win the title. The other four teams all have some claims to the other spot in the playoffs, so it was incredibly difficult to settle on the order from 3rd to 6th. Here are my predictions, as well as those of Penny Miles from netballweekly.com

Ian Harkin (Netball Scoop)

1 Pulse
2 Steel
3 Stars
4 Tactix
5 Magic
6 Mystics
Premiers: Pulse

Penny Miles (Netball Weekly)

1 Pulse
2 Steel
3 Tactix
4 Stars
5 Magic
6 Mystics
Premiers: Steel