The long wait is over. Another year of Suncorp Super Netball is upon us, and it promises to be bigger and better than ever. And certainly different. Because this year, after nine rounds are played, the competition will take a four week pause for the Netball World Cup in Liverpool. More than 30 players will be involved.

It’s far from ideal that less than a week after the final of the sport’s showpiece event, Super Netball will be straight back into it. There could be injuries, fatigue, players’ form and confidence could change, all depending on what happens at the World Cup. How this major disruption affects different clubs will be crucial in 2019.

On a far more positive note, there are several exciting new players joining the league this year. This really has become like the EPL or NBA of netball, with many of the world’s best now playing in the competition. There are 21 international players from seven different countries battling it out with the local Australian talent.

There have been numerous team changes and a handful of high profile retirements. This all just adds to the unpredictability and gives each team a level of optimism and anticipation that this may be their year. But as we get ready for season three of the competition, so far only one club has tasted success on grand final day.

Laura Langman is Sunshine Coast Lightning captain for 2019. Image: Simon Leonard

SUNSHINE COAST LIGHTNING

Professionally run and well supported by a proud and parochial local community, Lightning have proven to be an instant hit in this competition, winning two titles from just two years in existence. Inspirational Coach Noeline Taurua has created an enviable winning culture from scratch. In two seasons playing in the world’s toughest domestic competition, this club has appeared in five finals matches (four of them away from home), and they won all five. That is performing under pressure.

Losing players of the calibre of Geva Mentor and Caitlin Bassett would usually be enough to derail any team’s prospects. But South African, Phumza Maweni, and Ugandan star, Peace Proscovia, are more than adequate replacements. And after a year away, the great Laura Langman is back, this time as captain. Despite the loss of talent, it’s still a well-balanced team, with the brilliant reflexes of Karla Pretorius stopping goals at one end, and the clever Steph Wood creating them at the other.

2019 Team: Laura Langman (captain), Karla Pretorius (vice-captain), Cara Koenen, Annika Lee-Jones, Phumza Maweni, Madeline McAuliffe, Peace Proscovia, Jaqueline Russell, Laura Scherian, Stephanie Wood

Possible rd 1 lineup: GS Proscovia, GA Wood, WA Scherian, C Langman, WD McAuliffe, GD Pretorius, GK Maweni

Summary: Lightning should never be underestimated. Certainly, if they can make their way to the finals once again, recent history tells us to give them every chance.

 

WEST COAST FEVER

So near, and yet so far. The Fever came so close to glory in 2018 but ultimately left empty-handed as Lightning came to town and snatched the prize. The grand final loss was a bitter pill to swallow for the players, coming as it did in front of a huge home crowd of 13,722 in Perth. Then just days later, we saw the exit of fan favourite Nat Medhurst, which it must be said was not handled well by the club. It will be up to the players to put all of that behind them as they try to go one better this year.

Once again, the team’s spearhead is dominant Jamaican goal shooter Jhaniele Fowler. Fever’s fortunes this year will largely revolve around how she combines in the goal circle with either Kaylia Stanton or new signing Alice Teague-Neeld. In captain Courtney Bruce, her defence partner Stacey Francis, and wing defence Jess Anstiss, they have proven ball winners. With a capable midcourt playing its part, there should be no shortage of chances for Fowler to dominate once again.

2019 Team: Courtney Bruce (captain), Jess Anstiss (co-vice captain), Stacey Francis (co-vice captain), Verity Charles, Ingrid Colyer, Shannon Eagland, Jhaniele Fowler, Olivia Lewis, Kaylia Stanton, Alice Teague-Neeld

Possible rd 1 lineup: GS Fowler, GA Stanton, WA Charles, C Colyer, WD Anstiss, GD Francis, GK Bruce

Summary: Any team with Jhaniele Fowler in it must be given a good chance. It will all come down to the connections between her and her shooting partners.

 

Courtney Bruce (Fever) defends the shot of Sasha Glasgow (Thunderbirds). Image: Simon Leonard

 

GIANTS NETBALL 

Once again, big things are expected from the Giants in 2019. In their short history, the club from Sydney’s west has won more regular season games than any other, but ultimately came up short when it mattered most. With Bec Bulley and Susan Pettitt retiring, and Serena Guthrie returning to England, there were big holes to fill in 2019. In a recruiting coup, Australian captain Caitlin Bassett, has been signed to take one of those spots, while Giants settled on local talent for the other two.

A front three of Bassett, Jo Harten and captain Kim Green would be the envy of most (not to mention the undeniable talent of Kiera Austin) and if the Giants are to go well this year, obviously the attack end is going to have to fire. But it will take a full team effort if they’re to take the title. A lot will be expected of defender Sam Poolman and also midcourter Jamie-Lee Price, who starred for Australia in the January Quad Series. Young rookie Amy Parmenter will also be one to watch.

2019 Team: Kim Green (captain), Kiera Austin, Caitlin Bassett, Jo Harten, Kristiana Manu’a, Matilda McDonell, Teigan O’Shannassy, Amy Parmenter, Sam Poolman, Jamie-Lee Price

Possible rd 1 lineup: GS Bassett, GA Harten, WA Green, C Parmenter, WD Price, GD Manu’a, GK Poolman

Summary: Despite losing three great internationals, this is still a strong team, and expect to see them in contention. The attack end looks special. If it clicks, look out.

 

QUEENSLAND FIREBIRDS

After their fourth-place finish in 2018, the Firebirds are largely unchanged. There is just one out, but it’s a massive one. Former captain, Laura Geitz has been the heart and soul of the club and her absence will be hard to overcome. Tara Hinchliffe and Kim Jenner, are two of the most promising defenders in the game, but they will probably need to go to another level this year. Hopefully they will get great support from a rejuvenated captain Gabi Simpson, keen to hold on to her test spot.

In attack, the combination of Gretel Tippett and Romelda Aiken will be looking to dominate the shooting circle as they did on numerous occasions in 2018. Incredibly, this will be Aiken’s twelfth straight season at the Firebirds. There is a feeling from some that her influence is waning, but at her best, she’s still incredibly hard to stop. Tippett changed her game up dramatically last year as she worked to get closer to the post. She may need to change things up again to avoid being worked out.

2019 Team: Gabi Simpson (captain), Romelda Aiken, Mahalia Cassidy, Laura Clemesha, Tippah Dwan, Tara Hinchliffe, Kim Jenner,  Jemma Mi Mi, Caitlyn Nevins, Gretel Tippett,

Possible rd 1 lineup: GS Aiken, GA Tippett, WA Nevins, C Cassidy, WD Simpson, GD Jenner, GK Hinchliffe

Summary: This will be tough. Geitz is a big loss. But this club has a proud recent history and they will look to draw on that experience in their quest to play finals.

 

Caitlin Thwaites (Vixens) holds front position. Image: Marcela Massey

 

MELBOURNE VIXENS

In 2018, the Vixens fell just short of a place in the finals, a late season injury to star shooter Mwai Kumwenda cruelly hurting their chances. Kumwenda’s injury has opened the door for the popular return of Caitlin Thwaites, nine years after she last played for the club. She has returned to a very strong Vixens team. Captain Kate Moloney will likely lead a starting seven totally made up of current or former Diamonds, and headlined by reigning Liz Ellis Diamond winner Liz Watson.

Watson was simply outstanding in 2018, racking up assist after assist, and there’s really no reason why she won’t just continue in the same vein. The defence end is strong too with Emily Mannix and Jo Weston who don’t always get the plaudits of some of their teammates. If the Vixens have had an apparent weakness in recent years, it’s that they didn’t seem to have a plan B to fall back on. But even that now should be no excuse as they have great options on the bench as well.

2019 Team: Kate Moloney (captain), Tegan Philip (co-vice captain), Liz Watson (co-vice captain) Kadie-Ann Dehaney, Lara Dunkley, Renae Ingles, Mwai Kumwenda (injured), Emily Mannix, Caitlin Thwaites, Ine-Mari Venter, Jo Weston

Possible rd 1 lineup: GS Thwaites, GA Philip, WA Watson, C Moloney, WD Ingles, GD Weston, GK Mannix

Summary: This is a powerful team. It’s hard to find a weakness. It would be a big shock if they’re not one of the competition leaders and in contention come finals.

 

NEW SOUTH WALES SWIFTS

The Swifts would have been disappointed with their 2018 season. Having won five of their first seven games, they were in prime position for a finals berth, only to falter, winning just one more match. But minimal changes have been made, indicating that this is a unified team determined to set things straight. There is no better endorsement of the team environment than the fact that star English Roses shooter Helen Housby has signed to play on for three more years in Sydney.

Housby is likely to once again combine with Trinidadian Sam Wallace in an exciting shooting circle (although Sophie Garbin may have something to say about that). Goal keeper Sarah Klau leads a solid defence, while in the midcourt, new captain Maddy Proud and her deputy Paige Hadley have grown into a very effective and underrated combination. They just go about their business no fuss week after week. It will be interesting to see just how much court time Nat Haythornthwaite gets.

Late news… unfortunately Kate Eddy and Nat Haythornthwaite will miss round one through injury. Eddy’s injury isn’t expected to keep her out for more than a week, but Haythornthwaite’s could be more problematic. Training partners, Sophie Halpin and Tayla Fraser have been brought in to cover.

2019 Team: Maddy Proud (captain), Paige Hadley (vice captain), Kate Eddy, Sophie Garbin, Natalie Haythornthwaite, Helen Housby, Sarah Klau, Lauren Moore, Maddy Turner, Sam Wallace

Possible rd 1 lineup: GS Wallace, GA Housby, WA Hadley, C Proud, WD Halpin, GD Turner, GK Klau

Summary: This is a team that can beat anyone on their day. The question is can they do it consistently enough over fourteen rounds to be back playing finals again.

 

Geva Mentor – Magpies co-captain. Image: Marcela Massey

 

MAGPIES NETBALL 

Heading into 2017, the Collingwood Magpies were the popular pick to take out the first super Netball title. But their results have been a major letdown. Two years on, a new coach in Rob Wright, some big name recruits, and once again the Magpies are seen as strong contenders. On paper at least, the new signings appear to make a huge difference to the Magpies’ winning chances, especially in the problem position of goal attack. They now have one of the best ever in Nat Medhurst.

Her combination with Jamaican Shimona Nelson will be vital. Nelson showed promising signs in a struggling team last year and looks set for a breakout season in 2019. Kelsey Browne is another arrival and she joins sister Madi, Kim Ravaillion and Ash Brazill in a star studded midcourt. But the prized signing no doubt is that of England’s star goal keeper Geva Mentor. In her career so far, she’s now played for three Australian clubs and has won titles with all three of them.

Late news… co-captain Madi Browne will miss at least the first week of the competition as she tries to recover from a knee injury picked up in the pre-season tournament. It is to be hoped that it is not serious enough to require a long stint on the sidelines, as that would be a big blow to the Magpies’ chances.

2019 Team: Geva Mentor (co-captain), Madi Browne (co-captain), Kelsey Browne (vice captain), April Brandley, Ash Brazill, Matilda Garrett, Nat Medhurst, Shimona Nelson, Kim Ravaillion, Gabrielle Sinclair

Possible rd 1 lineup: GS Nelson, GA Medhurst, WA K.Browne, C Ravaillion, WD Brazill, GD Brandley, GK Mentor

Summary: After two years of under-performing, surely now is the time. This is a very strong team and if Rob Wright can get them to gel, a place in the finals awaits.

 

ADELAIDE THUNDERBIRDS

In 2019, Thunderbirds are the big unknown. For a club with such a successful history, their recent struggles have been a huge disappointment. After just one win in two seasons, wholesale changes have been made including the return of their coach from 2007, Tania Obst. On the playing side of things, four top international imports have been recruited to strengthen the team; Shamera Sterling (Jamaica), Layla Guscoth and Beth Cobden (England) and Maria Folau (New Zealand).

The defence end looks particularly strong. All eyes will be on the excitement machine that is Sterling. With help from Kate Shimmin, Guscoth and Cobden (who is returning from injury), there should be no shortage of ball for the attack end. But can they capitalise? Folau will need to shrug off the recent storm surrounding her husband. Her demeanour suggests that it won’t bother her one bit, but just how much team harmony is affected by that controversy will be interesting to watch.

2019 Team: Layla Guscoth (co-captain), Chelsea Pitman (co-captain), Kelly Altmann, Beth Cobden, Maria Folau, Sasha Glasgow, Cody Lange, Hannah Petty, Kate Shimmin, Shamera Sterling

Possible rd 1 lineup: GS Folau, GA Glasgow, WA Pitman, C Petty, WD Guscoth, GD Shimmin, GK Sterling

Summary: Could they be surprise packets? This year’s team certainly looks stronger than last year’s, but in this league, that doesn’t guarantee they’ll climb the ladder.

 

Shamera Sterling (Thunderbirds) snaffles an intercept. Image: Simon Leonard

 

CRYSTAL BALL

It’s prediction time. Along with the forecasts from Jenny Sinclair and myself here at Netball Scoop, I’ve also gathered the thoughts of the following members of the Australian netball media; Liz Ellis, Sue Gaudion, Erin Delahunty, Brittany Carter and Eric George. This is the order we think the eight teams will finish in after the home and away rounds, plus who we think the eventual premiers will be. It was tough. Very tough.

Ian Harkin (Netball Scoop)
1 MAGPIES
2 VIXENS
3 FEVER
4 GIANTS
5 Lightning
6 Swifts
7 Firebirds
8 Thunderbirds
Premiers: MAGPIES

Jenny Sinclair (Netball Scoop)
1 MAGPIES
2 FEVER
3 LIGHTNING
4 VIXENS
5 Giants
6 Firebirds
7 Swifts
8 Thunderbirds
Premiers: MAGPIES

Brittany Carter (ABC)
1 VIXENS
2 MAGPIES
3 LIGHTNING
4 SWIFTS
5 Giants
6 Fever
7 Firebirds
8 Thunderbirds
Premiers: MAGPIES

Erin Delahunty (Guardian Australia)
1 VIXENS
2 GIANTS
3 LIGHTNING
4 MAGPIES
5 Fever
6 Swifts
7 Firebirds
8 Thunderbirds
Premiers: VIXENS

Liz Ellis (Channel Nine)
1 VIXENS
2 MAGPIES
3 FEVER
4 LIGHTNING
5 Giants
6 Swifts
7 Firebirds
8 Thunderbirds
Premiers: MAGPIES

Sue Gaudion (Channel Nine)
1 MAGPIES
2 GIANTS
3 FEVER
4 VIXENS
5 Firebirds
6 Lightning
7 Thunderbirds
8 Swifts
Premiers: MAGPIES

Eric George (The Australian)
1 VIXENS
2 GIANTS
3 MAGPIES
4 FEVER
5 Lightning
6 Swifts
7 Firebirds
8 Thunderbirds
Premiers: GIANTS

 

Shimona Nelson in her new Magpies Netball colours is growing in confidence and ability. Image: Marcela Massey

FIVE PLAYERS TO WATCH

Again, with the help of our friends in the Australian netball media, we’ve compiled a list of our top five players to watch for the season ahead in Super Netball.

SHIMONA NELSON (MAGPIES) 

Nelson comes to the Magpies having shown promising signs at the Thunderbirds. On the end of a strong attacking lineup, she looks set for a tremendous season.

Eric George – “Nelson couldn’t ask for a better group of players to set the table for her: Browne, Browne and Ravaillion provide a diversity of great feeding sources, and Medhurst will command respect inside and outside the circle. Even though Wright is a defensive coach, he has a great reputation for building up the confidence of younger players. This is also a vote in the Magpies themselves. If they bounce back, I think their talented young shooter will be one of the stories of the season.”

Jenny Sinclair – “In what will be her third year of netball (and 2nd in Australia), the 195cm youngster goes from strength to strength. While she’s still raw, Nelson is learning with every outing. She may not have the experience yet to depose Fowler and Aiken from the Jamaican World Cup team, but she is just as athletic and accurate. We will be talking about this star of the future for a very long time.”

SHAMERA STERLING and MARIA FOLAU (THUNDERBIRDS)

People have been waiting to see what Sterling can do in Super Netball. As for Folau, we know what she can do, but it will still be interesting to see her in this league.

Sue Gaudion – “Both will be match winners and for the same club! Sterling will grow to understand the week in week out hardness required to be the best…whilst I just can’t wait to see how Folau embraces the World’s best Competition and how it prepares her for the World Cup!”

Brittany Carter – “After watching Sterling play in the Fast 5 World Series last year in Melbourne, I was super impressed with her confidence and flair as a young circle defender. She’s not a particularly muscly player, but she’s got height, a long reach and a surprising amount of strength which leads to plenty of intercepts. She was also the MVP of the UK’s Super League last season, so really looking forward to seeing her in action with the Thunderbirds.”

PHUMZA MAWENI and PEACE PROSCOVIA (LIGHTNING)

It will be great to watch how these two exciting players go, one from South Africa, the other Uganda. They have big shoes to fill, but there’s no reason why they can’t.

Liz Ellis – “I’m keen on watching Maweni because she has flown under the radar with all of the excitement about Shamera Sterling. I reckon Maweni will be a surprise packet, and her combination with Karla Pretorius will be one of the best in the Super Netball.

Erin Delahunty – “At 193cm, Proscovia is the same height as the player she replaces at the Sunshine Coast Lighting, Diamond goal-scoring machine Caitlin Bassett and she may prove to be just as, if not more valuable. The 29 year old – who starred for the Loughborough Lightning in the UK Superleague for the last four years – is super-athletic and deadly accurate; a combination that will see the Lightning once again in the mix to win Super Netball.”

 

Peace Proscovia (Lightning). Image: Simon Leonard

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