Netball fans around the country are eagerly awaiting the first match of the ANZ Championship season and it promises to be the closest in history with particularly the Australian half of the draw looking line ball!
Each Australia ANZ Championship team has a legitimate claim to making the final four with all five rosters comparable in terms of playing personnel.
It really comes down to how the combinations come together and which Head Coach can make the right decisions at the right times to effect a winning outcome.
Reigning premiers the Adelaide Thunderbirds have a number positive factors in their favour. They are led by the most experienced coach in the league, Jane Woodlands-Thompson, and having won the most titles of any side (two) gives the Thunderbirds a head start in knowing what is required to get to finals and how to win.
The challenge for the team is to cover for the losses of Natalie von Bertouch and Sharni Layton, experience that cannot just be replaced overnight.
However new captain and Liz Ellis Diamond winner Renae Hallinan and vice-captain Rebecca Bulley will be seeking to lift their performances in defence to cover those losses.
Watch for their young guns Maddy Proud, Cody Lange and Kate Shimmin – all born and bred South Australians – to make their mark on the competition.
Last year’s Grand Finalists the Queensland Firebirds have a great desire to ensure they stay at the top.
Underrated last season by most pundits, the Firebirds will be as well prepared as ever under the guidance of Roselee Jencke, who has the best winning percentage of any current coach in the league.
Their defensive line-up remains as strong as ever with the return of 2011 premiership player Claire McMeniman after two years out of netball at the highest level.
Australian Diamonds captain Laura Geitz is as keen as ever to improve her game and gets to start the season on 2013’s best goal shooter in Jhaniele Fowler-Reid, from the Southern Steel. This match will be a big test to open the season. However the Firebirds have historically been strong performers in New Zealand.
Watch out for the performances of second year Diamond squad members Kim Ravaillion and Gabi Simpson as they seek to build upon their excellent 2013 debut seasons respectively.
The challenge for Queensland will be covering the loss of its attack transverse line from last year – this is where recruits Verity Simmons and Amorette Wild will be keen to step up to the plate.
Melbourne Vixens were the third Australian team to round out last year’s Finals Series and will be as keen as mustard to take the next step towards this year’s title.
Their coach Simone McKinnis, considered and highly competitive, is in her second year in charge and has added experience in their attack third through Diamonds Squad member Catherine Cox.
Arguably, this may be the missing element to the Vixens’ Grand Final plans and will certainly provide a planning headache for opposition coaches when anticipating which goaling line up will take the court each week.
The Vixens will be, as ever, well served by their championship winning players in Bianca Chatfield and Geva Mentor in the defence end. But watch out for the improving Amy Steel and debutant Jo Weston to give plenty of options to coach McKinnis.
Madison Robinson (nee Browne) will once again lead their mid-court with a great ability to swing between both centre and wing attack. This experience will be needed as debutantes Liz Watson and Caitlyn Strachan adjust to the demands of ANZ Championship matches and the intensity required.
West Coast Fever have the most to gain from all of their post-season signings as the `master coach’ Norma Plummer plots her assault on getting the team to their first ANZ Championship Finals Series.
As Norma is fully aware, it is one week at a time as this competition is arguably the toughest domestic league in the world.
Add Caitlin Bassett, 2013’s best Australian Goal Shooter and also a World Champion herself, to this mix of experience and you have the makings of a worlds’ best attack end.
Khao Watts and Ashleigh Brazill will be keen to push their claims for bragging rights as the best Aussie mid court s the best eir claims for the winning percentage of any coach in the league.and deliver accurate feeds to this combination.
With a defence end of Eboni Beckford-Chambers, Josie Janz, Chanel Gomes and youngster Courtney Bruce, all teams can expect to face a defence that is hard at it and relentless.
Finally to the NSW Swifts under the leadership of new coach Rob Wright, who has been patiently waiting for his opportunity to lead at the top level after many years in High Performance in New South Wales working at his coaching craft.
It was terrific to see the Swifts with a renewed energy and up and about at the Pre-Season `Summer Shootout’ where they swept all before them. However, as Rob pointed out, the pre-season tournament has no points attached to it and all teams are playing with jumbled line-ups.
It will be really exciting to see how Caitlin Thwaites and Sharni Layton will impact on the Swifts team performance. Their experience and ability to influence an outcome will go a long way to lifting the Swifts up the ladder, where their passionate fans would like to see them.
Watch out for the form of current Diamonds vice-captain and the Swifts `Captain Courageous’ Kimberlee Green.
Kim is ready to take on all comers as are youngsters Paige Hadley and Gretel Tippett, once she recovers from her foot injury.
With experienced campaigners such as Susan Pratley, Carla Dziwoki and Sonia Mkoloma, the Swifts looked to have a settled and balanced line-up with plenty of class and grunt.
So that’s my take on what looks to be an extremely even Australian half of the draw and it will be fascinating to see how it plays out – especially over the next month.
The national selectors – Anne Sargeant, Michelle Wilkins and myself – will be thoroughly assessing every game in the next seven rounds before we select our 2014 Australian Diamonds squad. This will be announced on April 15.
This is part of an on-going process of selection that is a major platform of our High Performance Diamonds Plan and expected behaviours of the Diamonds Squad.
This Squad will form the nucleus of the Australian Commonwealth Games Netball Team to compete for Australia in July in Glasgow where we are `Going for Gold’!
I MAY BE a couple of years too late but I have finally joined the modern age – yes, I now have a Twitter account.
You can now follow me @CoachLisaA and I look forward to `tweeting’ with all you Diamonds fans out there during the year and keeping you regularly updated on our progress towards this year’s Commonwealth Games.
I may even put up a photo or two along the way!