New TV deal proves networks tuned into netball

Constellation Cup Game 3Australia Diamonds v New Zealand Silver FernsWhat fantastic news this week with the announcement by FOX SPORTS and Network Ten that every game in the ANZ Championship and Australian Diamonds Test match will be shown live for the next two years.

Coming on the back of last year’s announcement that FOX SPORTS and Network Ten will be showing every Diamonds match of this year’s Netball World Cup 2015 SYDNEY live to a prime time audience, it’s clear that 2015 really is an opportunity for our sport to shine and it is brilliant that netball fans will have access to more live netball than ever before.

The ANZ Championship kicks off this weekend. Here’s `Alexander’s Angle’ on how I believe the Australian teams are shaping up this season.

Melbourne Vixens

Coach Simone McKinnis continues to show faith in the youngsters being developed through Victoria’s pathway program by giving them opportunities.

The Victorian netball community continues to be a rich reserve of talent built on outstanding coaching and talent identification.

Alice Teague-Neeld, Emily Mannix and Chloe Watson have been added to her already formidable list, not to mention the often underrated influence of experienced goaler Carla Dziwoki to replace the retired Catherine Cox.

They have retained the starting seven that secured last year’s premiership.

But the ultimate compliment paid to a club is when your bench players are sought by other franchises – as was the case with Erin Hoare, Amy Steel and Caitlyn Nevins (nee Strachan).

2014ANZC_GF_MVvQF_DC0948LWith a premiership under their belts and a real desire to keep improving, the Vixens should be right back in contention for a tilt at premiership glory for the third time in this competition.

Player to Watch – Kate Moloney (left): An extremely consistent performer last year and the more she continues to learn from Simone, who is regarded as one of the best wing defenders in the history of the game, expect to see Kate take her game to another level this year.

Queensland Firebirds

2014ANZC_GF_MVvQF_DC0978LiConsecutive Grand Final losses produces much soul searching and Firebirds coach Roselee Jencke has again recruited extremely well to put together an exciting and talented list blending youth and experience.

The addition of the experienced Rebecca Bulley will only enhance this outstanding defensive team while the return of unique talent Gretel Tippett from a season in Sydney should create havoc for opposition match ups.

Player to Watch – Verity Simmons (right): It was another consistent year in 2014 for Verity and a burning desire to have another opportunity to perform at her best in a Grand Final will drive the super energetic wing attack to keep improving.

NSW Swifts

Perhaps the best off-season recruiting coup was completed by Swifts coach Rob Wright when he secured the signature of outstanding Australian Diamonds defender Julie Corletto.

Along with fellow Diamond Sharni Layton, she will be part of a formidable defensive combination which will certainly create headaches for all opposing teams.

The Swifts’ attack line boasts the experience and accuracy of Diamonds’ Vice-captain Kimberlee Green, Diamonds’ shooter Caitlin Thwaites and Susan Pettit (nee Pratley).

_MCA8895LiI can see the Swifts are well-placed to in contention for finals glory.

Player to Watch – Erin Hoare (left): The young shooter sat behind the premiership pairing of Karyn Bailey and Tegan Philip (nee Caldwell) at the Vixens last year, and has made the move north to invigorate her netball career. A tall athlete with speed and athleticism who came to the game relatively late in training terms, Erin could be a surprise packet.

Adelaide Thunderbirds

2014 Round 2 ANZ Championship game - Firebirds v ThunderbirdsMany would argue that the ANZ Championship’s most experienced coach Jane Woodlands-Thompson has assembled the best ever list in the Thunderbirds’ history.

Certainly the depth of the team is impressive with the arrival of English international Eboni Beckford Chambers from Fever and Australia’s `newest’ citizen Carla Borrego.

The team will be stronger than ever particularly at the `Bird Cage’, their home court at Netball SA Stadium, and I know that the coach will not want to miss a spot in the inaugural Australian Conference Finals after last season.

Player to Watch – Leigh Waddington (right): The athletic midcourter was taking all opponents to the cleaners in 2014 until her season was cruelly cut short by injury. The word on the street is that Leigh is in better shape physically than ever and, with her clever and calm persona, will be an influential competitor for the Thunderbirds.

West Coast Fever

With new coach Stacey Rosman leading the way and a new attitude, the Fever will be determined to force their way into Finals contention for the first time in their history.

Considering the Fever has the Australian Diamonds Commonwealth Games Gold Medal winning shooting combination of Natalie Medhurst and Caitlin Bassett – and a centre court primed for providing them plenty of opportunities – the Fever will be difficult to shut down.

_MCA7919LiThey may be inexperienced in the back court, but their four defenders have a desire to be known as the league’s most miserly.

To take that next step, Fever needs to make their home court a fortress. Stacey is well aware of the challenges she faces in her first season in charge of an ANZ Championship side but she is relishing her opportunity.

Player to Watch – April Letton (left): I know that April had worked extremely hard over pre-season for the opportunity to spearhead the Fever defence and she was an excellent performer at the recent Netball Centre of Excellence specialist camp that ran alongside the Diamonds’ camp in Sydney. Watch her combination with Erena Mikaere.

It’s very difficult to predict which sides will make the Conference Finals as I believe this will be the most even season we’ve seen in the competition’s eight-year history.

The five Australian franchises will literally be playing Grand Finals every week and the pressure to win will be intense. The numbers again tell us that winning at home will be crucial as will matches against Conference rivals.

Will Australian teams take a leaf out of the AFL play book and ‘rest’ players when travelling to New Zealand as they only play Kiwi opposition once and the cumulative effects of travel takes its toll?

As a coach I never play with this ‘karma’ but other coaches have shown its benefits over a long season.

The national selectors Anne Sargeant, Michelle Wilkins and I will be watching every match in 2015 as we thoroughly assess all athletes in contention for the Diamonds’ 2015 World Cup squad, which will be chosen after Round 7. The final team will be announced following the ANZ Championship Grand Final in June.

So I can’t wait for the world’s premier netball competition to get underway and I will be watching it at home with on ONE on Sundays and with my Foxtel subscription and Sports Package!

Go Diamonds!