New competition, new team, but Southern Steel still the Kiwi side to beat
The trans-Tasman league is over after nine years and New Zealand are on their own in the new ANZ Premiership domestic competition. Fairfax's netball writers run the microscope over the six teams.
Coach: Helene Wilson
Squad: Maria Tutaia (cc), Anna Harrison (cc), Bailey Mes, Storm Purvis, Elisapeta Toeava, Samon Nathan, Tera-Maria Amani, Sasha Corbin (ENG), Michaela Sokolich-Beatson, Brooke Watt.
Star performer: Maria Tutaia. The 107-cap Silver Fern showed signs she's returning to her best netball again during the Quad Series in January after being sidelined by a foot injury at the end of last season. Tutaia will link up with Ferns' shooting partner Bailey Mes, who has rejoined from the Tactix. They should be the most potent shooting combo in the league outside the Steel's Jhaniele Fowler-Reid and Te Paea Selby-Rickit.
Rising talent: Michaela Sokolich-Beatson. The 20-year-old was a member of the Mystics' squad for the first time last season and should get increased court-time this year. Sokolich-Beatson is in New Zealand's under-21 squad and offers solid cover at either wing defence or goal defence with her 1.83m height and athleticism.
Outlook: Perennial underachievers in the former ANZ Championship, like their cross-town sporting brothers, the Blues and Warriors, the Mystics are the team most likely to derail the Steel's title hopes. With a Silver Ferns' shooting end, English midcourter Sasha Corbin, the experienced Anna Harrison and defender Storm Purvis, who needs a strong season after leaving the Steel for her hometown side, the Mystics boast talent right through the court. - Brendon Egan
Predicted finish: Losing finalist
Coach: Julie Hoornweg
Squad: Leana de Bruin (c), Kayla Cullen, Sulu Fitzpatrick, Fa'amu Ioane, Emma Iverson, Malia Vaka, Afa Rusivakula (FIJ), Courtney Tairi, Maia Wilson.
Star performer: Kayla Cullen. Capable of playing in the midcourt and defensive end, it will be interesting to see where coach Julie Hoornweg uses Cullen. The Silver Ferns' first-choice wing defence with Laura Langman blocked from playing international netball while she's playing in Australia, Cullen needs to stand up and deliver each week for the new Stars outfit. Dogged by injury in recent seasons, Cullen will be desperate to get through a full campaign with no issues.
Rising talent: Maia Wilson. Wilson enjoyed a dream first season in the elite ranks last season, impressing for the struggling Central Pulse and going on to play five tests for the Silver Ferns. The 20-year-old goal shoot is still eligible for New Zealand's under-21 side for July's Youth World Cup in Botswana and is one of the brightest young netball talents in the country. The challenge for Wilson will be to grow her shooting game even further and avoid the second season syndrome many top level athletes suffer.
Outlook: Netball's new entity, the South Auckland-based Stars should be in contention for a top three finals berth in their first season. They've attracted a more than useful squad with veteran Leana de Bruin anchoring the defence end and Kayla Cullen, Courtney Tairi and Fa'amu Ioane shaping as their strongest midcourt. With Wilson and either Malia Vaka [nee Paseka] or Fijian Afa Rusivakula at goal attack, the Stars should be more than competitive. - Brendon Egan
Predicted finish: Fourth
Waikato-Bay of Plenty Magic
Coach: Margaret Forsyth
Squad: Casey Kopua (c), Alex MacLeod-Smith, Amorangi Malesala, Grace Kukutai, Grace Rasmussen, Kelly Jury, Lenize Potgieter (SA), Monica Falkner, Sam Sinclair, Sydney Fraser.
Star performer: Grace Rasmussen. The Magic have been able to rely on Irene van Dyk, then Jo Harten in the shooting circle for the past 14 years, but this time around they'll be led by relatively inexperienced South African Lenize Potgieter. A lot will then fall on Rasmussen's shoulders, whether at GA or WA, but expect her to rise to the challenge.
Rising talent: Kelly Jury. The 20-year-old will be handed the starting bib at GK alongside Casey Kopua and should be able to grow plenty knowing she's not just in on a temporary basis, as she was at the start of last season for the injured Leana de Bruin.
Outlook: Having lost five starters and a wealth of experience from their final trans-Tasman league squad, the Magic are likely in for a rare rebuilding year. If they find their feet quickly, they might challenge for one of the playoff spots, but will probably have to settle for fourth. - Andrew Voerman
Predicted finish: Third
Coach: Yvette McCausland-Durie
Squad: Katrina Grant (c), Te Amo Amaru-Tibble, Sara Bayman (ENG), Sheridan Bignall, Karin Burger, Phoenix Karaka, Claire Kersten, Whitney Souness, Cathrine Tuivaiti, Tiana Metuarau.
Star performer: Cathrine Tuivaiti. Out of her comfort zone for the first time in a long career, Tuivaiti expected to play with Silver Fern Ameliaranne Ekenasio at the Pulse. With the deep shooter missing through pregnancy, Tuivaiti's game will need to go places it hasn't been before. She appears to be relishing the challenge.
Rising talent: Tiana Metuarau. The daughter of Wai Taumaunu, Metuarau has been promoted to the Pulse's ANZ Premiership team thanks to Ekenasio's pregnancy. At 16, she will be the youngest player in the competition, having been the youngest player in the Beko League last season. Might not play much, but if she does, we will watch with interest.
Outlook: In 2016, the Pulse were poor. Forget a 60 minute effort, this team was lucky to put something together for 15 consecutive minutes. As a result, the outlook can only be positive. Yvette McCausland-Durie is the new coach, bringing much needed positivity, and the team is confident their partnerships from 2016 will be much improved this year. - Ben Strang
Predicted finish: Fifth
Coach: Sue Hawkins
Squad: Jess Moulds (c), Kadeen Corbin (ENG), Charlotte Elley, Temalisi Fakahokotau, Brooke Leaver, Nicola Mackle, Erikana Pedersen, Hayley Saunders, Anna Thompson, Zoe Walker.
Star performer: Temalisi Fakahokotau. The two-test Silver Fern has moved south from Auckland to revive her career and the Tactix need the physical defender to make her presence felt. With skipper Jess Moulds missing the first part of the campaign, at least, due to an ACL injury, Fakahokotau will be given a chance to start alongside Zoe Walker. Her rugged style of play could be just what the Tactix have missed in the defensive circle.
Rising talent: Erikana Pedersen. The 22-year-old trialled for the Silver Ferns last year and is rated as one of the top young midcourters in the country. In her third season with the Tactix, Pedersen is likely to be given the starting wing attack bib. If she can stay healthy and perform consistently, she could put herself into national team contention.
Outlook: The Tactix regularly propped up the basement of the former ANZ Championship and it's difficult to see them proving any more competitive in the new domestic league. Losing Moulds, their captain and best player, to injury is a massive blow. Their shooting end could be a weakness with the athletic combination of Mwai Kumwenda and Silver Fern Bailey Mes replaced by English import Kadeen Corbin, youngster Brooke Leaver and stalwart Anna Thompson, who has moved back into the shooting end from the midcourt. - Brendon Egan
Predicted finish: Sixth
Coach: Reinga Bloxham
Squad: Wendy Frew (c), Shannon Francois, Te Paea Selby-Rickit, Jane Watson, Jhaniele Fowler-Reid (JAM), Gina Crampton, Jennifer O'Connell, Te Huinga Reo Selby-Rickit, Abby Erwood, Jamie Hume.
Star performer: It's hard to go past the imposing figure of 1.98m Jamaican international Jhaniele Fowler-Reid. Fowler-Reid was the leading shooter in the 2016 ANZ Championship and her presence in the circle will allow the Steel to accumulate goals and keep defenders on their toes.
Rising talent: Abby Erwood. The New Zealand under-21 defender is one of a trio of youngsters in the 10-player roster. She handled herself well in her debut in the pressure cooker situation of the NZ conference final against the Magic and should get plenty of opportunities in 2017.
Outlook: The ANZ Premiership isn't won in March, but three comfortable victories during the pre-season tournament in Otaki showed just how difficult the Steel will be. The Steel were the minor premiers in 2016 and have retained almost their entire squad from that campaign. Heading into the inaugural ANZ Premiership, the Steel are the team to beat. - Scott Donaldson
Predicted finish: Champions
AT A GLANCE:
Round one: All matches in Hamilton on Sunday
2pm: Steel v Stars
4pm: Magic v Tactix
6pm: Mystics v Pulse
Mon 7.40pm: Magic v Stars in Hamilton