National Netball League – What happens next could be 2017’s big sport story

The teams for the new national netball competition are slowly coming together. I can’t wait for the new competition to actually have an official name and a hashtag. Reports are the new naming rights sponsor is from left field and not who you would expect. Watch this space.

Boy (actually that probably should be girl) has there been a shake up. The three new teams look strong. The best teams of the ANZ Championship era in the Queensland Firebirds and NSW Swifts will both struggle to play finals in 2017, which is rather sad.

In the one team markets, Adelaide and Perth have both had the heart and soul torn from their squads. Funnily enough the Fever’s motto is Heart. Soul. Sweat.

In another questionable move, ANZ have not renewed their sponsorship which is interesting in itself given their great support of the NetSetGo program and the support they’ve given to the game at the grassroots level across a number of years. Netball is in the fight of its life right now for kids hearts and minds. With savage competition from the AFL, soccer and cricket markets, it is so vitally important that the game remains strong at the lower levels or the netball product as we know it could be diminished forever.

Here’s a brief team-by-team recap of where we are at –

 Adelaide Thunderbirds

There can only be one word to use here and that word is depleted. Only three familiar faces remain from the 2016 squad, which can only be described as disappointing for fans. Renae Ingles has decided to take a year of absence from the game for family reasons too, which will not help the Thunderbirds cause. New coach Dan Ryan has adopted an international flavour to his squad with former England captain Jade Clarke remaining at Adelaide and current England captain Ama Agbeze coming on board. The Thunderbirds have also added Jamaican captain Malysha Kelly and poached Karyn Bailey from the Melbourne Vixens.

Squad – Erin Bell, Jade Clarke, Hannah Petty, Emily Burgess, Chelsea Locke, Karyn Bailey, Ama Agbeze, Malysha Kelly, Jane Cook, Fiona Themann

Collingwood Magpies

Or is that the Australian Magpies? Six of the starting seven in this squad are or have been Diamonds representatives. Wow. But you know what they say, ‘a champion team will always beat a team of champions’ or something like that. Yeah right. They’ll be strong the Pies. Caitlin Thwaites and Sharni Layton as the bookends of any team would be handy. The mid-court is super strong. Former Adelaide Thunderbird Cody Lange has shown she is more than capable when required too. The biggest question here is the coaching abilities of Kristy Keppich-Birrell. She had a tough situation in 2016 at Adelaide, but some of her coaching moves were very strange at times. It will be interesting to see how she applies herself at Collingwood.

Squad – April Brandley, Ash Brazill, Sharni Layton, Kim Ravaillion, Madison Robinson, Caitlin Thwaites, Shae Brown, Cody Lange, Alice Teague-Neeld, Micaela Wilson

GWS Giants

While maybe not quite as strong as Collingwood, the Giants still have a big array of firepower. Experienced players in Kim Green and Susan Pettitt will complement nicely the up and coming Toni Anderson, and Kristina Brice. They will be around the mark the Giants. It is interesting to note that former Swifts coach Julie Fitzgerald has managed to entice several of her former players across town to join her at the new franchise. Read into that what you will.

Squad – Toni Anderson, Kristina Brice, Taylah Davies, Kimberlee Green, Serena Guthrie, Jo Harten, Kristiana Manu’a, Susan Pettitt, Samantha Poolman, Jamie-Lee Price

Melbourne Vixens 

Speaking of interesting, the Melbourne Vixens are now officially NOT the hottest team in town. While they have been able to keep a big proportion of their squad together, the talent is far less than that of their cross-town rivals, the Magpies. Liz Watson is a star in the making so keeping her is a major bonus. Khao Watts adds some experience to a pretty young squad. A tenth member of the squad is set to be announced later this week. It will be fascinating to see how many of the Vixens fan base remain with them and which ones will be enticed across to the Pies. Crowd and television numbers will be fascinating to watch in Victoria too.

Squad – Mwai Kumwenda, Emily Mannix, Kate Moloney, Tegan Philip, Emma Ryde, Chloe Watson, Liz Watson, Khao Watts, Joanna Weston

NSW Swifts 

How the mighty have fallen over at the Swifts. Last year they were a whisker away from a premiership. In 2017 only a miracle would see a repeat of that. They’ve been raided and raided heavily. The Swifts have recruited Maddy Proud, Sarah Klau and internationals Helen Housby and Sammy Wallace. A very different line up to the 2016 Grand Final team, which is a shame, given the talent they once had. Rob Wright has lost a few of his former squad to the woman he replaced as coach in Julie Fitzgerald. Do we read into that?

Squad – Paige Hadley, Helen Housby, Sarah Klau, Abbey McCulloch, Claire O’Brien, Maddy Proud, Amy Sommerville, Emma Tickner, Maddy Turner, Sammy Wallace

Queensland Firebirds 

Fortunately for the Firebirds they have managed to keep Gretel Tippett and Romelda Aiken up in the goal circle as well as four other players from their 2016 squad. That is brilliant considering what has happened to the talent from other established teams. Laura Geitz (pregnant), Clare McMeniman (retired) and Kim Ravaillion (Collingwood) are big losses on the other hand though. They will be competitive still the Firebirds, most probably the most competitive of the already established teams, but not sure it will be enough to win the competition next year.

Squad – Romelda Aiken, Caitlyn Nevins, Gabi Simpson, Gretel Tippett, Laura Clemesha, Mahalia Cassidy, Kate Shimmin, Abigail Latu-Meafou, Jemma Mi Mi, Kimberley Jenner

Sunshine Coast Lightning 

Another of the new clubs and another club that has done very well for itself in attracting talent to their ranks. Caitlin Bassett headlines the signings and is joined by Stephanie Wood. That is a formidable shooting circle. Geva Mentor and Laura Langman add even more experience. In for a good start to proceedings, the Lightning. 

Squad – Caitlin Bassett, Stephanie Wood, Laura Langman, Laura Scherian, Kelsey Browne, Madeline McAuliffe, Cara Koenen, Geva Mentor, Erena Mikaere, Karla Mostert

West Coast Fever 

Rocked to the core, a loss of identity are all ways you could describe the West Coast Fever at the moment. Four players in  Verity Simmons, Kate Beveridge, Ingrid Colyer and Kaylia Stanton have all signed on again for next season, but it is the loss of Ash Brazill, Shae Brown and Caitlin Bassett that will really hurt. They are in for a long year you feel the Fever. Full squad is yet to be announced.

Squad – Verity Simmons, Kate Beveridge, Ingrid Colyer, Kaylia Stanton, Stacey Francis, Courtney Bruce 

I have not been a major fan of how the transformation from the ANZ Championship to the National Netball League has been executed. It has taken way too long, fans have been asked to buy memberships for a competition that doesn’t have a name and at that stage did not even have squads assembled. That was and is a big ask.

I even took it up with Netball Australia CEO Kate Palmer on Twitter. Good on her for replying!

Slowly but surely things are coming into place. Common sense prevailed and there will be no ridiculous rule changes next season. The athletes that make this game are also going to be properly remunerated too which is great for the sport.

To me, a model where each club was given a marquee player or two to start with would have been a better and more fair way to start this new competition off. The unevenness is a big issue at the present time.

It is going to be a slow burn this league. The first few years are going to really test the patience of the netball fan base and the Nine Network who have obtained the television rights. The established teams in particular are going to have to work extremely hard to keep fans coming along given they are likely to be far less successful initially than the new teams. It will be very fascinating to see how having games on free to air television impacts on the sport and how having games every week available only on Telstra devices restricts access for those who want it.

You can read my thoughts in more depth on that here.

There is no going back now and I’ll be out there come that first whistle in February for the inaugural 2017 season to see what it all brings.

What are your thoughts on the new comp? Will it work? Tweet me your thoughts @liamthompson1.

Picture – The Age.

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