Super Netball season preview: new era begins in Australia

Sharni Layton Darrian Traynor/Getty Images

Australian netball embarks on a new era this year with the introduction of Super Netball, a competition that welcomes three new sides to the national sporting landscape.

Read on as ESPNW reporter Brittany Mitchell runs the rule over each of the eight teams.

ADELAIDE THUNDERBIRDS

Team list: Ama Agbeze (GD/GK/WD), Erin Bell (GA/GS/WA), Karyn Bailey (GA/GA), Emily Burgess (WD), Jade Clarke (C/WD), Jane Cook (GS), Malysha Kelly (GD/GK), Chelsea Locke (WA), Hannah Petty (WD/C), Fiona Themann (GK/GD).

Coach: Dan Ryan

Captain: Erin Bell

Newest faces: Malysha Kelly, Ama Agbeze, Chelsea Pitman, Emily Burgess, Karyn Bailey, Fiona Themann, Jane Cook.

International stars: Malysha Kelly, Ama Agbeze

2016 result: 5th (Australian Conference), 10th (Overall)

Coach's thoughts: "I want to make sure we are a competitive force in this competition and we are known as a team that is very hard to beat. We all believe in the potential within our squad and know that we have the ability to achieve great things," said Dan Ryan.

"It's really difficult to prepare a team when your full list and key personnel are not available but we've approached it in a very positive manner as it's opened up opportunities for others within our environment.

"We are looking forward to adding three world class athletes back into our mix after the Quad Series, which will give us some great firepower and depth.

"The quality and calibre of these athletes are as good as any team in the competition, but it's going to come down to how well our new combinations connect under pressure and I can't wait to see how that plays out for us."

2017 prediction: 8th

The Thunderbirds had a poor 2016 season winning just two matches and finishing at the bottom of the combined conference standings. This season they will be aiming to redeem themselves and return to former glory with the introduction of several international stars as well as some young blood.

Only two players remain from their failed 2016 season, with Erin Bell and Jade Clarke returning to the Adelaide side, while the team welcome back former assistant coach Dan Ryan as their new head coach. Ryan worked with the side from 2011 before taking the reins for Manchester Thunder, whom he led to a minor premiership and a grand final in his first year in charge in 2016. His signing, alongside international stars Malysha Kelly and Ama Agbeze, captains of Jamaica and England respectively, is sure to bolster the team, especially with Kelly and Agbeze set to link up in the defensive end, giving the Thunderbirds some much needed strength in the circle.

One issue the Thunderbirds could face is a lack of experience, with four players under 21 and three set to earn their debut caps. Their preparations have also been disrupted with the team unable to fully prepare for competition with three key players, Agbeze, Clarke and Chelsea Pitman unavailable due to England duties. It looks like a tough season ahead for Adelaide.

COLLINGWOOD MAGPIES

Team list: April Brandley (GK/GD/WD), Ash Brazill (C/WD), Shae Brown (C/WD/WA), Cody Lange (GS/GA), Sharni Layton (GK/GD/WD), Kim Ravaillion (C/WD/WA), Madi Robinson (WA/C), Alice Teague-Neeld (GS/GA), Caitlin Thwaites (GS/GA), Micaela Wilson (GK/GD/WD).

Coach: Kristy Keppich-Birrell

Captain: Madi Robinson

International stars: N/A

2016 result: N/A

Coach's thoughts: "A strong statement early, I think that's what we'll be doing," coach Kristy Keppich-Birrell said.

"That's a big first round match with a lot of emotion attached to it for a lot of the players and it will be about putting everything out there they've worked hard on over the last eight-10 weeks.

"They're super excited about it and a strong statement is exactly what they intend to make.

"The preseason focus has been divided between physical preparation, skill development and the development of links and relationships.

"We have seen numerous PBs smashed in the gym and on the court, there is a constant state of competition and personal drive to keep reaching higher. The team have set themselves high standards and have created a culture of accountability to those standards.

"We know we will be the hunted, that expectations are high, but we are grounded in knowing that it takes a whole team getting the basics right all of the time to be successful.

"We will be focussed on building across the season, improving as individuals, units and ultimately as a team."

2017 prediction: Champions

One of three new sides to join Super Netball, Collingwood were quick to sign some of the biggest names in Australian netball including Australian Diamonds Sharni Layton, Caitlin Thwaites and Kim Ravaillion, and were soon labelled the 'Super Team'.

While the side only had a short time to come together, and several were called to international duty, the experience the Magpies possess should help forge strong combinations across the court, especially with several players already linking together in previous ANZ Championship sides as well as the Diamonds.

With ANZ Championship experience across the whole squad, as well as international experience at both the youth and professional level, the Pies come into the competition with their guns loaded and primed for success in their inaugural season. They'll definitely be a hard side to beat.

GWS GIANTS

Team list: Toni Anderson (GD/GK/WD), Kristina Brice (GS), Bec Bulley (GD/GK/WD), Taylah Davies (WA/C), Kimberlee Green (WA/C), Serena Guthrie (WD/C), Jo Harten (GS/GA), Kristiana Manu'a (GK/GD/WD), Susan Pettitt (GA/GS), Sam Poolman (GK/GD), Jamie-Lee Price (WD/C).

Coach: Julie Fitzgerald

Captain: Kimberlee Green

International stars: Jo Harten, Serena Guthrie.

2016 result: N/A

Coach's thoughts: "Given we are a new team, with the opportunity to start from scratch and write our own legacy, there has been a real intensity about pre-season," Julie Fitzgerald told ESPN. "This is a special opportunity not afforded to many and the players are eager to make sure they make the most of it. "I have been really pleased with the team's attitude in training and the playing group, support team and the organisation as [a] whole have been able to feed off each other. "We might not have the weight of history on our shoulders just yet, but starting from page one means we have a responsibility to ensure Giants Netball starts off on a foundation of hard work, commitment, inclusivity, and fairness - and we are embracing that challenge."

2017 prediction: 2nd

The second of the new Super Netball sides, the Giants also signed strongly ahead of their inaugural season gaining the likes of international stars Jo Harten and Susan Pettit as well as one of Australia's best mid-courters, Kim Green.

Julie Fitzgerald, one of Australian netball's most renowned coaches, has the pedigree to lead her side to glory. In 15 season with Sydney Swifts, she missed the finals only once. Joined by Green in the leadership team, the Giants will have one of the most experienced leadership groups in the competition.

With the likes of Jo Harten in the shooting end and the return of Bec Bulley in the defence, the Giants have a strong mix of experience and youth across the court and will be a real force in their inaugural season.

MELBOURNE VIXENS

Team list: Tegan Philip (GA/GS), Kate Moloney (WD/C), Liz Watson (C/WA), Jo Weston (GK/GD/WD), Emily Mannix (GK/GD), Chloe Watson (GD/WD), Emma Ryde (GS/GA), Kadie-Ann Dehaney (GK/GS), Mwai Kumwenda (GA/GS), Khoa Watts (WD/C/WA).

Coach: Simone McKinnis OAM

Captain: Kate Moloney

New faces: Kadie-Ann Dehaney, Mwai Kumwenda, Khao Watts.

International stars: Kadie-Ann Dehaney, Mwai Kumwenda.

2016 result: 3rd (Australian conference), 4th (Overall)

Coach's thoughts: "It has taken some work with Tegan (Philip), MJ (Mwai Kumwenda) and Emma (Ryde) but we have been working really hard on building the new combinations and I have been super impressed by them," Simone McKinnis said.

2017 prediction: 5th

Coming off the back of what was a disappointing result in 2016, Melbourne Vixens will be out for redemption in Super Netball while also competing against Melbourne rivals, Collingwood, to become the number one Victorian team.

The Vixens have shown plenty of promise throughout their preseason fixtures with several good results, although those efforts are tempered by the fact several teams were missing stars through international duty.

Welcoming the return of Tegan Phillip from injury, the Vixens' attacking end has also been bolstered with the signing of Malawian Mwai Kumwenda, while also retaining last year's debutant Emma Ryde whose physical presence earned her plenty of admirers in 2016.

But the Vixens' defensive end is sure to take a hit with the loss of Geva Mentor, placing plenty of pressure on youngster Jo Weston at the back throughout the season.

A young side, the Vixens will face a tough 2017 season.

NSW SWIFTS

Team list: Paige Hadley (C/WA), Helen Housby (GA/GS), Sarah Klau (GK/G), Abbey McCulloch (GD/WD), Claire O'Brien (WA/C), Maddy Proud (C/WA), Amy Sommerville (GS/GA), Emma Tickner (GD/GK), Maddy Turner (GD/WD), Sam Wallace (GS/GA).

Coach: Rob Wright

Captain: Abbey McCulloch

Newest faces: Helen Housby, Sarah Klau, Maddy Proud, Emma Tickner, Sam Wallace.

International stars: Helen Housby, Sam Wallace.

2016 result: Runners-Up

Coach's thoughts: "I've been really happy with how our pre-season has gone so far," NSW Swifts head coach Rob Wright told ESPN. "This young group of players is really building something special and we have been using our warm-up games to try out lots of different combinations. "Pre-season is all about learning about your players and them learning about you and what you want them to deliver out on court. "Of course they will have to learn on their feet in the heat of a Suncorp Super Netball clash but this next generation of players have proven to me they have what it takes to keep the Swifts at the pinnacle of netball in Australia."

2017 prediction: 6th

One of the teams hardest hit by the arrival of the Giants, Magpies and Sunshine Coast Lightning, the Swifts are without several of the big names that led them to two consecutive ANZ Championship Grand Finals, including Sharni Layton, Caitlin Thwaites and Kim Green.

Attempting to rebuild, the Swifts have picked up several international players, Helen Housby (England) and Sam Wallace (Trinidad & Tobago), while several young players will be expected to step up following the departure of the aforementioned experienced trio.

It's hard to see the Swifts reaching the remarkable heights of previous seasons, especially with the loss of three of their sharp shooters, while Layton leaves a huge hole in defence.

With some mixed results throughout the pre-season, it will be up to leadership team Abbey McCulloch and Paige Hadley to get their young side to step up in a high pressure, fast paced inaugural Super Netball season.

QUEENSLAND FIREBIRDS

Team list: Romelda Aiken (GS), Mahalia Cassidy (C/WA), Laura Clemesha (GK/GD), Kimberley Jenner, Abigail Latu-Meafou, Jemma Mi Mi, Caitlyn Nevins (WA/C), Kate Shimmin (GD/GK), Gabrille Simpson (WD/C/GD), Gretel Tippet (GA/WA/GS).

Coach: Roselee Jencke

Captain: Gabi Simpson

New faces: Kimberley Jenner, Abigail Latu-Meafou, Jemma Mi Mi.

International stars: Romelda Aiken.

2016 result: Champions

Coach's thoughts: "Gabi will bring her enthusiasm and passion for the Firebirds and maintain consistency with the high standards we require," Roselee Jencke said.

"Caitlyn will bring her maturity, court smarts and experience. Both girls are passionate about the club and the commitment that comes with wearing the purple dress."

2017 prediction: 3rd

Queensland Firebirds have been the team to beat over the past two seasons, winning two consecutive ANZ Championships; but Super Netball's arrival has somewhat diminished the Firebirds aura of previous seasons.

Entering 2017 without their fearless leader Laura Geitz, the Firebirds will be led by young gun Gabbi Simpson who will hope to light the same fire that has taken the Firebirds to such huge success.

Able to keep many of their star names, including Romelda Aiken, Gretel Tippet and Caitlyn Nevins, the Firebirds will also see plenty of young faces taking the court and while they may not be the most feared side heading into the new season, the Firebirds aren't a side to take lightly.

SUNSHINE COAST LIGHTNING

Team list: Karla Mostert (GD/WD), Madeline McAuliffe (C/WD), Erena Mikaere (GK/GD), Care Koenen (GS/GA), Caitlin Bassett (GS), Geva Mentor (GK/GD), Laura Langman (C/WD), Kelsey Browne (WA/C), Laura Scherian (WA/C), Stephanie Wood (GA/WA).

Coach: Noeline Taurua

Captain: Geva Mentor

International stars: Geva Mentor, Laura Langman.

2016 result: NA

Coach's thoughts: "Considering we're a new club, I'm really happy with the work we have done so far to establish this team," Sunshine Coast coach Noeline Taurua told ESPN.

"From the practice matches we've had (Swifts, GIANTS, Vixens and Firebirds) we've been able to gauge what areas we need to work on. I think where we're currently sitting, there's still more work to do but I think considering the timeframe we've had to put this new side together, I'm happy with where we're at.

"One of the positives of not having some of our international players here and having other international players on restricted duties, is the opportunity training partners or fringe players have. Cara Koenen is a prime example. There's been a huge progression physically and mentally from Cara. She can withstand the level of netball that's required and she's still so young. Cara has taken a lot of information on board and run with it. She's been really exciting and that's because of the opportunities presented to her.

"I always have high hopes. I wouldn't like to think anything less of myself as a coach or the players selected. We will always back ourselves. I have never been in teams that finish outside the top four. Realistically, we need to be able to do the work behind the scenes but I am confident we have so much potential in this team. I won't shy away from the challenge and I know we are up for it."

2017 prediction: 4th

The third new side to enter Super Netball, the Lightning have built a strong side through the recruitment of several international stars such as Aussie Diamonds sharp shooter Caitlin Bassett.

The Lightning have had a mixed bag of results in the preseason, but with the return of Bassett from injury for the opening of the season and the strength of Geva Mentor in defence and Laura Langman in midcourt, the Lightning will mount a stern challenge from the outset.

WEST COAST FEVER

Team list: Annika Lee-Jones (GK/GD/GS), Courtney Bruce (GD/GK), Ingrid Colyer (C/WA), Jessica Anstissm (C/WD), Kate Beveridge (GS/GA), Kaylia Stanton (GS/GA), Natalie Medhurst (GA/GS), Shannon Eagland (WD/C/GD), Stacey Francis (GD/GK/WD), Verity Charles (WA/C).

Coach: Stacey Marinkovich

Captain: Nat Medhurst

Internationals stars: Stacey Francis (England)

2016 result: 4th (Australian conference), 4th (Overall)

Coach's thoughts: "In 2017 Fever fans can expect an unprecedented team orientated approach to playing the game," Stacey Marinkovich told ESPN.

"We have an incredibly versatile and well balanced squad, and our focus will be executing both skills and strategies that brings out the best in our players, ultimately driving the collaborative team approach we wish to be known for this season.

"The group has placed a large emphasis on establishing a relaxed but competitive environment in which they all feel comfortable to challenge each other, both on and off the court, regardless of age and experience.

"I certainly feel confident that I have 10 players firmly committed to the Club's vision for sustained success, and that each of them are fully aware of the role they must play to contribute to that goal."

2017 prediction: 7th

Unlucky to miss out on the ANZ Championship finals last season, the West Coast Fever have a nice blend of youth and experience for Super Netball. The loss of Caitlin Bassett and Ash Brazil however, should not be underestimated.

Retaining experienced heads Natalie Medhurst and Verity Charles was important, and the Fever will be leaning on the experienced duo to lead from the front, while young guns Courtney Bruce, Anika Lee-Jones and Ingrid Colyer will be expected to step up.

Still to reach a netball championship grand final, it may be another season before they finally reach that goal.