Path to Super Netball finals after World Cup break

Swifts players celebrate a win over the Vixens Graham Denholm/Getty Images

After a month-long break, Super Netball is back and all eyes turn to the path to the finals.

The Netball World Cup provided an intense 10-day spectacle that lived up to everyone's expectations, with New Zealand stunning world No.1 Australia to claim the gold medal in a one-goal win. But with 32 players from across Super Netball taking part, every team is sure to be impacted in the final five rounds of the competition.

The Swifts and Lightning are set to cruise right into the finals; the Vixens, Magpies and Giants all remain in contention for the final two places, while the Thunderbirds, Fever and Firebirds fight to avoid the wooden spoon.

With player management, injury and mental fatigue sure to play a role for each Super Netball side, how will the Netball World Cup impact your team and their run to the final?

Swifts

Current ranking: 1

Fixtures: Fever (A), Lightning (A), Vixens (H), Magpies (A), Firebirds (H).

With seven wins, a draw and a treasure trove of bonus points, the Swifts have already secured their top four spot, and they'll be determined to keep their place at the top of the table, secure a home semifinal and potential home Final. But with five players playing an integral part at the World Cup, including four of the side's starters, and the loss of captain Maddy Proud for the remainder of the season, the Swifts have hard work ahead of them.

Helen Housby, Sarah Klau and Paige Hadley, Sam Wallace and Natalie Haythornthwaite all played big minutes across the ten-day tournament, and luckily for Briony Akle came through the tournament unscathed. However, Akle still faces tough choices around resting and player management.

Three of the Swifts five remaining games are against top four opponents and she'll want her best side out on the court, but with nine rounds already in their legs and just six days break in between the tournament and Round 10, rest and injury prevention will be pertinent in their chase for their first Super Netball title.

The Swifts Round 10 game against the Fever and final round against the Firebirds provide a great opportunity to rest their stars while giving young guns Sophie Halpin, Sophie Garbin and Amorangi Malesala plenty of minutes on the Super Netball stage. But clashes with Lightning, Vixens and Magpies will be a test for the coaching staff.

Is the World Cup going to derail the Swifts title campaign? Unlikely, but it could play a major role in impacting their final standing at the end of the regular season. If the likes of Housby, Wallace and Klau are managed well ahead of the final series, the Swifts are almost unstoppable.

Lightning

Current ranking: 2

Fixtures: Firebirds (A), Swifts (H), Giants (A), Vixens (A), Thunderbirds (H).

The Lightning are on track for their third Super Netball title with seven wins in the bag from their opening nine games, and similarly to the Swifts, they had five of their starting seven take part in the World Cup, leaving Noeline Taurua with plenty of headaches on her return from the tournament.

Laura Langman, Peace Proscovia, Steph Wood, Phumza Maweni and Karla Pretorius have all been instrumental in the Lightning's return back to the top end of the ladder and will play important roles in their push for another title, but how well they're managed on their return from the UK will be of huge importance to the Lightning.

Mental fatigue has the potential of playing a huge role in this side. While the high of winning her first World Cup title will buoy Langman, the crushing loss for Wood will need to be put to the side quickly, and the mental switch from international netball to Super Netball must be made fast. While Taurua has proven her coaching credentials in Super Netball and now on the world stage, she will also have to move quickly in putting her World Cup win to the side and prepare her side for their final five round games.

With three games against top five opponents the Lightning don't have an easy passage to the finals, but their clashes with the Thunderbirds and Firebirds present the perfect opportunity to give their stars a rest, especially their final round match against Adelaide.

Keeping her stars fresh will be a challenge for Taurua, but with their place in the finals all but locked in, it's unlikely the World Cup will effect more than their place in the top four.

Vixens

Current ranking: 3

Fixtures: Thunderbirds (H), Fever (H), Swifts (A), Lightning (H), Magpies (A).

With six wins to their name, the Vixens are in an advantageous position heading into the final five rounds, but with five of their players returning from the UK - including three from their starting line-up - Simone McKinnis and her side will be under plenty of pressure.

Luckily for the Vixens, their first two hit outs are at home against struggling sides the Thunderbirds and Fever, while key players Renae Ingles, Tegan Phillip and Emily Mannix will be fresh after the four-week break and will be ready to steer the Vixens to the finals.

Mannix has proven to be a key lynchpin for the side, her nine intercepts against the Giants in Round 9 reminding everyone just how unlucky she was to miss out on a Diamonds spot, but her misfortune can only be good for the Vixens. The same can be said for Phillip and Kate Maloney, who have proven themselves some of the top performers throughout the tournament and truly stepped up in their demolition of the Giants.

Diamonds' stars Caitlin Thwaites and Liz Watson are sure to return from the UK with a fire in their belly, after their gold medal loss. Thwaites was on fire in the shooting circle with an almost perfect shooting percentage, while Watson was seemingly played out of her preferred position for most of the tournament. Their return to Super Netball will be their chance to really dominate.

Denied a finals appearance last year through bonus points, only a complete meltdown in the final five rounds could keep them out of the top four in 2019. The Vixens can easily seal their fate in the first fortnight back and with fresh legs in key positions and plenty of opportunity to rest international stars the Vixens are in prime position to move up the ladder and earn a home semifinal. After a midseason form slump that saw losses to the Swifts and Magpies and a draw with the Fever, the World Cup came at the perfect time for the Vixens and can only be a positive for the side.

Collingwood Magpies

Current ranking: 4

Fixtures: Giants (H), Thunderbirds (A), Fever (A), Swifts (H), Vixens (H).

With no finals appearances in the opening two seasons, the Magpies have struggled to live up to expectation with their 'team of superstars', but so far in 2019 they've stepped up. They currently sit within the top four and have a strong chance of reaching their first finals.

The Magpies have the perfect opportunity to put some real distance between themselves and the Giants when the competition resumes on Friday, but face two of the top three teams in the final rounds in what could be do or die clashes.

With three of their biggest names returning from the World Cup the final rounds won't be easy to manage, and while the mid-season break provides the perfect opportunity to rest the legs for some of their players, for others, like Nat Medhurst, the break couldn't have come at a worse time.

Medhurst has slowly worked her way into form throughout the season and stood tall in their final round before the break, shooting at 100 percent accuracy against the Firebirds in one of her best performances of the season. Medhurst, and the Magpies, will be hoping the break won't hinder any momentum she's gained and she'll return to court firing.

Sitting with four wins, four losses and a draw, the Magpies have had a mixed bag of performances so far this season including big wins and huge blowouts and with just six days to put their disappointing World Cup behind them, fatigue could become a huge issue for Kelsey Browne, April Brandley and Geva Mentor.

Giants

Current ranking: 5

Fixtures: Magpies (A), Firebirds (H), Lightning (H), Thunderbirds (A), Fever (H).

Season 2019 hasn't exactly gone to plan for the Giants. Currently sitting at fifth with just the three wins for the year, the Giants have looked a shadow of the side that's reached the last two finals series.

With two opening round losses and a round 9 demolition at the hands of the Vixens, the Giants have looked shaky in 2019 and will need to turn their season around quickly if they're to secure a top four. But even facing three bottom four teams the Firebirds, Thunderbirds and Fever in the final five rounds may not be enough for the Julie Fitzgerald-led side.

While the Giants had just three players at the World Cup, two of those players were star shooters Caitlin Bassett and Jo Harten. Although Bassett hasn't appeared to truly make her mark in the shooting circle since her move from the Lightning - she was benched during their loss to the Vixens - Fitzgerald will be looking at her shooting duo to lead her side. While Jamie-Lee Price will surely relish returning to Super Netball and her regular position with the Giants, after she took on the role of wing-defence for much of the 10-day tournament.

Taking on the Magpies in their first match back will be a real test for the side as they look to move up the ladder, and with fresh legs at the defensive end and through the middle the Giants can't be underestimated, but whether Harten and Bassett can get their end firing could be an issue.

Fever

Current ranking: 6

Fixtures: Swifts (H), Vixens (A), Magpies (H), Firebirds (H), Giants (A).

While the Fever currently sit sixth, their chances of reaching the finals are close to non-existent. With two wins, three draws, four losses and just 11 bonus points, the Fever will be relying on either the Giants or Magpies capitulating as well as an unbeaten run in the final five rounds.

After reaching the Grand Final last season, the Fever have limped through 2019. Their choice to let Medhurst go has clearly come back to bite, with Alice Teague-Neeld and Kaylia Stanton struggling to step into the goal-attack's big shoes. With four of their five games against top five opponents, including a Round 10 match against ladder-leaders the Swifts, they'll be hoping the four-week break will play in their favour.

Fever are in one of the better positions when it comes to players making World Cup appearances, with just two players heading to the UK. Unfortunately, these players are two of their biggest stars and lynchpins for the side in Courtney Bruce and Jhaniele Fowler.

Stacey Marinkovich will be buoyed with her two stars returning uninjured, especially after the side struggled when both Fowler and Bruce were sidelined earlier in the season, but after both players played key roles for their national side, including a gold medal loss to Bruce, avoiding player fatigue could be an issue.

While the Fever remain mathematical chances for a finals appearance, they're essentially playing for respectability at this stage and Marinkovich will no doubt push her star duo in the final rounds. But despite fresh legs in the remainder of her squad, World Cup burnout in her stars presents a serious issue for her side.

Thunderbirds

Current ranking: 7

Fixtures: Vixens (A), Magpies (H), Firebirds (A), Giants (H), Lightning (A).

Any chance of reaching the 2019 finals are all but over for the Thunderbirds, but securing their best finish in Super Netball is sure to be a huge motivator for the Adelaide side. With two wins and a draw, the Thunderbirds have already secured more wins in nine games than they had in two seasons, and with five rounds left, they have the potential to add another win to their tally.

Securing a draw in round 9 against ladder leaders the Swifts, the Thunderbirds have proven they're not a side to underestimate with weapons across the court, but their hopes for the final five rounds will have taken a hit after defender Layla Guscoth suffered a ruptured Achilles' during the World Cup.

One of the top defenders in Super Netball, the loss of Guscoth will be huge for the Thunderbirds after they seemed to find a rhythm in the final matches ahead of the World Cup break. With international stars across the court - including sharpshooter Maria Folau - the Thunderbirds will need their international contingent to refocus quickly and get their minds back into Super Netball.

After two winless seasons, if the Thunderbirds can secure a third win in 2019 and retain their position on the table, they'll sure to be happy with their result.

Firebirds

Current ranking: 8

Fixtures: Lighting (H), Giants (A), Thunderbirds (H), Fever (A), Swifts (A).

Just three years ago, the Firebirds had secured their third ANZ Championship title, now they sit last on the Super Netball table without a single win to their name after nine rounds and no chance of reaching the 2019 finals. With just two draws against the Fever and Magpies, the Firebirds will now be playing for respectability and looking to rebuild ahead of the 2020 season.

After missing out on a World Cup call-up, captain Gabi Simpson is sure to want to push her side in the final rounds to get something out of season 2019, but whether Gretel Tippett can get her head back into the game following Australia's disappointing World Cup gold medal loss, could play a huge role in their final rounds of the season.