ANZ Premiership 2017 Season in Review
There was an air of excited anticipation when a new era of elite level domestic competition was unveiled in 2017, in the shape of the inaugural edition of the ANZ Premiership.
And at season’s end, there was plenty of satisfaction following the first instalment after nine years of the previous trans-Tasman competition and make the return to a unique stand-alone domestic showpiece.
New entity Northern Stars, based out of south Auckland and started from scratch specifically for the new competition, joined regulars SKYCITY Mystics, Waikato Bay of Plenty Magic, Te Wānanga o Raukawa Pulse, Silvermoon Tactix and Ascot Park Hotel Southern Steel in heralding the arrival of the six-strong ANZ Premiership.
Played over 13 rounds with all teams meeting each other three times, a healthy diet of Netball featured three times a week and included three Super Sundays, which featured all six teams playing at the same venue on the same day.
As the most settled team coming into the competition, the Steel proved themselves a cut above the rest in a history-making season to claim the inaugural title.
Showing their true character, the southerners overcame adversity in the form of a frightening van accident at the tail end of the end of the season which left four of their frontline players nursing injuries and out of action.
With the two worst-affected, inspiring captain Wendy Frew and shooter Te Paea Selby-Rickit showing great courage to return in time for the Grand Final, the unstoppable Steel put their stamp on a sensational season.
Fittingly, the efficient and clinical Steel went through the season unbeaten, clinching an impressive 16th successive win in the season’s showcase Grand Final.
Breaking new ground became a hallmark for the Pulse this year and although well-beaten in the Grand Final, the Wellington-based team had a season to savour.
Captain Katrina Grant’s long years of loyalty were finally rewarded when she led a resurgent Pulse to the post-season play-offs for the first time in their 10-year history. In the process, the emergence of exciting new talent in the form of teenaged shooter Tiana Metuarau and fleet-footed wing attack Whitney Souness provided plenty of optimism for the future.
The Mystics would look back on their season with some regrets. Stacked with exceptional talent, inconsistency proved a major hurdle. Left relying on other results, the Mystics did squeeze into the Finals Series before being halted by the Pulse.
On their day, they were an exhilarating team to watch, the efforts of stalwart defender Anna Harrison and sharp-shooter Maria Tutaia headlining the up-and-coming talent provided by Michaela Sokolich-Beatson, Elisapeta Toeava and Samon Nathan.
Giving it their best shot, WBOP Magic were desperately unlucky not to make the Finals Series, finally missing the cut for the first time in their history.
Facing a mammoth challenge in the final match of the regular season, Magic needed to restrict the Stars to 48 goals and win by 15. Winning by 58-45, the Magic were left agonisingly close when the margin stood at 13 as the final whistle blew, in the process opening the door for the Mystics to progress to the Elimination Final.
Highly-respected captain Casey Kopua made a welcome return to the Magic, showing she had lost none of her outstanding playing qualities.
Starting the season with a hiss and a roar, the Magic fell away in the latter half but there is talent to burn in this team and the likes of Kelly Jury, Monica Falkner and Ariana Cable-Dixon will only get better.
It was a similar story for the Stars. Beset with early injury problems and the difficulties of setting up a new team, the Stars had their teething problems. But when they got it right, they could compete with the best, going on to post upset wins over the Mystics and Magic.
Veteran defender Leana de Bruin was an influential figure throughout but the team struggled with consistency. They had a talented roster and now with a season under their belts will look to be a more settled unit next year.
The Tactix had a challenging season on all fronts but there were enough encouraging signs at season’s end to suggest a change in fortunes is close.
Defender Temalisi Fakahokotau excelled in her move south, midcourter Erikana Pedersen was a key contributor and the emergence of towering goal shoot Ellie Bird have set the tone for the future.
1 Ascot Park Hotel Southern Steel
2 Te Wānanga o Raukawa Pulse
3 SKYCITY Mystics
4 Waikato Bay of Plenty Magic
5 Northern Stars
6 Silvermoon Tactix