The 2021 Suncorp Super Netball (SSN) season gets underway this weekend and there are plenty of Vitality Roses involved.
Australia’s premier netball competition attracts some of the biggest stars in the sport, including England internationals Helen Housby, Nat Haythornthwaite, Stacey Francis, Kate Shimmin, Jo Harten and Geva Mentor.
The league returns to its conventional structure of home and away fixtures with supporters provisionally able to attend after the COVID-19 pandemic meant the 2020 season was played behind closed doors in a condensed hub format.
Stacey Francis – West Coast Fever
West Coast Fever won just two matches in the 2019 campaign but were a team rejuvenated in 2020 as they marched all the way to the Grand Final. Stacey Francis arrived at the club in 2016 and that was the second time in three years that she reached the showpiece event. However, on both occasions, it ended in defeat for Fever as Melbourne Vixens claimed the title with a 66-64 victory back in October.
It’s set to be Francis’s most challenging year yet after Fever were deducted 12 points ahead of the start of the season due to historical salary cap violations. Consequently, the margin for error for Stacey Marinkovich’s side is very slim as for context, the same points penalty would have dragged the team out of the top four and down to sixth in the ladder.
Fever’s season opener is a repeat of last year’s Grand Final as they travel to Melbourne to face the Vixens on Saturday at 06:00am (BST).
Kate Shimmin – Sunshine Coast Lightning
2020 was the first year Sunshine Coast Lightning failed to reach the Grand Final since SSN launched in 2016 having lost to New South Wales in 2019 and won the first two titles in 2017 and 2018 respectively. Among their new players recruited to try and regain supremacy is Kate Shimmin, who departed Adelaide Thunderbirds in the off-season where she spent seven years across two spells and won the 2013 ANZ Championship.
The defender helps form a solid lineup at the back for Lightning, who also have South African duo Karla Pretorius and Phumza Maweni in their ranks leaving one end of the court looking very strong. And at the other end the potent offensive trio of Steph Wood, Cara Koenen and Peace Proscovia gives Shimmin a real chance of winning a second major trophy in 2021.
You can catch her Lightning debut away to Collingwood Magpies on Saturday at 10:00am (BST).
Geva Mentor – Collingwood Magpies
Shimmin is up against fellow Vitality Roses defender Geva Mentor, who captains Collingwood Magpies and will be searching for a massive improvement on last year’s showing. The Magpies crept into the top four in Mentor’s first season with the club but finished bottom in 2020 with a single win from their 14 outings. They lost key players to injury and their young squad struggled to compete under the intense schedule to leave them disappointed by the end of the campaign.
The return of Kelsey Browne and Ash Brazil should elevate the side in 2021, while the signing of former Celtic Dragons goal-attack Kalifa McCollin should add some extra spice to the Magpies’ attack. Mentor remains the key pillar in that defensive end as she aims to fire her team back into finals contention.
The Magpies host Sunshine Coast Lightning on Saturday at 10:00am (BST).
The sky's the limit for our skipper 💫 pic.twitter.com/RC0yg5V1nP
— Collingwood Super Netball (@collingwoodsn) April 28, 2021
Helen Housby and Nat Haythornthwaite – New South Wales Swifts
Following on from the high of the home Vitality Netball World Cup in Liverpool, Helen Housby and Nat Haythornthwaite played key roles in delivering the 2019 SSN title for New South Wales Swifts. Swifts were the inaugural ANZ Championship winners but hadn’t lifted a national title since and this was their first SSN Grand Final. They upset favourites Sunshine Coast Lightning to take the big prize Haythornthwaite and Housby to a remarkable attacking display against the side that beat them by ten goals just two weeks before.
The Swifts were less successful last term as they placed fourth in the ladder before losing the minor semi-final to West Coast Fever, but with a settled squad they will be hoping to progress further this year. Haythornthwaite’s creativity around the circle and Housby’s ability to do damage from long range remain key features of Briony Akle’s team.
And you can see them in action away to Queensland Firebirds on Sunday at 04:00am (BST).
Jo Harten – GIANTS Netball
After narrowly missing out on a finals spot in 2019. GIANTS Netball endured a turbulent campaign in 2021 as they ultimately placed sixth in the ladder ten points off fourth. It was Jo Harten’s first season as captain, and she continues in that role ahead of her fifth year with the club. She helped guide GIANTS to the Grand Final in her debut season where they lost out to Sunshine Coast Lightning and in the subsequent year, they won the Minor Premiership but lost both finals matches.
The attacking partnership between Harten and Kiera Austin will be integral if they are to return to the top four as they showed signs of flourishing together and will be hoping to make a big step up as a pairing. With the two-point ‘Super Shot’ still in place for 2021 as well, Harten’s world-class ability from long-range will certainly benefit the Sydney-based club.
See if she can sink any long bombs on Sunday at 06:00am (BST) when GIANTS visit Adelaide Thunderbirds.
Yesterday, @LizzyLegsEllis sat down with one leader from all eight teams to discuss the upcoming season at our annual Captain's Call.
— Suncorp Super Netball (@SuperNetball) April 29, 2021
You can watch Suncorp Super Netball on the official Netball Live app.