ESPN's 2023 Super Netball preview: Part 1

The Super Netball season is just days away, with the first match for the season kicking off on Saturday the 18th of March.

Read on as we preview the Adelaide Thunderbirds, Collingwood Magpies, Giants Netball and Melbourne Vixens.

Adelaide Thunderbirds

Coach: Tania Obst
Captain: Hannah Petty

Last year: It was a disappointing season for the Adelaide Thunderbirds, with the side not reaching their true potential, finishing in 7th place and just one game out of the finals. The Thunderbirds had a positive start to the season winning their opening match against the Magpies then followed that up by defeating a COVID-riddled Giants side, before back to back one point losses to the Lightning and the Swifts was the start of a five game losing streak.

Whilst the defence end was winning plenty of ball back with both Shamera Sterling (52 intercepts and 67 deflections) and Latanya Wilson (31 intercepts and 70 deflections) having outstanding years, there was a breakdown in either the midcourt or miscommunication going into the goal circle that meant the Thunderbirds couldn't capitalise on the defenders' hard work.

Back to back wins in Round 10 and 11 against the Firebirds and Magpies gave the Thunderbirds the boost they were after to get their finals campaign back on track but a narrow loss to the Vixens and a comprehensive 11-point defeat against the eventual premiers saw the team slip to seventh.

Tayla Williams, who played the centre role and combined nicely with the versatile Georgie Horjus, proved to be a key cog in the Thunderbirds' midcourt as the season progressed, especially in those Round 10 and 11 wins.

One of the biggest shining lights for the Thunderbirds was the emergence of goal shooter Lucy Austin, who played three games across 2022 while Lenize Potgieter missed through injury or COVID.

Look ahead to this year: The Thunderbirds are tipped to be one of the biggest risers in 2023, bringing in Eleanor Cardwell to work with the likes of fellow new recruit Lucy Austin - who was elevated from a training partner.

The Thunderbirds look especially strong this season with the inclusions of both Austin and Cardwell adding potency to their attack -- can area of the court also bolstered by off field acquisition Tracey Neville. From what fans saw at Team Girls Cup, the Thunderbirds have what it takes to go deep into the season and that was without captain Hannah Petty.

The team doesn't seem to have a preferred attacking circle at the moment, with coach Tania Obst working star recruit Cardwell with the likes of Austin, which pushes the 28-year-old out to goal attack or, while at goal shooter, having Dwan to support her at goal attack.

The defensive end looks like it will reach new heights in 2023, and with a lethal attack end, the chances of Sterling and Wilson's defensive games being shown on the scoreboard seems likely.

Draw: Firebirds (A), Swifts (H), Lightning (A), Giants (H), Vixens (H), Fever (A), Magpies (H), Giants(A), Firebirds (H), Vixens (A), Fever (H), Magpies (A), Lightning (H), Swifts (A)

Biggest Question for 2023: Can the midcourt get the job done?

The midcourt was something that let the team down in 2022 when it came to transitioning the ball from defence to attack. But now the Thunderbirds have brought in Cardwell, it puts less reliance on Georgie Horjus to spread herself too thin, having in the past split her time across wing attack and in the goal circle. Towards the back end of last season the Williams and Horjus midcourt combination seemed to flow nicely. Having brought Neville in as an assistant might give the Thunderbirds the guidance they need to limit the amount of errors and turnovers on transition.

Prediction: 3rd

Collingwood Magpies

Coach: Nicole Richardson
Captain: Geva Mentor and Ash Brazill

Last year: It was a tale of two halves for Collingwood in 2022, producing a slow start to the season losing their first three games before Nyah Allen, who came in for Sophie Garbin (COVID) put on a masterclass over the Sunshine Coast Lightning which saw the side notch up their first win.

A win over what was a red hot Firebirds team just two weeks later at Nissan Arena showed what the Magpies were capable of at the top of their game. It was a stunning run home, despite only putting together consecutive wins once across the season in rounds six and seven, with Collingwood's season coming down to the final match against their arch rivals in the Melbourne Vixens.

While they weren't able to win the match, the Magpies did enough to be able to secure a spot in the finals, although couldn't go beyond the first week after a seven-point win to the Giants ended their campaign.

When Collingwood were at their best, so was Shimona Nelson, the feeds coming in with pinpoint precision. Molly Jovic had a strong season, being able to shut down some of the best centres in the competition in Kim Ravaillion and Kate Moloney across the year.

Look ahead to this year: Collingwood have made two changes to their squad, bringing in former Lightning player Maddie Hinchliffe who is coming off a breakout season. The Pies also elevated training partner Nyah Allen, but since she will miss a portion of the season after undoing surgery, former Swift Kelly Singleton has been signed as aa temporary replacement.

After an up and down first season in the black and white, Sophie Garbin will be looking to be a force in the shooting circle after a positive international campaign. She'll be looking to strengthen her connection with Shimona Nelson as well has having the flexibility to push back into goal shooter and being supported by Singleton or Allen out the front in goal attack.

The Magpies' midcourt is set to go to another level, with the addition of Hinchliffe adding more flexibility into the middle, especially in that centre position. With Kelsey Browne having a career best season in 2023, another full preseason under her belt and strong performance at the fast five tournament over New Zealand should see her take her game to a new level again.

Draw: Swifts (H), Vixens (H), Fever (A), Firebirds (H), Giants (A), Lightning (H), Thunderbirds (A), Firebirds (A), Giants (H), Swifts (A), Lightning (A), Thunderbirds (H), Vixens (A), Fever (H)

Biggest Question for 2023: Can the Magpies consistently perform across the season?

Over the last few seasons, one of Collingwood's biggest issues was gaining consistency across the season. When the team is on, they're hard to beat, as shown in both clashes with the Firebirds. But on the flip side, when the side hasn't been able to perform, they struggle all over the court, with the attack end struggling to convert goals and causing easy turnovers to the opposition. A prime example was the match against the Fever in Round 2 - despite being in the opening quarter the game slowly started to slip away. If the Magpies can stay consistent both in games and across the season as a whole, then they'll be very hard to beat, but if it's a similar occurrence to seasons gone by, it'll be a different story.

Prediction: 5th

Giants Netball

Coach: Julie Fitzgerald
Captain: Jo Harten

Last year: It was another strong season for the Giants, going deep into finals after a superb back half to the season. The year didn't come without its challenges, however, with a COVID-ravaged second game of the season seeing a good chunk of their side missing the Round 2 clash against the Adelaide Thunderbirds. This meant the Giants took a few games to get back into the swing of things after players took a while to recover. But once they did, they played some of their best netball.

The Giants went on a six-game winning streak towards the back end of the season, which was cut short by the heartbreaking one-goal preliminary final loss to the Vixens. Last year also saw the rise of Tilly McDonnell, with the retirement of foundation Giant Sam Poolman in 2021, it was a breakout year for the Giants defender. She was well supported by April Brandley and Amy Parmenter out the front, Parmenter once again being instrumental in wing defence, having 20 intercepts and 59 deflections.

Look ahead to this year: It's going to be an interesting season for the Giants, with Captain Jo Harten under an injury cloud after hurting her knee during Roses duties. It'll be time for Matisse Letherbarrow to make her mark at Super Netball level, after first joining the Giants squad of 10 back in 2021 as a replacement player for Keira Austin, but hasn't had the chance to make her mark on the game. Although from glimpses that fans have seen, she looks to be a promising prospect for the Giants in the long term at the age of 21.

The Giants are one of a handful of teams that haven't made any changes to their line up, although with Julie Fitzgerald not often looking to her bench to impact games, Giants fans haven't seen a lot of Lauren Moore in orange with Fitzgearld instead opting for the McDonnell and April Brandley combination. With more court time in season 2023 as we've seen across Team Girls Cup with April Brandley not participating in the tournament, once the combination of McDonell and Moore finds its feet it has the power to be a really dangerous one.

Draw: Lightning (A), Fever (H), Vixens (A), Thunderbirds (A), Magpies (H), Firebirds (A), Swifts (H), Thunderbirds (H), Magpies (A), Lightning (H), Swifts (A), Fever (A), Vixens (H)

Biggest Question for 2023: Can Julie utilise her bench?

Across the last few seasons, Fitzgerald opts for her starting seven and backs them in nine times out of 10 to get the job done unless in the case of an injury. But with plenty of star power on the bench last season with the likes of Letherbarrow, Moore and Amy Sligar getting minimal court time, there were times when a set of fresh legs could have been injected into the game even if it was just for five minutes, to allow for any of the Giants' starting seven to recoup and take in the game from the sidelines. It also allows for a change of momentum with a fresh set of legs coming onto the court with any one of the 10 players able to play their role.

Prediction: 6th

Melbourne Vixens

Coach: Simone McKinnis
Captain: Kate Moloney and Liz Watson

Last year: Whilst it was a strong home and away season for the Melbourne Vixens, the season didn't end the way they'd hoped after claiming the wooden spoon in 2021.

A strong campaign, which saw them only lose two games across the regular season to the Sunshine Coast Lightning in Round 5 and Collingwood in Round 7, didn't come without its close calls, scraping over the line against the Firebirds and Thunderbirds in games where those sides were aiming to keep their seasons alive.

New recruits Kiera Austin and Olivia Lewis made their mark in the navy, pink and teal dress across the season, while co-captain Liz Watson didn't miss a beat when she returned from an injury which sidelined her for 2021. The finals series would be something the Vixens would rather forget, after losing to the West Coast Fever in both the first final and the Grand Final to just come shy of their ultimate comeback.

Look ahead to this year: Like the Giants, the Vixens have opted for the same side to take the club through to 2023. Although due to leg injury to Rahni Samason, it will see the star goaler on the sidelines for an extended period of time, her replacement to be announced in the coming days.

After a strong second season at Super Netball level, Hannah Mundy looks set to play a key role in the Vixens' campaign with Simone McKinnis having opted to bring Mundy on to wing attack, Liz Watson into centre and Kate Moloney into wing defence. For the first time in a while, defender Emily Mannix has had an injury-free preseason which will see her take her game to a new level in 2023. Paired with either defender in Jo Weston or Olivia Lewis, it could spell a potential nightmare for opposition shooters.

Draw: Fever (A), Magpies (A), Giants (H), Lightning (H), Thunderbirds (A), Swifts (A), Firebirds (H), Fever (H), Lightning (A), Thunderbirds(H), Swifts (H), Firebirds (A), Magpies (H), Giants (A)

Biggest Question: Can the Vixens go to a new level with the same team?

The Vixens faded away towards the end of last season, after just overcoming the Magpies in the final round, and losing the Fever in the Grand Final. Opposition teams almost 'found out' the Vixens in the run home, shutting down Liz Watson which really broke down their attack line.

With the Vixens going into this season with the same line up, the question is can they remain in the hunt with that same side? There is no doubt coach Simone McKinnis will be looking to shake things up, having already tried different combinations across the Team Girls Cup, with Jo Weston ruled out due to injury.

Prediction: 4th