ESPN's 2023 Super Netball preview: Part 2

Alice Teague-Neeld in action for the Fever against GWS. James Worsfold/Getty Images

The Super Netball season is just days away, with the first match for the season kicking off on Saturday afternoon.

There's been plenty of off-court shuffling ahead of what will no doubt be one of the most competitive season's yet, with new coaches taking over teams, players moving across the country and others building new combinations.

After the West Coast Fever's fairytale title last year, can they do it again in 2023? Or will the Swifts shake off last year's disappointment to get back into the final series? And how will the Lightning and Firebirds go under new coaches?

Read on as we preview the NSW Swifts, Sunshine Coast Lightning, West Coast Fever and Queensland Firebirds.

NSW Swifts

Coach: Briony Akle

Captain: Paige Hadley and Maddy Proud

Last year: It was a disappointing title defence for the Swifts with the reigning champions losing Sam Wallace in round one due to a season ending ACL injury, which hurt any chance the side had of going back-to-back. The silver lining was the emergence of Sophie Fawns, who quickly had to become a key cog in the Swifts attack.

A three game losing streak spanning from rounds 5 - 7 against the Fever, Lightning and Firebirds really hurt the Swifts with the side missing out on finals by what was just percentage, if they'd won just one of those games the finals would have been a different story.

Despite winning their final game of the season, the Swifts had to wait until the Melbourne derby on the Monday afternoon but it wasn't to be with the Magpies doing just enough to claim that last finals spot.

Maddy Proud had a career best season, playing a key role in the Swifts midcourt building on her strong combination with Paige Hadley. Proud finished the season with 364 assists and was named the centre in the Team of the Year.

Look ahead to this year: It's set to be another good year for the Swifts, with Romelda Aiken-George joining the side as a training partner allowing for the Swifts to return to a holding shooter goal circle that has been so successful for them over several seasons now.

One player who flew under the radar last season was Allie Smith, who after a strong Team Girls Cup is set to have another strong season in the midcourt and has the opportunity to really cement herself as a key figure in the Swifts line-up.

The versatility in the Swifts line-up is a real positive, as it has been over the last few seasons, with almost every player except for Aiken-George and Wallace able to play multiple positions across the court giving coach Briony Akle lots of flexibility, especially in the midcourt.

With a relatively settled side, especially in the midcourt and defensive end, and another season under the belts of rising stars in Fawns and Teigan O'Shannasy, the Swifts have what it takes to go deep into the final series this season.

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

Biggest Question: Will having a holding shooter be the answer for the Swifts to get back into Finals?

The Swifts have won two premierships off the back of having a holding shooter set up and it seemed to be something that they were lacking in 2022 as they missed the tall target under the post.

Now with Aiken-George a temporary replacement player until Wallace is fit and firing to come back, can the Swifts get their mojo back and fire into finals again? At Team Girls Cup we saw the likes of Housby and Fawns working together well with Aiken-George who is returning from having her first child, so will only get better as the season goes on. It also gave that extra bit of confidence to Fawns when it came to taking those Supershots, knowing she had one of the best offensive rebounders under the post to get the rebound for her. Predictions: 1st

Sunshine Coast Lightning

Coach: Belinda Reynolds

Captain: Steph Wood

Last year: For the first time in the club's five year history, the Sunshine Coast Lightning were handed their first ever wooden spoon in the final season of coach Kylee Byrne's reign at the club. The Lightning were without their 2021 captain in Karla Pretorius after the star South African sat out the 2022 season whilst pregnant with her first child.

It was a disappointing opening two rounds with the club being dealt with two tough losses with both margins 19 points or over against the West Coast Fever and the Queensland Firebirds respectively.

While the score lines improved, the Lightning weren't about to get a consistent run when it came to wins, unable to notch up consecutive wins across the season, with the shooting circle not reaching what they're truly capable of.

There were some positives to take out of the season, with a stunning first season from recruit Tara Hinchliffe who was a key pillar in the Lightning's defence, while in her debut season, Reilley Batcheldor was a strong impact player coming off the bench into the goal circle.

Look ahead to this year: It'll be an interesting season this year for the Lightning, with a new coach in Belinda Reynolds taking over the helm, but with an injury to Tara Hinchliffe there will be a big void to be filled in the defensive end.

Lightning's best is good enough to beat anyone but much like the Magpies it'll be interesting to see if they could perform on a week to week basis that will see them be a force in the competition.

With Pretorius missing out last season, it means outside of pre-season games none of the defenders have played together which could spell teething issues for the defensive combinations. Both Ash Ervin and Kadie-Ann Dehany will be looking to have breakout years, with the latter likely to step into the starting seven in the absence of Hinchliffe.

The addition of Charlie Bell into the attack end brings something different into the line-up when the side needs it, with the Lightning missing a holding shooter since Peace Proscovia and Caitlin Bassett were in Lightning colours and has already proved to work in combinations with both Steph Wood and Cara Koenen.

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

Biggest Question: Will the lack of midcourt depth become a problem?

The biggest question mark for the Lightning is their midcourt. With the Lighting opting to only sign three midcourters, is there enough midcourt depth to really rise up the ladder. While Annie Miller, Laura Scherian and Mahalia Cassidy are all strong players in their own right, if one was to have an off game there aren't many options that the Lightning can go too to shake things up.

The only backup option for Belinda Reynolds would be to shift Wood into wing attack and have Bell at goal shooter while pushing out Koenen into goal attack, which we saw in Team Girls Cup. Although a decision on a replacement player for Tara Hinchliffe is yet to be confirmed, the midcourt could be spread a bit too thin in 2023.

Predictions: 8th

West Coast Fever

Coach: Dan Ryan

Captain: Courtney Bruce

Last year: Last year was the fairytale that West Coast Fever have been waiting for since their inception. Taking out the 2022 Super Netball Championship, after a stellar finals run that culminated with a strong Grand Final win against the Vixens.

The premiers started the regular season off with a bang, defeating the Lightning by 19 points quickly followed by a 17 point win against Collingwood which started off Dan Ryan's time at the club on a high.

Ryan made the decision to move Alice Teague-Neeld out into wing attack, which allowed for a much settled goal circle especially in that goal attack position with Sasha Glasgow making it her own, which proved a masterstroke with both players having career best seasons which really set the Fever up for finals success.

Despite having injury concerns to the likes of Jess Anstiss missing a good chunk of the season with a foot injury, they had a backup in Chelsea Pitman that Ryan could call upon when needed, with the England representative signing with the club as a training partner for season 2022, which added that extra element of experience and speed into the front end when needed.

Look ahead to this year: The Fever only made one change this year, bringing in former Firebirds Kim Jenner with Stacey Francis-Bayman calling time on a strong career. The Fever look to go into the season just as strong on what is their championship defence.

With Anstiss looking to have more of a full season then she did in 2022 it will really strengthen the Fever throughout the regular season. With Anstiss playing a key role across the finals series, being able to shut down Vixens star Liz Watson last year, she's got the ability to play that role again across the team but become a real force in her own right.

Any team that has Jhaniele Fowler in their side will be a force to be reckoned with in the competition but being paired with someone like Sasha Glasgow, who has proven herself as a true leader for the team and will only grow in 2023, puts the Fever in good stead when it comes to their quest for back-to-back titles. The addition of Nat Butler (nee Medhurst) as an injury replacement is a luxury that brings added depth to the side's shooting end.

Draw: Vixens (H), Giants (A), Magpies (H), Swifts (A), Firebirds (A), Thunderbirds (H), Lightning (A), Vixens (A), Swifts (H), Firebirds (H), Thunderbirds (A), Lightning (H), Giants (A), Magpies (A), Biggest Question: How does the defensive end work with the addition of Kim Jenner?

The recruitment of Kim Jenner raised a few eyebrows at the time of her announcement with the combination of Courtney Bruce and Sunday Aryang working well together, with the added ability to rotate Rudi Ellis through when the Fever needed something different, and Francis-Bayman and Anstiss out the front in wing defence.

On the flip side, if it works well it could possibly make the defensive end better. The flexibility of all four of the defenders being able to play across multiple positions will help but also the element of internal competition to really cement a spot.

Predictions: 2nd

Queensland Firebirds

Coach: Bec Bulley

Captain: Kim Ravaillon

Last year's wrap: Much like the Magpies, it was a tale of two halves when it came to the Queensland Firebirds last season. Despite losing round one against the eventual minor premiers in the Vixens the Firebirds had a solid start to the season, going into the halfway point looking good in the top four.

A string of inconsistent games and close losses meant that the side finished 6th, after a losing streak of four games really put their top four hopes in jeopardy despite looking so solid in the first half of the season.

But a good season from recruits Donnell Wallam and Ruby Bakewell-Doran got Firebirds fans excited for 2023 and beyond, with the pair getting the call up to the Diamonds sides when they faced England and New Zealand respectively. The season ended with the Firebirds parting ways with Megan Anderson, which was a mutual decision between the club and Anderson.

Look ahead to this year: It's going to be an interesting season under new coach Bec Bulley with a few new players coming into the Firebirds environment with Remi Kamo and Ash Unie joining the defensive end, while Macy Gardner and Emily Moore come into the attack end, with the latter being named as a replacement player for star goaler Gretel Bueta who'll miss the season while pregnant with her second child.

The Firebirds have a good mix of youth and experience but the loss of arguably the best goal attack in the competition is big and with so many changes happening it could possibly be an uphill battle for the Firebirds this season, especially after losing assistant coach Sara Francis-Bayman who departed the club on Monday.

But underneath that is a crop of young exciting players that could take the team to new heights, with the likes of Mia Stower, Ruby Bakewell-Doran, Kamo, Unie and Gardner having played for the Brisbane North Cougars where the club won three premierships in a row, add that with the their solid foundation in the likes of Donnell Wallam, Gabi Simpson Lara Dunkley and Kim Ravaillion, the Firebirds will be an exciting team to watch in 2023 despite what will no doubt be a learning season.

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

Biggest Question for 2023: Can the defence stand up in big games?

While the combinations of Kamo and Bakewell-Doran as well as Kamo and Unie have had experience at the Sapphire Series level, coming up against the likes of Jhaniele Fowler and Eleanor Cardwell it's a whole new ball game.

With Bec Bulley being a defensive specialist, she's probably one of the best coaches to develop those combinations to star on the Super Netball stage but with the Thunderbirds first up and the Swifts with Romelda Aiken-George in round three, it will be a learning experience for the new Firebirds defence end.

Predictions: 7th