2021 ANZ Premiership preview: Round 1

THE long-awaited return of the ANZ Premiership kicks off on Sunday with Round 1 set to be a blockbuster. A number of new combinations will take centre stage for each of the six sides which will be hoping to show off their star recruits and get an early win on the board. Reigning two-time premiers Central Pulse are the team to beat, however have lost some crucial cogs, while the Tactix impressed in the pre-season tournament.

Central Pulse vs. Northern Stars
Sunday, April 18 @4:15pm

Back-to-back premiers, Central Pulse will be keen to open their account with a win but will have their work cut out for them in Round 1 up against the highly talented Northern Stars side. The Pulse have lost a number of crucial cogs with Katrina Rore announcing her pregnancy and Karin Burger moving to the Tactix, ultimately leaving a gaping hole in the defensive unit, while news just broke about Ameliaranne Ekenasio missing the season with fatigue. On the other hand, the Stars well and truly bolstered their stocks, picking up former New Zealand Ferns defender Anna Harrison and welcoming Monica Falkner back from injury.

All eyes will turn to the battle between an in-form Maia Wilson for the Northern Stars and Pulse defender Kelly Jury. The typical goal keeper has the height to match Wilson and can read the play exceptionally well making for an enticing battle under the post. However with a new look defensive unit, Jury could spend some time out of position in goal defence with newbie Kelera Nawai an unknown prospect alongside fellow youngster Paris Lokotui and Parris Mason. Harrison is the real game changer for the Stars with her go-go gadget arms, silky movement across the court, speed off the mark and overall class to leap into action. Her partnership with Elle Temu and Oceane Maihi will need to be on song if the Stars are of any chance to limit the easy ball movement of Pulse lynchpin Aliyah Dunn with the goal shooter proving to be damaging and accurate to post when she gets going.

Through the midcourt, Claire Kersten will be the real general for the Pulse using her netball nous, endurance and work around the circle edge to feed the ball into the shooters. But that is not to say that the Northern Stars are not without their own key cogs picking up former Southern Steel livewire wing attack Gina Crampton to pair alongside Mila Reuelu-Buchanan and Lisa Mather.

Southern Steel vs. Mainland Tactix
Sunday, April 18 @6:15pm

The Tactix will be out for vengeance having gone down in the grand final last year and looking to go one better in season 2021. Bolstering their stocks this season with the acquisition of Burger, the Tactix will be more than eager to get their first win on the board against the Southern Steel on Sunday, although the Steel are boasting an incredibly different line-up to their 2020 side with multiple fresh faces joining the fray. With this in mind it could take some time for the side to gel as they look to solidify connections across the court and breakdown the Tactix strong core.

Captain Jane Watson is a real general down back for the Tactix, able to patrol the airwaves with great ease and reel in the intercepts for her side. She will most likely be up against England import, George Fisher who is set to make her ANZ Premiership debut. The goaler is cool, calm and collected under the post, able to utilise her height, deceptive movement and long arms to reel in the high ball and dominate under the post. With the partnership between Watson and Burger already developed given their Ferns experience, expect the duo to cause real headaches down in defence as Fisher and fellow newcomer Tiana Metuarau work to find their groove in attack. It will be up to co-captain Shannon Saunders to lead the charge through the midcourt for the Steel with her two-way running and ball deliver key for her sides success. She will have her work cut out for her against a well-polished Tactix outfit boasting the likes of Kimiora Poi, Samon Nathan and Erikana Pedersen.

The other key cog for the Tactix is goal shooter Ellie Bird who developed at a rate of knots throughout last season with her strong holds and clean hands at the contest, and will be eager to bring her A-game in this clash against the highly physical Taneisha Fifita and Te Huinga Selby-Rickit. There will be plenty of intrigue around Te Paea Selby-Rickit with the Tactix goaler forced to the sidelines with an injury in the preseason.

Northern Mystics vs. Waikato Bay of Plenty Magic
Monday, April 19 @7:15pm

The final game of the round could easily be one of the most highly anticipated contests of the round with Australian Diamonds goaler, Caitlin Bassett set to make her debut for the Magic. It was a challenging season for Waikato Bay of Plenty last year but some strong off-season recruiting sees them in good stead for their match-up with the Northern Mystics, who fell just short of a grand final berth in 2020. The Mystics will be chomping at the bit as they welcome back some important figures and look to go one better, as both sides will be hoping to get their season off to a flyer.

Looking inside the circle the obvious target for the Magic is going to be Bassett with the goaler a lynchpin in any side she plays for given her long reach, accuracy to post and the speed with which she can score. It will all come down to her partnership with up and coming star Khiarna Williams and Chiara Semple as to whether or not the Magic can score prolifically and bypass the defensive unit of the Mystics, which boasts new recruit Ama Agbeze, captain Sulu Fitzpatrick and Kate Burley. The battle through the midcourt will be another point of interest with Grace Kara and Sam Winders real livewires for the Magic with their strength – ball placement – as opposed to Peta Toeava and Tayla Earle who are renowned for their speed and dynamic movement.

Another new recruit for the Magic is Temalisi Fakahokotau with the goal keeper eager to make an impact in her debut appearance for the side. In fact, the Magic are brimming with versatile defensive options given Georgia Tong and Erena Mikaere can rotate through a host of positions. However, they will have their work well and truly cut out for them up against an incredibly versatile and multi-pronged attack that can swing from a holding circle to a moving one in the blink of an eye. Grace Nweke is a force to be reckoned with under the post while the return of Bailey Mes adds another string to the Mystics’ bow. Throw in the likes of Saviour Tui and Filda Vui and the Mystics are nicely poised in attack, able to pick from a number of stars if things are not going their way.

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