2012 netball ANZ Championship kicks off

Thursday, April 5, 2012

In the opening round of the 2012 ANZ Championship this past weekend, the Southern Steel beat the Bay of Plenty Magic in Invercargill, New Zealand by a score of 49–47, while over in Brisbane, Australia, the defending champion Queensland Firebirds lost to the Melbourne Vixens by a score of 47–42. The wins by the Steel and the Vixens are considered by those who follow the netball league to be major upsets.

The Firebirds' loss this past Sunday was their first in fifteen games extending back to last season. Last season's championship is not a harbinger of success this season, as every season since the league was founded in 2008, the defending champions have failed to finish in the top four and attempt to repeat their title claim. Going into the game, the teams had played eight games against each other, splitting the record at 4 wins each. The Vixens' win can be credited to several players including English national team player Geva Mentor, and returning Vixen stars Bianca Chatfield and Julie Corletto. The Firebirds' loss involved poor shooting and bad passing. Firebird captain Laura Geitz's quality play could not overcome other difficulties on the court for her team.

The Tactix take on the Northern Mystics in a game during the 2011 ANZ Championship
Image: LauraHale and Liveste.

In the Magic versus Steel game, the teams were tied at 44–44 with five minutes left in the game. The local crowd were behind the Steel, and they finished the game ahead by two baskets. The Magic's coach blames the loss partly on not preparing adequately to play against the Steel's Donna Wilkins, who gave birth to her third child in January of this year. She also partly blames the loss on several errors. Jess Waitapu made her debut for the Magic because teammate Julianna Naoupu had health problems that impacted her ability to play.

On Sunday in Auckland, the favored LG Northern Mystics held on to defeat the Haier Central Pulse 51–47. Silver Ferns member Maria Tutaia was replaced by coach Debbie Fuller in favor of Grace Rasmussen, with Rasmussen making six out of seven shots to help put the game away for her team. The Mystics had six fewer shots than the visiting Pulse, but had a better shooting percentage which proved to be a decisive factor in the game.

In Perth on Monday, the West Coast Fever beat the Easiyo Canterbury Tactix by a score of 55–35. The Tactix were back home in Christchurch on Tuesday. The team's captain Maree Bowden and coach Leigh Gibbs were disappointed in the team's performance but believed there were some positives and room for improvement.

The West Coast Fever are the only Australian side in the competition to never have won the league's championship, with their best ever finish being seventh in the ten-team competition. In September of last year, following the Australian victory at the Netball World Championships held in Singapore in July, the Fever signed Australian national team coach Norma Plummer as the club's new coach. stuff.co.nz's Chris Barclay believes this means the Fever have a chance of winning, especially following a pre-season that included two wins, a tie to the Firebirds and a single loss. She has sought to instill a greater sense of discipline in her players, not taking excuses for missing practices with the exception of Australian Diamond Susan Fuhrmann who is recovering from a chronic knee injury. She also sought to improve the Fever's roster with the inclusion of England national netball team player Eboni Beckford-Chamber and former Swifts player Catherine Cox.

The Tactix are to play the Swifts at home this coming Monday in the second round. They have not beaten an Australian team since 2009. In the third round, the Tactix will play the Steel, in a game stuff.co.nz's writer Matt Richens believes they can win.

In Adelaide this past Saturday, the Adelaide Thunderbirds beat the NSW Swifts by a score of 57–40.

Australian Diamond goal attack Sharelle McMahon has taken the season off from the Vixens as a result of pregnancy.