After a gruelling pre-season, the Collingwood Magpies will open their 2021 Suncorp Super Netball campaign against the Sunshine Coast Lightning on Saturday night.
With 615 days elapsing since live netball graced John Cain Arena, the Magpies will return home to play in front of the Magpie Army in Melbourne for the first time since the 2019 minor semi-final against the Melbourne Vixens at the State Netball and Hockey Centre.
The Magpies have had a successful run of practice matches, notching victories over the NSW Swifts, Queensland Firebirds and Giants Netball, as Head Coach Nicole Richardson has fine-tuned her combinations and game plan in her first year at the helm.
Round 1 will bring plenty of other official firsts – with new recruits Kalifa McCollin and Jacqui Newton donning the black and white for the first time, the return of mid-courters Ash Brazill and Kelsey Browne from their respective knee injuries, and the first time Geva Mentor will lead as sole captain.
The connection in Collingwood’s shooting circle has only continued to develop over the pre-season, with Shimona Nelson’s strength under the post a perfect complement to the long-range weapon of Gabby Sinclair. With Trinidad & Tobago national McCollin in the mix, there’s potential for a number of different combinations to front the attack end.
While under unfortunate circumstances, the need for Molly Jovic and Melissa Bragg to step up last season has only fast-tracked their development. A depth of talent is at Richardson’s disposal across the mid-court, headlined by the return of Browne and Brazill who will add experience, composure and world-class talent through the middle.
At the other end of the court, Mentor will once again command the defensive circle off the back of another best-and-fairest winning season, proving that the English Rose is only getting better with age. Jamaican-born Jodi-Ann Ward will be alongside her, her athleticism and ability to read the play a highlight of Collingwood’s pre-season thus far. The addition of Jacqui Newton from the Melbourne Vixens provides added depth for the Magpies; with the young defender impressing all with her performances across the pre-season practice matches.
An eye on the opposition:
Renown as one of the most consistent sides, the Sunshine Coast Lightning will endeavour to become the only team to make five consecutive finals campaigns in the Suncorp Super Netball competition this year.
Alongside three grand final appearances in their first three years, the Lightning claimed two back-to-back premierships in their debut year in 2017, followed up by another in 2018.
With their last grand final appearance in 2019, the Lightning were knocked out of the 2020 finals campaign via a semi-final loss to the eventual premiers the Melbourne Vixens, followed by a preliminary final defeat at the hands of the West Coast Fever.
The Lightning remain relatively stable as compared to their 2020 roster, aside from the notable omission of retired Silver Ferns legend, Laura Langman. However, the Lightning shouldn’t lose too much through the mid-court with the recruitment of Mahalia Cassidy from the Queensland Firebirds to fill the void.
Cassidy will line up alongside foundation player Laura Scherian, who recorded the most centre pass receives in Super Netball in 2020 (342), with young guns Maddy McAuliffe and elevated training partner Maddie Hinchliffe rounding out the mid-court.
The Lightning’s shooting circle is headlined by Australian Diamond Cara Koenen, fresh off her debut performance at the Constellation Cup. With sharp-shooting vice-captain and fellow Diamond Steph Wood by her side, and the ability to roll through Ugandan shooter Peace Proscovia, the Sunshine Coast shooting circle is both formidable and versatile.
Down the other end of the court, the Lightning present an all-South African defensive circle consisting of captain Karla Pretorious and Phumza Maweni. Pretorious ranked second in the league for intercepts (44) in 2020, while Maweni ranked fifth for deflections (88).
The addition of the experienced Kate Shimmin from the Adelaide Thunderbirds also provides the Lightning with added depth across the defensive end.
Last time we met:
The Sunshine Coast Lightning had the upper-hand in the sides’ two encounters of the 2020 Suncorp Super Netball Season.
It was a 10-goal victory to the Lightning in the penultimate round of the season, while the margin was far tighter in Round 2 with the Lightning getting over the line by just four goals.
Pies to watch:
It’s difficult to go past the mid-court duo of Ash Brazill and Kelsey Browne who returned to the court in the final practice match of Collingwood’s pre-season campaign.
Brazill tore her anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in Round 8 of the 2019 AFLW season, less than one week before she was due to represent the Australian Diamonds in Netball Australia’s bushfire charity match.
For netball fans, it’s been a long wait to see Brazill hit the court but if her pre-season form is anything to go by, it will be well worth it.
For Browne, her return from an ACL injury in 2020 was marred when she strained the same knee in the latter half of the season. While she notched eight games, it was evident that the dynamic mid-courter never reached her full potential.
With a full pre-season under her belt, the stage is set for Browne to return to form as one of the best mid-courters in the league.
Round 1 Suncorp Super Netball
Collingwood Magpies v Sunshine Coast Lightning
Saturday 1 May, 7pm
John Cain Arena
Tickets won’t be available on the door, so don’t miss out and secure yours now.
How to follow:
Magpie Army who can’t make it to the game will be able to watch via Telstra TV and the Netball Live Official App.
Match coverage and behind the scenes action will also be available across our social channels on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Be part of the conversation by using the hashtags #GoPies and #SSNMagpiesLightning.