SWIFTS READY FOR BATTLE IN 2009
Fuelled by healthy doses of trans-Tasman rivalry and starring some of the world’s most gifted female athletes, the competition concluded with a Grand Final result no-one had predicted 17 weeks earlier: a superlative nine-goal victory for the NSW Swifts at home in Sydney.
It’s now 64 days until the start of the second ANZ Championship and, with teams confirmed and training in full swing, the excitement about what they will deliver in 2009 is beginning to build. We preview their 2009 line-ups, in the order they ended the 2008 season, beginning with the reigning champions:
Coach Julie Fitzgerald, Netball Australia’s 2008 Coach of the Year, has retained eight members of her 2008 team, including six players who started in the Grand Final. The four new players have all emerged from the new Australian Netball League and the state’s development programmes, including the Netball NSW Player Pathway.
The newcomers are: Australian U21 defender Samantha May, NSW Institute of Sport scholarship shooter Amy Wild, ANL player and former basketballer Jess Mansell, and NSW Institute of Sport member Ashlee Mann. Mann, a mid-courter who represented the Netball NSW Blues in the ANL, replaced Sarah Barrett who withdrew from the squad to pursue a business opportunity.
The volume as well as the accuracy of shooters Susan Pratley and captain Catherine Cox, named Australian ANZ Championship Player of the Year at the 2008 Netball Australia Awards, make the Swifts dangerous in any company. The pair put up a total of 1005 shots in 2008, more than any of the other first-choice shooting combinations among the four finalists, and made 840 (83.6%) of them.
On defence Rebecca Bulley has blossomed into dominance, while the brilliant Kimberlee Green gives sparkling service through the mid-court.
The Swifts won 12 of their 15 matches in 2008, losing only to Tactix (Round 2), Vixens (Round 5) and Firebirds (Round 6). After winning only three of their first six matches, they then posted the best winning streak of the competition, nine straight wins including the Major Semi-Final and Grand Final. The Swifts also had the best Away record of 2008, winning five (71%) of their seven matches out of Sydney, and set the Championship record for the biggest winning margin, 29 goals, against Pulse in Round 4. Their narrowest victories were all by one goal, against Mystics (Round 10), Firebirds (Round 11) and Magic (Major Semi-Final).
The much anticipated 2009 ANZ Championship season kicks off on Saturday 4 April when Southern Steel meets Central Pulse in New Zealand, and Melbourne Vixens take on West Coast Fever in Australia.
NEW ZEALAND FANS: experience the action live on SKY Sport One from 2pm on Saturday 4 April 2009.
AUSTRALIAN FANS: watch the ANZ Championship match of the round on Channel 10 from 3pm - 5pm every Sunday, beginning on Sunday 5 April, and catch the other four matches on ONE, Channel 10`s new 24-hour sports channel.
Pictured: Swifts captain Catherine Cox led by first-class example in 2008. (PHOTO: kangaroophotos.com)