Mystics’ threats across court make them hard to beat

Mystics defender Phoenix Karaka jumps the shot of Stars shooter Amorangi Malesala during last...
Mystics defender Phoenix Karaka jumps the shot of Stars shooter Amorangi Malesala during last year’s final. PHOTO: MICHAEL BRADLEY PHOTOGRAPHY
Can anyone dethrone the Northern Mystics this year? Everyone will be gunning for the defending champions when the ANZ Premiership - reverting to one game a week in a longer season - starts on Saturday.

Netball writer Kayla Hodge inspects the six teams’ rosters.

Northern Mystics

Tia Winikerei inherited a premiership-winning team and took them all the way to the top in her first year in charge. Now it is about maintaining that standard with a target on their back. Captain Sulu Fitzpatrick has retired and Michaela Sokolich-Beatson has taken over the leadership. She will be supported by Phoenix Karaka, who captained the Silver Ferns earlier this year. The Mystics have threats across the court, the biggest being shooter Grace Nweke. The lynchpin scored a remarkable 70 goals in last year’s final. Centre Tayla Earle has international experience under her belt now and rangy defender Carys Stythe emerged as one to watch last season. Hard to look past the Mystics being in contention to defend their title.

Hodge’s prediction: Champions.

Northern Stars

Predicted them to be rebuilding last year and they made the final, so who knows where they will land this season? But they have been hit hard with Elle Temu (NSW Swifts training partner), Gina Crampton (Giants training partner, though she has been called in as an injury replacement for Emma Thompson this weekend), Jamie Hume (Australia) Samon Nathan and Kelera Nawai-Caucau (both pregnant) out. They have added Melbourne Vixens shooter Rahni Samason and midcourter Thompson, who has been part of the Giants academy. Steel goalkeeper Kate Burley has returned home to the Stars alongside Lisa Mather, who is back from overseas. Mila Reuelu-Buchanan proved to be a revelation for the Silver Ferns and could make the shift to wing attack domestically.

Hodge’s prediction: Fourth.

Central Pulse

Amelia Walmsley broke on to the scene and earned herself an international call-up. She will only be better for that and forms a slick shooting circle with Tiana Metuarau. The Pulse looked polished preseason and rightly so when you have retained the bulk of your squad. Dame Lois Muir award winner Kelly Jackson (nee Jury) spearheads the defence, and Parris Mason is likely to see more court time in place of Kristiana Manu'a (Australia). Defender Kelea Iongi (former NSW Swifts training partner) has made the switch and Paris Petera joins from the Tactix. Anna Andrews-Tasola steps up from assistant to head coach in place of Yvette McCausland-Durie.

Hodge’s prediction: Runners-up.

Mainland Tactix

The Tactix had the ingredients to take them all the way last year. But they did not quite gel and the recipe ended with them missing the playoffs. They will be searching for that complete season, but are already on their way, having retained eight players. English midcourter Laura Malcolm has been replaced by Erikana Pederson, who has come out of retirement to rejoin them. Jess Allan joins after being a Steel training partner last year. Former Steel defender Te Huinga Reo Selby-Rickit joins as assistant coach to lead the defensive end of Jane Watson, Karin Burger and Paris Lokotui.

Hodge’s prediction: Third.

Waikato-BOP Magic

They have had a quiet few seasons by the Magic’s standards but they seem to have recruited well to add more depth. Their spine of Ameliaranne Ekenasio, Erena Mikaere and Georgia Takarangi will guide them and Oceane Maihi is back after being ruled out by injury last year. Former Steel shooter Saviour Tui looked fit during preseason with her new franchise, replacing the retired Bailey Mes, and former Steel midcourter Ali Wilshier joins the Magic after a stint with Bath in England. Australian midcourter Claire O’Brien joins after stints with the Giants and the Mystics.

Hodge’s prediction: Sixth.

Southern Steel

The only way is up. The Steel failed to win a game last season and extended their losing streak to 18 games. The Steel desperately missed an experienced wing attack and will take heart in the return of Shannon Saunders. Kate Heffernan takes over the leadership and continues to flourish ahead of her seventh season. It is a fresh defensive circle with the arrival of South African Jeante Strydom and the return of Abby Lawson and Taneisha Fifita. Dealt an early blow with George Fisher ruled out for the entire season, but the Steel prepared early by bringing former premiership winning shooter Jen O’Connell back in.

Hodge’s prediction: Fifth.