Halfway through the 2021 Suncorp Super Netball season, we’ve learned plenty about the state of each side. Erin Delahunty takes us through four key points.
Like every other elite sporting league in the country, Super Netball has had to scramble in recent weeks to outrun Covid border closures and keep its 2021 fixture alive.
In almost a carbon-copy of last season, which was ultimately played in a Queensland hub, Victorian sides Collingwood and the Melbourne Vixens had to be rushed out of state—to Sydney and the Sunshine Coast respectively—and are playing a week-by-week waiting game as to where and who’ll they’ll pay.
Six rounds have been completed though, and after re-jigging the draw to make round seven happen next weekend, league bosses hope to return to the original fixture soon. Administrative chaos aside, the season has been scintillating.
Here’s four things we’ve learned so far:
West Coast Fever could win the trophy & that poses a big reputational risk to the league
After dispatching Collingwood with embarrassing ease 78-55 in Sydney on Saturday, the undefeated West Coast Fever sit comfortably in the top four—and don’t look like losing any time soon.
If they can go all the way, the West Australians might deliver the five-year-old league it’s biggest ever PR headache. That’s because Fever was fined $300,000 and stripped of 12 competition points this season for going nearly 20% over the salary cap in 2018 and 25% in 2019, when it played in a grand final.
The penalty for such “significant” and “deliberate” breaches—and the lack of any big organisational scalps or loss of marquee players—is regarded as too lenient by many, including former Diamonds coach Lisa Alexander, who says the penalty should have been at least 28 points.
Now that Fever has wiped out the 12-point penalty with wins, is accumulating competition points and looks borderline unbeatable, the possibility of the side winning the premiership becomes very real.
How does the league handle accusations of a “tainted trophy” if that happens? How does any potential controversy reflect on new Diamonds coach Stacey Marinkovich, also the Fever boss, who was in charge at the time, but was cleared of any involvement?
Does the league look lenient on integrity issues, given how tough other codes have been on comparable cheating scandals? Netball fans might just find out.
Melbourne Vixen goal shooter Rahni Samason is a ready-made star
Every sport loves a brilliant debut and 23-year-old Vixen Rahni Samason delivered one of the best ever in round five, coming from nowhere—she hadn’t even signed a training contract a week before her debut—to stun the netball world.
Samason was added to the Vixens’ squad at the last minute before the side flew out of Victoria for Queensland to escape Covid, replacing injured defender Emily Mannix.
With contracted players Kaylia Stanton and Ruby Barkmeyer failing to fire so far this season, Samason started oncourt and starred, even sinking a super shot after the siren to secure the reigning premiers’ first win of the season, over the Queensland Firebirds.
Victorian-born Samason won MVP after shooting 27/29 at 93% accuracy and missing only two super shots all game. Her performance was made even more impressive given she’s only played a handful of games of competitive netball in nearly three years after doing her ACL injury in 2018.
While she played well this weekend in the side’s 54-48 loss to the Adelaide Thunderbirds, Samason wasn’t nearly as dominant, finishing with 14/20 at 70% accuracy. But one thing is sure, the Vixens have unearthed a genuine star of the future.
Mothers have taken centre stage, thanks to groundbreaking policies
While in other elite competitions mothers can be something of a statistical anomaly, they’ve taken centre stage in the world’s premier netball league this year, with five of the eight franchises including mothers in their starting line-ups.
In what has been perhaps the best advertisement yet for the league’s pioneering pregnancy and maternity leave policy—which includes paid leave and travel support for children under one—Firebird and Diamond shooter Gretel Bueta returned in round one in early May, after giving birth in January. This season, she’s teaming with Kim Ravaillion, who has a daughter who turned one in March.
At the Lightning, South African defender Phumza Maweni has a pre-teen son, who lives in Cape Town with family and fellow import, Fever goaler Jhaniele Fowler has a daughter, living in Jamaica. Due to Covid travel restrictions, both have endured months of separation from their children.
Collingwood also has two mums on their roster, midcourter Ashleigh Brazill, who has a son with her wife Brooke, and top-up defender Fiona Themann.
Giants defender and former Diamond, April Brandley, has a 15-month-old son. Sadly, a change in border restrictions mid-air as her side flew into Western Australia recently saw her make the choice to go home, rather than quarantine with a toddler.
The league’s players, clubs and fans won’t tolerate online abuse
After one of its international stars outed a troll post-game last weekend, the Super Netball ecosystem moved swiftly to condemn online abuse—with players, clubs, commentators and fans joining a growing number of sports in declaring enough is enough.
It began a few hours after the Giants’ round five loss to Fever in Perth, when star shooter, Englishwoman Jo Harten shared a screengrab of a vile message sent to her on Instagram, calling her an “ugly bitch” and urging her to “die” and “rot in hell”.
Commonwealth Games gold medalist Harten, who has 50,000 followers on Instagram, posted the message to her story, along with a pointed caption: “Love me or hate me, I compete hard for 60 mins, but no one deserves this.”
Her teammates, opponents and fans across social platforms were quick to react that night, calling out the revolting message. The account which sent it had disappeared within hours.
Also public in their condemnation were commentators Sue Gaudion, who called the Perth match, and Liz Ellis—who shared abuse directed at her on Instagram after expressing an opinion in March about NRL player Toby Rudolph’s much-criticised post-match interview.
By last Tuesday afternoon, Harten’s club the Giants had also issued a statement, calling the behaviour “completely unacceptable”, and saying athletes deserve better.
While the league hasn’t issued an official statement, Netball Australia commissioner Marina Go was vocal about the “appalling, sexist, aggressive behaviour” on Twitter and it was cited across the broadcast at the weekend.
Wherever the condemnation has come from, it’s been unequivocal, unwavering. It’s unacceptable.