Improving West Coast Fever have Australian sides nervous, writes Dana Johannsen.
Just when you thought the transtasman league was in danger of becoming dull, former Aussie coach Norma Plummer has arrived on the scene to add a bit of spice.
The week-to-week demands of coaching a transtasman league side have always appealed to the veteran coach. Since the competition's inception in 2008, Plummer made no secret of her aspirations to be involved.
"I think it would be a damn good challenge," she told the Herald in 2010.
After stepping down as national coach last year - although it wasn't clear if Netball Australia had a job for her beyond the world championships - Plummer has finally got her wish, taking up a role with the West Coast Fever.
The arrival of the wily coach at the underachieving Perth side is expected to deliver a shake-up to the fierce competition across the Tasman.
Plummer has assembled a more balanced side, ensuring Diamonds twin towers Caitlin Bassett and Susan Fuhrmann finally have the support that has been lacking in the past.
Veteran shooter Catherine Cox has joined the Perth line-up after the Australian vice-captain was apparently unwanted by new Swifts coach Lisa Beehag, while highly rated young English defender Eboni Beckford-Chambers is hoping to make a similar impact in the transtasman league to that of her compatriots Geva Mentor and Sonia Mkoloma.
The Fever side were the talk of the pre-season tournament in Tauranga earlier this month, picking up three wins and holding the defending champion Queensland Firebirds side to a draw. The only loss they recorded was against the star-studded Magic side.
While they are already looking sharp, Plummer has warned her team "will come home strong" once they have had further opportunity to come to grips with the new gameplan.
The increased strength of the Fever side, who have traditionally been the weakest of the Australian teams, will certainly add interest to the league.
The way the competition is structured with a one-and-a-half round draw, where the sides meet their domestic rivals twice, but play the teams from the other side of the Tasman only once, has the Aussie franchises nervous about the improvement of the Perth side.
There is concern the Australian teams will steal points off one another, allowing the two stronger New Zealand sides an easier run into the play-offs.
But if pre-season results are anything to go by, no team from either side of the Tasman look capable of touching the Queensland Firebirds.
Many of their rivals have conceded the Queensland side are in a class of their own heading into the season, and they have their work cut out for them if they are going to stop the Firebirds from blitzing their way to back-to-back titles.
The Adelaide Thunderbirds have also assembled a very competitive side, adding key talent to a line-up that finished sixth last season. Fringe Australian Diamonds players Rebecca Bulley, formerly of the Swifts, and Renae Hallinan (Vixens) have joined the side in a bid to give their chances of national selection a boost.