The New Year brings a new look to transtasman and international netball. Michael Burgess looks at what we can expect.
Coaches hit the road
Half of the ANZ Championship teams will have new coaches in 2012, though few are unknown quantities. Leigh Gibbs will need all her vast experience to turn around the fortunes of the struggling Tactix, while Robyn Broughton should relish the challenge of building consistency at the Pulse. Steel co-coaches Janine Southby and Natalie Avellino have perhaps the biggest job but at least they will get to mould a team in their own style, as just four players remain from 2011. Norma Plummer brings great expectation and not inconsiderable nous to the Fever, while Lisa Beehag steps into the large shoes of Julie Fitzgerald at the Swifts. Fitzgerald had 15 years at the Sydney and then NSW Swifts and Beehag is sure to ruffle some feathers with her famously no-nonsense style.
Mystics are no mystery
After flying under the radar early last season, the Mystics will have a target on their backs in 2012. England midcourter Jade Clarke offers depth, while Charlotte Kight will look to rebuild her career in the north. As always, much will depend on the axis of Cathrine Latu, Maria Tutaia and Temepara George, with Latu in particular tipped for a big year now she has become an established member of the Silver Ferns. Alongside Anna Scarlett, 2011 starlet Kayla Cullen needs to avoid the dreaded second season syndrome and is expected to play big minutes in every match.Crunch point: Three consecutive late-season home matches (versus the Tactix, Steel and Magic) will need to be banked to seal a playoff spot. Also, the round six match against the Firebirds on the Gold Coast (away from their Brisbane fortress) will be a great marker.
Firebirds will blaze on
The Queensland side have retained 10 of their squad from 2011 and, with the return of captain Lauren Nourse, will be unbackable favourites to defend their title. Though they were unbeaten last year, some cracks showed towards the end of the campaign and expect the Vixens, Swifts, Mystics and an improved Thunderbirds to push them hard. No team has gone back to back in the four seasons of the ANZ Championship but the Firebirds look likely to repeat now that the hoodoo has been broken.
Have the Magic still got the ... magic?
More than any other team in the competition, the Magic rely on their superstars and the light international calendar will work in their favour this year. Irene van Dyk is still a force at this level, while Casey Williams will be burning with desire after injuries ruined her 2011. Julianna Naoupu will need to build on the promise she showed last year but the main issue comes in the midcourt. Coach Noeline Taurua needs to find a way to take the pressure off Laura Langman - at times last year, it felt as if she was covering all three midcourt positions and it seemed to affect her game.Crunch point: Begin well. The Magic have the toughest possible start to the season, with games in Invercargill, Sydney and Melbourne, plus a home game against the Mystics in the first four rounds.
Prepare to be Thunderstruck
The team from Adelaide have recruited well (Rebecca Bulley, Renae Hallinan) and will bounce back from their nightmare season last year when, as champions, they managed just five wins and were not a happy camp off the court. When Carla Borrego's citizenship application is rubber-stamped - seemingly certain - the Adelaide side with be able to bring in another towering Jamaican, 1.96m Jhaniele Fowler, as their import, giving them one of the most dominant attacking circle combinations in the game.
Time for Taumaunu's team
Silver Ferns coach Wai Taumaunu will have time on her side in 2012, with an extended period of planning and preparation before the five-test series against Australia in August. She'll need it, as the Ferns try to wrest back some initiative lost in 2011. The long-time assistant has talked of imprinting her own style on the Ferns and this is where it begins. At least Taumanu has the luxury of a rebuilding year, before the build-up to the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games begins in earnest in 2013. Her mission seems three-fold; fill the gaping hole left at wing attack by the departure of Temepara George and Liana Leota; find a back-up for Maria Tutaia at goal attack and continue to grow Cathrine Latu's game. She must also decide which of the Singapore veterans will survive until Sydney in 2015.
Norma gets the Fever
Australian teams used to look at games versus the Fever as a banker, while New Zealand sides saw them as chance to grab an invaluable win against an Australian team. Not any more. Norma Plummer has recruited well, with Eboni Beckford-Chambers and Catherine Cox the stand-outs. She also has the twin towers of Caitlin Bassett and Susan Fuhrmann. Plummer, a noted developer of talent, has big raps on some youngsters from the Australian Institute of Sport. Once they find their feet, expect the Fever to have a strong second half to the season.
Pulse need a heart
With a roster to match any other side, and one of the most experienced coaches, there should no longer be street parades every time the Pulse win a game. Just as attitudes need to change in the capital, winning needs to became a habit. They couldn't have a tougher start, facing both of last year's grand finalists away from home. Unfortunately, the expected progress on court may not be matched in the boardroom, with the Wellington franchise set to spend beyond their means again in 2012.Crunch point: They need to finish on the right side in early matches against the Steel (round two) and Tactix (round four).
Southerners look to regain Steel
Regenerating local pride will be a catch-cry for new coaches Southby and Avellino as, for the first time, all players will be based in the region, bringing an end to the practice of flying players in for games. They have lost a lot of experience with the departure of Leana de Bruin, Leota and Paula Griffin but welcome the return of Donna Wilkins, who can win a few games on her own. Jodi Brown is an astute signing, while Australian Courtney Tairi should bolster their midcourt. Crunch point: Their draw gets much harder as the season progresses, so early wins are vital.
Canterbury need new tactics
Aside from boasting the worst name in New Zealand sport (strongly challenged by cricket's Otago Volts), the Tactix have also been the worst performers of the past two years, with just two wins in 26 matches. The tragic earthquake just added to the woes of a team already on the bread line. Jo Harten looks the best import signing in this country and New Zealand under-21 star Sophia Fenwick seems a handy addition to a team that still boasts internationals Maree Bowden and Anna Thompson.Crunch point: The four clashes with the Steel and Pulse. Wooden spoon avoidance.
The Fastnet tournament comes to New Zealand in November (probably the Vector Arena) and the locals will be favourites to avenge their loss in 2011. While it should be popular, Fastnet is a development tool, like Twenty20 cricket or sevens rugby. Bringing it to New Zealand is a bit like Fifa trying to popularise football in Brazil.