New Zealand's leading netballers had their first chance to push their 2020 Silver Ferns credentials as the Super Club tournament kicked off in Nelson today.
For the first time, all six ANZ Premiership teams are contesting the event, along with the strongest overseas entries in the competition's history – Australia's Collingwood Magpies, and Wasps from the UK.
This tournament is a chance for the teams to try out combinations before the Premiership begins in March, while it doubles as an excellent opportunity for fringe Silver Ferns players to impress the selection panel.
The Ferns will compete against South Africa, England and Jamaica in the Nations Cup in January, so this tournament is partially a trial for the team – and there are several spots up for grabs, with Casey Kopua having retired, and doubts remaining over whether Laura Langman and Maria Folau will be wearing the black dress in 2020.
Young shooters Grace Nweke and Aliyah Dunn took centre stage in the first all-New Zealand clash of the tournament, and will be eager to continue their form throughout the tournament to be selected to travel with the Silver Ferns to England next year. Neither player was considered for the Ferns' World Cup team due to not meeting the fitness standards, but after putting in solid performances in full games today for their respective teams, both could be putting their hand up to be considered by coach Noeline Taurua.
It was Nweke's Northern Mystics side who upset the Dunn's reigning Premiership and Super Club champions Central Pulse – taking the win 49-39. The Mystics showed that they may be in with a chance to win the Premiership this year, as they have an experienced team with smooth connections, and made few errors.
The Southern Steel also started with a win, claiming a comfortable 50-36 victory over the Wasps. The Steel started with a familiar line-up, with the exception of Trinidad and Tobago shooter Kalifa McCollin, but they managed to give all of their players at least one full quarter on court.
Steel captain Gina Crampton said that the changes were planned.
"The aim of the week is to get as much court time for everyone as possible, and as many combinations."
The Waikato Bay of Plenty Magic weren't so successful against overseas opposition, going down 52-33 to the Magpies. The Magpies finished their Australian season with a semifinal loss in September, while a fairly inexperienced Magic side were able to try out combinations on court for the first time.
It was a dominant performance from the Collingwood side, with 1.95m Jamaican shooter Shimona Nelson netting 41 of the Magpies' 52 goals. For the Magic, it was an introduction to life without Kopua, while they were also without Erena Mikaere, but they struggled more moving the ball from the midcourt to their attacking third, committing 31 turnovers.
The Magic were getting good ball in the second quarter in the defensive end but couldn't convert, thanks in part to the defensive efforts of the game's MVP - Diamonds player Ash Brazill.
The final game of day one was a tight match between the Mainland Tactix and the Northern Stars, with the Tactix coming out on top, 46-43.
The Tactix were without captain Jane Watson, who is nursing an ankle injury, but enjoyed the services of Temalisi Fakahokotau, who was unavailable for selection for the Silver Ferns last year due to an ACL injury. Fakahokotau was quiet by her standards, with only one intercept and two rebounds, but there were promising signs as she managed to play the whole game at full intensity.
Several of the Stars players had just returned mere hours before the beginning of the game from ex-Stars player Kayla Cullen's wedding in Australia, but they had the lead for the majority of the contest.
However, the Tactix fought back, pulling ahead in the final quarter to claim a hard-fought victory. Tactix acting captain Charlotte Elley said their main focus of the week was to "have fun and build connections".