That’s a wrap on Round 1 of the Suncorp Super Netball, and you couldn’t have asked for a better start to netball’s new era in Australia.
The action was physical, high-scoring and every game went down to the wire, in a great sign for the new competition.
Here are five takeaways from a huge weekend of netball.
This thing is wide open
If someone told you on Friday that by Sunday afternoon the Adelaide Thunderbirds would be on top of the Super Netball ladder and Collingwood would be winless and in the bottom three, you’d have laughed them out of town.
And yet here we are.
The hot favourites to win the inaugural Suncorp Super Netball title went down, last year’s premiers were very lucky to salvage a draw, and several teams announced themselves as genuine contenders.
There was no shortage of storylines in Round 1, which had upsets, four thrilling finishes and provided arguably the best weekend of Australian netball we’ve seen for the better part of a decade.
Sunshine Coast Lightning began the round at second fiddle to Queensland rivals the Firebirds, but laid down their premiership credentials with a draw that should really have been a win.
Meanwhile the Giants showed they’ll be very hard to stop and the Thunderbirds, who won only two games in the entire 2016 season, are already halfway to matching that tally after one game.
Splitting from NZ had to happen
We’re only four games into the season, but already the decision to split away from the trans-Tasman league has been vindicated.
With all four matches decided by five goals or less, including a draw, and every team scoring more than 50 goals, Netball Australia would be patting itself on the back for striking out on its own without the Kiwis this year.
While there’ll undoubtedly be some blowout games and lopsided scorelines as the season progresses, the Round 1 results prove the competition and depth of talent locally and worldwide was clearly ready to support eight teams in Australia.
Reputations mean nothing
Every player and team is out to prove something this year (just ask Sunshine Coast wing attack Laura Scherian, who was on the fringe of the Firebirds for years before finally getting a real opportunity at the Lightning, and won MVP honours after a great battle with the Firebirds’ Gabi Simpson in Round 1).
And it means no team is safe.
Collingwood presents the obvious example, of course. The Magpies remain $2 favourites to win the grand final – after many fans wondered if they’d even lose a game this year – but a very flat performance from most of its Diamond-studded lineup ended in a 55-58 loss, demonstrating that every team in this competition has the weapons cause some trouble on any given weekend.
Starting Diamonds centre Kim Ravaillion spent the second half on the bench for Collingwood, and you could argue that the only Magpies player who truly won her position was goal shooter Caitlin Thwaites.
The Pies will lift, of course (and Sharni Layton’s point-to-prove battle with Romelda Aiken in Round 2 shapes as must-watch stuff), but it’s not the start anyone expected.
10 players a challenge
The reduction of team lineups from 12 players under the ANZ Championship format to 10 in Suncorp Super Netball is already making things very interesting.
The ability of players to play in multiple positions and the need for teams to have numerous potential winning combinations is clearly going to be critical, and a starting seven that plays four quarters every week might be a thing of the past.
The teams are too competitive and the talent too deep for one combination to do the job all team, and yet the options at each coach’s disposal are limited like never before.
Collingwood coach Kristy Keppich-Birrell tried hard to find a winning combination with numerous changes throughout the Magpies’ clash with the Vixens, but with Diamonds captain Layton and defensive partner April Brandley unable to quell Mwayi Kumwenda and Tegan Philip, it wasn’t enough.
And Adelaide Thunderbirds coach Dan Ryan earned his money on Sunday, swinging substitution after substitution until he found a combination that worked and was able to nail back a seven-goal margin against West Coast Fever.
Ryan spoke to us a fortnight ago and said Round 1 might be a bit of a lottery for his team, with three England players missing for most of the last month and goaler Karyn Bailey recovering from injury, but his numbers came up in the final quarter once he had the right players out there.
Who’s going to stop the Vixens attack end?
Just how much the loss of Philip before the season began hurt the Melbourne Vixens last year was abundantly clear in Round 1 as she formed a lethal combination with new recruit Kumwenda to net a combined 58 goals against Collingwood.
Kumwenda was outstanding, combining her trademark (and sometimes unorthodox) movement and aerial strength to keep Layton quiet, while Philip filled the gaps perfectly, allowing the pair to split the spoils at 29 goals each.
The pair’s dominance in conjunction with Liz Watson and Vixens captain Kate Moloney against arguably the best defensive line in the league begs the question: if Collingwood can’t stop them, who will?
Add some impressive first-up performances from the team’s new starting defensive line-up of Jo Weston and the largely untried Emily Mannix, and most of us are already adjusting our pre-season predictions of how the Vixens might fare this year.