‘Great on paper’: Stacked Sunshine Coast Lightning super team vying for Super Netball premiership

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Can anyone stop the Sunshine Coast Lightning from winning the Super Netball premiership?

That’s the question the other seven teams will be asking heading into the new Super Netball season, which kicks off this weekend.

There was more player movement than ever in the off-season due to the contract limbo before a new Collective Player Agreement was reached, as well as the introduction of the Melbourne Mavericks, who will place Collingwood in the league.

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Two players to change teams are Australian Diamonds captain Liz Watson and goal keeper Courtney Bruce, who won last year’s Liz Ellis Diamond as the player of the year.

Watson and Bruce have joined the Lightning after winning premierships in 10-year stints with the Melbourne Vixens and West Coast Fever, respectively.

The duo, both aged 30, made the move in search of renewed motivation heading into a new international netball cycle after winning every trophy on offer for the Diamonds.

The recruitment of Watson and Bruce means the Lightning boast an absolutely stacked line-up that already featured gun shooting duo Cara Koen and Steph Fretwell (nee Wood), who retired from Diamonds duties after last year’s World Cup win.

Fretwell is delighted to be playing with Watson and Bruce, but warned it’s one thing to be a stacked team “on paper” and another to deliver results on court.

“Really, really great to have Courtney and Liz come over from their teams that they’ve been with since the beginning,” Fretwell told news.com.au.

“It’s a very big move for them to make it to the Sunshine Coast. Great to have them uplift our training intensity, the quality of our netball as well. I know have both of their games very well.

“That’s all well and good and it’s great to have those connections already. Yes we have this great team on paper, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to happen.”

Fretwell was part of the Lightning’s last premiership when they won back-to-back Super Netball titles in 2017 and 2018.

“The last time we won a finals game was in 2019,” she said.

“First of all the goal is to make finals but also to be successful in finals because it’s something we haven’t done since 2019.”

The veteran goal attack is confident if the Lightning’s new look team gels together, they will be hard to beat for the premiership.

“We’ve got to work really hard and there’s quality teams all across Super Netball,” she said.

“I think the brand of netball that we play is the reason we’ve attracted the players that we have. I believe that brand of netball will be able to win a premiership.”

In a scary prospect for other teams, the Lightning boast more than the quartet of Diamonds stars.

Leesa Mi Mi has joined the Lightning from cross-town rivals the Queensland Firebirds and will play shotgun to Watson in the midcourt.

Shooter Reilley Batcheldor is working her way back from a second ACL injury and is expected to see plenty of court time during the Super Shot periods at the end of quarters.

Fretwell said the Lightning has “so much young talent” including Mi Mi, Batcheldor, Ava Black and Ash Ervin will be just as important to the team’s success as the high profile recruits.

“Our young players is probably what excites me the most about our club at the moment,” the 32-year-old said.

“Starting with Reilley coming back from her ACL injury, she is super fit. She looks like she hasn’t missed a beat.

“Leesa, she’s a ball of energy running around on court. She’s got an incredible change of direction so excited to see what she can do out on a Super Netball court.

“We can look at our team and think about the Liz, Courtney, Cara, myself — the people who have played for Australia — I think these other players we have — Ash Erwin will be an Australian player in the future, she’s so exciting at goal keeper and goal defence.

“Then we’ve got Ava Black, she’s a tall, strong midcourt player (with) speed to burn.

“That’s what excites me. I think we could have a successful team this year but our future looks really bright because of the way we’ve been able to recruit, we can have sustained success for years to come because of the depth of talent we have.

“We have young players and experienced players, but also those players you can’t win premierships without like Mahalia Cassidy and Tara Hinchliffe, who have been around and might not get as much spotlight, but they are actually so integral to a successful team.

“I think we have a really great balance between youth and some older, more experienced players.”

Fretwell hopes hanging up her Aussie goal attack bib will allow her to extend her domestic career at Super Netball level for a few more seasons, during which she plans to snag another premiership.

“I was very content finishing with the Diamonds,” she said.

“I always knew I wanted to finish at a pinnacle event. I’ve been part of a cycle and I know what it takes to win a Comm Games and a World Cup. I knew I wasn’t going to go another one, I wanted to retire and give players the time to build to the next one.

“We often talk about leaving your bib in a better spot and it was time for me to pass over that bib.

“I am an older athlete and for me, it was about extending my domestic career. People talk about Lightning’s success but it is a success of the past. I want Lightning in the now.”

So can anyone beat the Lightning?

The main contenders are reigning premiers the Adelaide Thunderbirds, who boast superstar Jamaican defenders Shamera Sterling and Latanya Wilson.

The TBirds will be hoping for more natural progression from shooters Lucy Austin and Georgie Horjus after Eleanor Cardwell left for the Mavericks, with veteran Romelda Aiken-George moving into the GS position in Adelaide following a stellar season for the NSW Swifts.

Runners-up by a single goal last season were the Swifts. The perennial contenders have the most settled roster in Super Netball and welcome back shooter Sam Wallace-Joseph from her ACL injury.

“Any team can beat anyone if you don’t bring your A-game,” Fretwell said.

“We saw that last year with how close the competition was.”

Asked who she sees as the premiership favourite, she said: “I still think it’s the Thunderbirds,

“They’ve got a very established defence and they’ve also recruited Romelda, and we saw what she added to the Swifts last year. They’ll be absolutely formidable.”

Fox Netball commentator and Australian men’s netball captain Dylan Nexhip predicted the Lightning and Swifts to be the top two teams.

“Adding Courtney to that defensive end gives them so much versatility and she’s such a ball winner down there,” he told news.com.au

“I think they’ll definitely be up there.

“Seeing Ava Black and Leesa Mi Mi come through will be great for the Lightning and Australian netball.”

Asked how a team can beat the Lightning, Nexhip said: “I think it’s about disrupting the connection out the front between Steph, Liz and Cara. But it’s not an easy task.”

Super Netball Round 1 (all times AEST)

GIANTS vs West Coast Fever — Saturday 5pm @ Ken Rosewall Arena

Adelaide Thunderbirds vs Queensland Firebirds — Saturday 7pm @ Adelaide Entertainment Centre

Melbourne Mavericks vs Melbourne Vixens — Sunday 2pm @ John Cain Arena

Sunshine Coast Lightning vs NSW Swifts — Sunday 4pm @ UniSC Arena