Changes aplenty on netball scene

The victorious 2020 Tokomaru premier team. Can they repeat the dose in 2021? Photo Peter Jones

A raft of player movements in the off-season looks set to pave the way for an exciting competition when Marlborough premier netball begins on Tuesday, May 4, at Stadium 2000.

A talking point heading into this season’s on-court battles is the absence of the usually-powerful SMOG club from senior ranks, an Invitational Mixed team stepping up to fill the void left by the “Ladies in Black”.

The mixed side came into the competition when last year’s grade one winners, MGC Fairweathers, opted not to move up to premier. The mixed side will be ineligible for competition points.

Meanwhile, playing-through champions Tokomaru will field a very similar line-up to last season, with one notable exception.

Influential goal shoot Haze Tepuia will play his netball in Christchurch this year, joining the Kia Toa men’s team after having his club’s request for dispensation declined. His role in the team’s back-to-back titles in recent years cannot be downplayed, but Toko based their success on all-court play and have the personnel to get the job done again. The Wilson sisters, Hana, Dana and Kayla, are back in midcourt while Gemma Hika has been one of the province’s outstanding shooters for many seasons. Oakley Tepuia, a former MGC player, will play at both ends of the court while the versatile Wiri Bristowe returns from Wellington.

Defender Mya Wiapo was an standout for MGC in 2020. Photo Peter Jones
Defender Mya Wiapo was an standout for MGC in 2020. Photo Peter Jones

Change is a given in the Marlborough Girls’ College A team, but this season a solid core of experience remains. Anika Moetaua, Mya Wiapo, Fialii Solomona, Mele Moli and Eleri James-Sitters provide an invaluable base of premier experience throughout the court. This will be the fourth premier season for James-Sitters, and the third for Wiapo, the pair able to provide leadership at either end of the court.

Defenders Liv Matthews and Holly Feltham come into the squad from the MGC B team team last year, as does midcourter Stormy Tupara and shooter Zoe Scaife. A newcomer to the area is defender Lesieli Taufa, who previously played for Nelson College.

Bridget Gane returns for another season with the Mighty Quins. Photo Peter Jones
Bridget Gane returns for another season with the Mighty Quins. Photo Peter Jones

Harlequins have a couple of additions to their attacking end. Kelsey Hamilton, who is new to the district is expected to add plenty in that area.

The evergreen Bridget Gane, plus Liv Hodson and Simone Pedersen return from last season while another newcomer to Quins’ colours is former MGC and SMOG middie  Ella Donald.

Defensively Quins have gained the services of Cerys James-Sitters, who has returned from overseas. She will team up with the energetic Katie Cunningham and Olivia Robinson from last season’s team and the experienced Kelly West, whose ability to play any position is a coach’s dream. Another versatile performer, Sophie Robinson, will return in midcourt.

Ashley Childs adds versatility to the Awatere mix. Photo Peter Jones 
Ashley Childs adds versatility to the Awatere mix. Photo Peter Jones 

The Awatere crew have taken some time to find their feet in premier grade over the past two seasons, but are coming together as a very competitive unit.

This year they will be coached by Koko Lambert, who takes the reins from Kate Shadbolt. Koko has put together a large, multi-talented squad, with experienced players such as influential middie Nicole Witterick, the versatile Ashley Childs and accomplished shooter Kimberly McCabe, who has been off the scene for a couple of seasons.

There are four of the Ryan clan in the mix – Courtney, Claudia, Harriet and Georgia – underlining to the club’s family atmosphere.

Koko says, “We are continuing to prepare to be competitive in premier grade and look forward to bringing fun, passion for netball, friendships, plus growth as individuals and a team, as we progress throughout the season”.

Kelsie Fitzpatrick in action for Pelorus last season. Photo Peter Jones.
Kelsie Fitzpatrick in action for Pelorus last season. Photo Peter Jones.

Pelorus are still searching for their first premier title and, with their squad boosted by a couple of handy additions, 2021 may be their year.

Taking the coaching reins from Courtney Taufa, who is back on court after a year off, is experienced mentor Janine Jordaan.

Also new to the club are former SMOG stalwarts Karli Murphy and Katie Bradley, who found themselves without a premier club to play for when SMOG withdrew from the top grade.

Murphy played in defence for SMOG last season but is accomplished at both ends and could form a strong partnership with the equally experienced Paige Lovell under the attacking hoop. The return of former SMOG player Meg Hocquard adds depth in the shooting area

Bradley will slot into a midcourt where talent abounds. Jordan Peipi, Kelsie Fitzpatrick, Laura Murphy and fomer MGC player Millie Wensley will ensure that area is well covered.

In defence, Taufa and Riana Burger, who are both well versed in premier play, complete a well-balanced squad.

A feature of this season’s premier competition will be the addition of several Saturday games at Lansdowne Park while work is done on the stadium floor.

The season begins on May 4, inside at the Stadium. This is followed by games two and three outdoors, before returning to the indoor venue on May 25. A third outdoor match is schedule, that game scheduled for June 12.

Three full rounds will be played, followed by semis on August 24 and the final on September 4. There will be no promotion/relegation from premier this season.

Future Ferns netball begins on May 7, with senior netball starting the following day. Year 7-8 and 5-6 netball begins on Saturday, May 22.

A pre-season tournament at Lansdowne Park is planned for senior teams on May 1.

Teams

Harlequins: Kelsee Hamilton, Liv Hodson, Simone Pedersen, Bridget Gane, Kelly West, Olivia Robinson, Katie Cunningham, Ella Donald, Sophie Robinson, Cerys James-Sitters. Co-coaches: Lesley Wilson and Leith Brew.

Tokomaru Crafar Crouch: Gemma Hika, Hana Wilson, Dana Wilson, Kayla Wilson, Chloe Devir, Eden Te Huki, Michaela Boaz, Wiri Bristowe, Oakley Tepuia. Coach: Vanessa Hika, assistant coach/manager Ang Tepuia.

MGC Senior A: Holly Feltham, Eleri James-Sitters, Liv Matthews, Anika Moetaua, Mele Moli, Zoe Scaife, Fiaalii Solomona, Lesieli Taufa, Stormy Tupara, Mya Wiapo. Co-coaches: Cara Wiapo and Serena McDougall, manager Sarah Wright.

Awatere Clarence River Rafting: Ashley Childs, Ataliaya Lambert, Claudia Ryan, Courtney Ryan, Emma Pilcher, Georgia Ryan, George Thompson, Harriet Ryan, Kimberly McCabe, Louise Westenra, Nicole Witterick, Tori McCulloch. Coach Koko Lambert.

Pelorus: Paige Lovell, Courtney Taufa, Riana Burger, Jordan Peipi, Kelsie Fitzpatrick, Laura Murphy, Millie Wensley, Meg Hocquard, Katie Bradley, Karli Murphy.

Invitational Mixed: to be confirmed.