There was plenty of excitement during the first weekend of the 2015 Brutal Fruit Netball Premier League (NPL), with the 10 teams taking part experiencing a wide range of emotions, from exhilaration to anguish.
Last year’s runners-up, the Gauteng Jaguars, laid down their marker as the team to beat, with a crushing 65-29 victory over their southern neighbours, the Golden Fireballs, and a hard-fought 45-40 win over the defending champions, the Free State Crinums.
It was a bad weekend for the Fireballs, who also lost to the newly-promoted Southern Stings. The Western Cape side beat them by 41 goals to 31, before going down to the North West Flames. The Flames also had a mixed weekend, beating the Fireballs, but losing to the Crinums. So after the first round of matches, the Jaguars are on top, with four points, the Stings, Crinums and Flames have two each, and the Fireballs have yet to get off the mark.
Things could be slightly different next weekend – the SPAR Proteas set off on Monday for the European Netball Championships in Northern Ireland, and several teams will be affected by the loss of some of their star players.
The Jaguars are worst affected, with five players being part of the touring party. But coach Jenny van Dyk was unfazed by losing the heart of her successful team. ‘We knew we had to make a very good start to our campaign, because we are losing so many players, and we did that by winning our first two matches,” she said. ‘And I’m very excited about the gutsy young players I’m going to throw in at the deep end this weekend. They are all young, but they are focused and they are going to do us proud.”
The Stings and the Crinums will both lose three players for the weekend, while the second division team, the Kingdom Stars will be without one player. In the second division, two teams – the Kingdom Stars and the Eastern Aloes – have won both matches so far. The Stars beat the Northern Cape Diamonds and the Limpopo Baobabs, while the Aloes beat the Diamonds and the Mpumalanga Sunbirds. Both have their sights on promotion to the first division, and the battle for supremacy will offer plenty of excitement for netball fans.
In other second division matches, the Sunbirds achieved their first ever NPL victory when they beat the Limpopo Baobabs.
Netball officials are excited about the improvement in the standard of play, particularly in the second division, since the inaugural NPL last year.
Baobabs coach Cecilia Malokwane said this was because of the excitement the initial tournament created among netball players. ‘I don’t have as much trouble getting players to training camps, they are following fitness programmes, and they are learning all the time from watching the top players.
‘Yes, we’ve lost both matches so far, but we gave both teams a good run for their money, and the difference in the scores against the Kingdom Stars this year is much smaller than a year ago, when we could hardly get a ball in the net. This time we lost 49-36, but during the middle stages, we were matching them goal for goal. It’s only going to get better from here,’ said Molokwane. ‘The Baobabs have improved a lot since last year, and we had a tough battle on our hands,’ said Stars coach Marchelle Maroun. ‘Rehaba, with her height, has a tremendous aantage, and she holds the circle well, and Jessica had her work cut out to defend against her,” she said.
‘I was also very pleased with Michelle Segal, who has slotted well into the goal attack position. She is a great fetcher, and she relishes the extra work she has.’
The Stars play the Eastern Aloes next week, and Maroun said this would be a very hard match. ‘They have some well-known players, and they have a very g bench. But I also have a g bench, and I am able to make changes without worrying about the impact on the team.’
Source : South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee