PRETORIA (11 April 2016) – The opening weekend of the 2016 Brutal Fruit Netball Premier League at the Heartfelt Arena in Pretoria was as competitive as expected, and nobody was more impressed with this than Gauteng Jaguars coach Jenny van Dyk.
Van Dyk’s team set the tone for a thrilling weekend when they beat the defending champions the Free State Crinums 55-39 in the first match of the season on Friday night.
That puts them tied second on the log behind the Western Cape Southern Stings, albeit having played one game less than the Stings. The Stings made a perfect start to their campaign in Round 1 with two victories.
But looking at the bigger picture, Van Dyk says the start of this season’s league is exactly what South African netball needs.
“I think the player movement between the teams has saved us this year, especially in the former B Division where there are now teams that are much stronger. I think that will give us a much more competitive league overall.
“And that’s exactly what we want for our netball in South Africa. You want a league where we’ve got 10 super competitive matches and which gives the girls that opportunity to play under pressure. We don’t want runaway victories. We want our players to feel that pressure because it can only improve our country’s netball overall.
“So I’m quite impressed with how much more competitive the league is this year. It will obviously take a few years for the lower-ranked teams to reach the level they want, but I think where we are now is already a victory for South African netball.”
The Stings took the lead early in the competition with a full haul of four points thanks to first their victory over the Northern Cape Diamonds 67-19 on Saturday and then the Golden Fireballs 44-34 on Sunday.
The match against the Fireballs was arguably the feature match of the opening weekend’s action. The Stings held a slender 10-9 lead after the first quarter and stretched this to 24-17 at halftime.
Fireballs coach Elsje Jordaan shuffled her defence for the third quarter and it paid off when they won that quarter 10-7. The Fireballs carried this momentum into the final quarter and at one point closed to within two goals of the Stings. But a few hard words from Stings coach Annelie Lucas refocused her players as they clinched the victory.
“Luckily they were able to pull it together. We will have plenty to work on when we get back home, and you certainly haven’t seen the best of us,” said Lucas.
The North West Flames also started their season on a winning note when they beat the Eastern Cape Aloes 68-36 on Sunday. Flames coach Dorette Badenhorst took the opportunity of the opening match to give all of her players court time.
“It’s a long tournament and we need to make sure that everyone has been exposed to the pressures of playing at this level. Injuries can happen and so we need to make sure that the bench is ready to step up,” she said.
The KwaZulu-Natal Kingdom Stars also gave a clear indication of their title hopes when they beat the Aloes 46-26 on Saturday.
The Stars dominated the Aloes from the start, racing into a 10-0 lead in the first quarter. It took the Aloes 11 minutes to finally get their first goal and the quarter ended with the Stars 12-3 ahead.
For captain Bongi Msomi it was the perfect start to the new season. “We’ve prepared very well for this season and it’s good to see everything we’ve been working on being put into practice and to gauge what level we’re at. The girls were awesome in this match and at the moment it’s just about focusing on the next game.”
Results (Heartfelt Arena, Pretoria). Log attached:
Gauteng Jaguars 55 Free State Crinums 39; Mpumalanga Sunbirds 48 Limpopo Baobabs 40.
Western Cape Southern Stings 67 Northern Cape Diamonds 19; Golden Fireballs 65 Limpopo Baobabs 42; KwaZulu-Natal Kingdom Stars 46 Eastern Cape Aloes 26.
North West Flames 68 Eastern Cape Aloes 36; Western Cape Southern Stings 44 Golden Fireballs 34.