With talks of the Suncorp Super Netball collective bargaining agreement (CBA) reportedly soon to reach a head, the signing period will likely be shortly underway.
While questions around squad numbers are still to be answered, the competition playing group is waiting patiently to enter contract discussions with the eight teams of the league.
The Inner Sanctum has taken a lens to this season’s squads, and identified which players each team should be having sign the dotted line first.
Adelaide Thunderbirds – Shamera Sterling
Shamera Sterling should be the first Adelaide Thunderbird re-signed. It’s a no-brainer.
Sterling is the team’s key defensive post, and arguably the best defensive post in Super Netball. She’s one of the few players in the league who can single-handedly force a team to change its tactics.
She showed against the Swifts in Round 7, where she had six intercepts, more than the whole Swifts team. She backed it up in Round 9, where she had eight intercepts of her own. She finished the season with six more in Round 13 in a strong win over the Vixens and another five against the Swifts in Round 14.
Sterling led the league in intercepts this season, and was one of the shining lights of the Thunderbirds season. As one of the best players on any court she walks onto, she’s always in the game and has been a leader for the Thunderbirds.
In a young team that struggled to win a lot of games last season, being able to bring back elite talent to help players grow is essential. Sterling provides all of that, while also playing a position that is not easily replaced.
For the Thunderbirds to grow and improve, Sterling will have to be a key part of the plan going forward, and therefore should be the first player that the team brings back.
Collingwood Magpies – Shimona Nelson
When the signing period opens, Jamaican goal shooter Shimona Nelson should be first on Collingwood Magpies’ list of players to re-sign.
At just 22-years-old, and in her third season at the Magpies, Nelson shot at an impressive 94 per cent and finished equal-second in the club’s best and fairest count for 2021.
Her 614 goals saw her finish second in the league through the regular season for goals scored, demonstrating just how prolific her scoring is.
Nelson is a holding goal shooter and, while she is not a versatile first signing, she is a player you can build an attacking end around.
She was vital to Collingwood’s scoring in 2021, shooting almost 80 per cent of her team’s goals for the season, and will only continue to assert her dominance in Super Netball.
Nelson’s best game of the year was in Round 12, when she shot 69 goals at 97 per cent for a Magpies win against the eventual premiers, the Swifts.
Her combination with Gabby Sinclair became more solid as the season went on, and coach Nicole Richardson looked less to her bench. The partnership is something that will continue to evolve should both players re-sign for a third season together.
While she currently plays an integral role for the Magpies, Nelson has enormous capacity for growth after just 56 games in the league. And that’s the most exciting reason to have Nelson put pen to paper.
Giants Netball – Jo Harten
As a foundation member of the club and their current captain, Giants Netball should look to lock in Jo Harten as their first re-signing for the upcoming 2022 season.
Embodying the Giants Netball brand, Harten is possibly the best leader in the league, giving inspiring pep-talks during time-outs as well as selflessly guiding her team on and off the court.
At 32 years of age, Harten is in possibly the most dominant form of her career, with still plenty of room to learn and develop her skills.
First in the league for Super Shot attempts and conversions, Harten has also backed up her efforts under the post securing 56 offensive rebounds this year.
With a tough as nails approach, the English international wears her heart on her sleeve, doing whatever it takes for the team to succeed.
Bringing a wealth of international experience, when the skipper is on, so are the Giants.
In 2022, the sharpshooter will be hungry to claim the Giants’ maiden premiership after falling short in her 150th national league game.
Adored by members of her relatively young team, Harten sets high expectations for herself yet demonstrates enormous grace and dignity in defeat.
For three consecutive years, Harten has been awarded the Giants’ ‘Most Valuable Player’ for her talent, leadership and poise.
After being selected in the English Roses team again this year, Harten will return to career-best form in the 2022 season, all the more reason why she should be the first re-signing for the Giants.
Melbourne Vixens – Jo Weston
While the Vixens are desperately searching for their best shooting combo, perhaps more crucial than that is to keep Diamonds defender Jo Weston alongside Emily Mannix and Kadie-Ann Dehaney for the future ahead.
She’s been a pillar of the Vixens defensive end since her debut in 2014, and it’s hard to imagine a starting seven without her in it. Weston’s career didn’t take long to reach the ultimate level, being named a Diamond for the first time the following year.
In a year where both the mid and front courts were full of youngsters on their first full contracts, Weston and her fellow defenders kept escalating margins well within reach on more than one occasion.
The Vixens finished the year equal third on goals against with finalist the Sunshine Coast Lightning, and gave up one less goal than the West Coast Fever.
Playing in her 100th game in the loss to the Adelaide Thunderbirds late in the 2021 season, Weston had four deflections, two gains, an intercept and took nine centre pass receives.
A strong season overall saw her pick up 61 deflections, 15 rebounds and 10 intercepts, the most deflections of any Vixen and nipping on the heels of the competition’s top five.
Both her aggression on the ball and smarts to play around shooters have been key to the Vixens success for the past seven years, and they’ll be needed to help lead the side to bigger and better things in 2022 once again.
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NSW Swifts – Paige Hadley
While there are lots of star mid-courters around the Super Netball competition, there aren’t too many who started in three different positions last year, and even fewer who play for their home town team. Given the Swifts have one, she should be the first person signed up.
While the Swifts are known for the versatility, and their ability to change up combinations at the drop of a hat to challenge opposition, no player personifies it more than Paige Hadley, who was a key part of the premiership winning mid-court.
Hadley, hailing from Penrith District Netball Association right in the heart of Swifts territory, has been a lifelong fan of the team. And in 2021, she was their co-captain.
At this stage, she would be one of the last names pencilled into Briony Akle’s starting seven, and that’s testament to the fact that she can play any of the mid-court positions at an elite level.
Her connection with Maddy Proud has shown up on numerous occasions, allowing the pair to move in space and in sync in a way few mid-court pairings can, and her chemistry with all three of the Swifts’ shooters makes her invaluable as a feeder.
With 186 goal assists, and 188 centre pass receives this season, Hadley’s value all over the court is easily visible on the stat sheet, as well as on court.
The 29-year-old has been a mainstay of the Swifts for the last eight years, and based on her form this year, there is no reason to think that is changing any time soon.
Queensland Firebirds – Romelda Aiken
While the Firebirds have gone through lots of change over the years, one thing has stayed the same, and that is Romelda Aiken.
Ever since joining the Firebirds in 2008 she’s been a part of three premierships at the club, and has been the rock in the goal circle as the team changed around her from 13 years ago to the present.
Aiken led the league in offensive rebounds with 87, with Jhaniele Fowler in second only on 57.
She provides security under the post for Gretel Bueta and Tippah Dwan, who are able to take the Super Shots because they know if they miss, Aiken is right there underneath to grab the rebounds.
Aiken has created a dangerous combination with Bueta over the years that they’ve played with each other, and has started to build the same dynamic connection with Dwan.
She is just as dominant under the post herself though, with an 84 per cent conversion rate. The goal shooter isn’t afraid to go for the Super Shot either, sinking 13 for the season.
Aiken will be 33 when the next season rolls around, and if this season is anything to go by, she doesn’t look like slowing down anytime soon. It’s exactly why the Firebirds will be looking to keep her in the purple as they search for another premiership next season, the first since 2016.
Sunshine Coast Lightning – Steph Wood
Steph Wood showed just how crucial she is on more than one occasion this season.
The Lightning veteran, who has been there since the inception, was appointed vice-captain in 2021, and led by example all season.
Her side was not known for their Super Shots, only scoring 34 for the season. Wood definitely was though, scoring 28 of those. This skill from long range allowed her to often keep the pressure on opposition defenders, and keep the Lightning in contests.
Wood’s class and clutch plays saved the Lightning from defeat against the Thunderbirds, with the last five goals to steal the victory in the dying seconds. Two Super Shots in the dying minutes of the return match almost made it two for two as well.
A late season knee issue kept her out of the Lightning’s final round clash with eventual premiers Swifts, a win which could have seen Lightning in the major semi final in place of their opposition. With the margin five goals in the end, Wood could have had a say in that result.
Overall Wood was second for goals from the Lightning (behind Cara Koenen) and sixth overall in SSN for successful Super Shot attempts. Her lethality and accuracy in GA remains critical, and, much like the Lightning at their inception, she should be the first signing for the club for 2022.
West Coast Fever – Courtney Bruce
With the West Coast Fever’s star goal shooter and the league’s leading goalscorer Jhaniele Fowler publicly stating she’s no certainty to return to the club, it gives the Fever a chance to explore other possibilities as to the number one priority to re-sign..
While it may be a difficult adjustment to a Fever team that relied on goals from Fowler, down the other end of the court might prove to be the section of the floor that the Fever might first target.
Therefore, Fever captain Courtney Bruce’s signature should be at the top of the list for the club ahead of the 2022 season, the defensive goalkeeper an important and imposing figure for them.
Bruce had a great 2021 season, finishing first among the league in deflections with 97 – 11 more than the next best player highlighting her ability to anticipate the movement of the ball, and opposition players.
As well, Bruce finished equal-first for defensive rebounds (26) and was one behind Shamera Sterling for intercepts, finishing the season with 48, indicating her 189cm frame helpful to getting the ball back in the Fever’s possession.
By being able to see the entirety of the court from the defensive end, as goal keeper, Bruce is able to see and anticipate the play up ahead. It’s a skill that, especially as captain, is beneficial in directing her teammates and noticing trends or movements that could be working or need improving.
Having lead her team to two grand finals, Bruce’s signature would set the standard looking to the 2022 season – especially as the Fever haven’t acquired a new head coach just yet.
The re-signing of Bruce early on will ensure the team is built around a strong leader and leadership qualities from the outset which will entice others to feel they want to be a part of the team.
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