The Shooters Carousel: Where will they be when the music stops?

Stanton, Housby, Harten and Nelson (clockwise from left)
Stanton, Housby, Harten and Nelson (clockwise from left) Photos: Dani Brown

If you’ve looked at the last season of Suncorp Super Netball, it’s been clear that there are some young and talented Australians coming through to the top level. There are also a number of outstanding international shooters that have had an impact.

The issue is, with injuries, development and opportunity, it looks like there might be a few too many shooters for the roster spots available across Super Netball.

While some shooters aren’t going anywhere, some look like they’ll be forced into three choices, staying and fighting for court time, changing teams in search of court time, and for some, it may be that there is no spot in Super Netball for 2022.

In particular, there are likely to be some goal attacks in high demand, as players shuffle around the league with the freedom that comes with everyone being off-contract. Some teams are more settled than others, but there are going to be a few shooters who are in different uniforms in season 2022.

The Shooters Staying

There are a number of shooters around the league who are not going anywhere.

These shooters have cemented themselves in their teams, either as a young up and coming shooter with an eye to the future (Georgie Horjus, Cara Koenen), or have settled into a role where they are part of the fabric of the team (Jo Harten, Mwai Kumwenda, Romelda Aiken).

ShooterTeam
Georgie HorjusAdelaide Thunderbirds
Shimona NelsonCollingwood Magpies
Gabby SinclairCollingwood Magpies
Jo HartenGiants Netball
Mwai KumwendaMelbourne Vixens
Sam WallaceNSW Swifts
Helen HousbyNSW Swifts
Romelda AikenQueensland Firebirds
Gretel BuetaQueensland Firebirds
Cara KoenenSunshine Coast Lightning
Steph WoodSunshine Coast Lightning

The Thunderbirds have brought Georgie Horjus up from training partner status in 2020 and has thrived. Despite being short in stature, Horjus has shown the ability to put the ball up from anywhere in the circle, with 183 goals in 2021.

With a young core around her, it’s likely that Horjus will be part of the Thunderbirds plans for years to come.

While the Magpies struggled at times during the season, the attacking circle was not a problem. Shimona Nelson celebrated her 50th game in Collingwood colours and has the height, strength and accuracy to become one of the superstar shooters of the competition.

Nelson’s partner in crime last season, Gabby Sinclair chipped in 132 goals of her own as well. While Sinclair has only been in the Magpies for a couple of years, her range, playmaking and on-court leadership mean that she’s likely to be back again next year.

Jo Harten is the heart and soul of the Giants. A foundational player, an inspirational leader and the best goal shooter on the roster, there is no question that Harten’s partnership with Julie Fitzgerald will continue into the future, as they look for their first title.

Like Harten, Mwai Kumwenda is the fabric of the Vixens. The on-court leader in the forward half, a mentor to the young shooters, and the driver of culture in the team, Kumwenda’s value extends beyond the court. After a thrilling 2020 season where she was crowned Grand Final MVP, Kumwenda picked up where she left off and was the shining light of the team in 2021.

Sam Wallace and Helen Housby have been mainstays in the NSW Swifts circle for years, and their partnership continued to blossom in 2021. With a second championship in three years under their belts, the Swifts look to be running it back for another crack at a premiership.

Romelda Aiken has been at the Queensland Firebirds for 14 seasons. While she’s not headed for retirement yet, she’s also not going anywhere. She hasn’t changed teams in 14 years, and there’s no suggestion she is about to start now.

In her return from maternity leave, Gretel Bueta picked up where she left off, showcasing the ability to change a game in a handful of minutes with her playmaking and shooting. With the way, the Firebirds welcomed her back and made her a key part of the game plan, that partnership looks like it will only grow in the future.

Cara Koenen and Steph Wood was another duo that picked up where they left off at the end of 2020, and showed that they had grown together. With Wood coming off a knee injury, and Koenen coming off a Diamonds debut, the Sunshine Coast Lightning circle functioned the way Kylee Byrne probably envisioned at the start of last year.

It’s hard to see any of those shooters in any other uniforms next year, and for the vast majority, they will be on court from the first minute of the first game, injury permitting, looking to take their team to another level in 2022.

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Likely to come back, but not for certain

These are shooters who aren’t expected to change teams. It would take a surprise for them to be somewhere else next year, but for one reason or another, the possibility can’t be eliminated, be it court time, the combination in the shooting circle or something else.

ShooterTeam
Lenize PotgieterAdelaide Thunderbirds
Kalifa McCollinCollingwood Magpies
Sophie DwyerGiants Netball
Kiera AustinGiants Netball
Ruby BarkmeyerMelbourne Vixens
Tippah DwanQueensland Firebirds
Jhaniele FowlerWest Coast Fever
Alice Teague-NeeldWest Coast Fever
Sasha GlasgowWest Coast Fever

Lenize Potgieter might only be 27, but as she struggles at times with shooting from range, she has limitations in the SSN with the super shot. Couple that with the fact that the Adelaide Thunderbirds need to try something different next season, and it almost makes sense that Potgieter might not be back in Adelaide.

Kalifa McCollin came across from Southern Steel in the ANZ Premiership to join Collingwood in the SSN in 2021. Despite that, she played only 119 minutes of Super Netball in 2021, and scored just 31 goals, stuck firmly behind Gabby Sinclair for the goal attack bib.

After only a year, there’s every chance she stays to try and win more court time, but it isn’t beyond the realms of possibility that she doesn’t return to Collingwood for season 2022.

The Giants’ shooting goal attack bib is one that will be hotly contested. Kiera Austin is returning from a Round 1 ACL tear, while Sophie Dwyer stepped into her shoes in Season 2021 and became an overnight sensation.

In 2020, coach Julie Fitzgerald was happy to shuffle the magnets and push Kiera Austin into wing attack to fit Caitlin Bassett on court, and it’s foreseeable that that will be the strategy in 2022. With rumours of an early start to the season before the Commonwealth Games, Austin may not be all the back to full fitness for the start of Season 2022.

While the Giants are expected to keep both home-grown goal attacks, might other teams coming knocking with a sizable contract and the offer of a guaranteed starting position?

Ruby Barkmeyer was expected to showcase her talents for the Melbourne Vixens this year, but ended up playing just 238 minutes for the season, as she struggled to pick up momentum and cement her role.

At just 20 years old, Barkmeyer is an emerging star of the future, and is likely to be someone the Vixens try to hold onto, but there will be plenty of movement in the goal third for the Vixens after a disappointing year, and it is possible that Barkmeyer will be another to get an offer of a starting bib elsewhere.

The Queensland Firebirds had one of the most dynamic shooting circles in Season 2021, with second-year player Tippah Dwan coming to the fore as a long-range star. In her second season, Dwan stepped into a different role, sharing her court time with Gretel Bueta and Romelda Aiken.

While her output was down, Dwan seems very settled at the Firebirds, and growing, but there may be a contract offer and a starting bib offered to her by a team hungry for a goal attack.

The West Coast Fever circle presents an interesting dynamic. Incoming coach Dan Ryan mentioned that he wasn’t going to make wholesale changes, but there is much uncertainty about the makeup of the goal circle in Perth next year.

Jhaniele Fowler has been the subject of much speculation that 2021 may have been her last season in the SSN, as COVID-19 travel restrictions place big impositions on the Jamaican mother who misses her daughter. If Fowler is back, she is a dominant shooter who can control any game and would be the first name on Ryan’s board.

Sasha Glasgow was a Fever recruit for Season 2021, and showed plenty in her first year away from the Thunderbirds, as she shot 84 goals and swapped time with Alice Teague-Neeld. Teague-Neeld has been at the Fever for a year longer, and has been a weapon in the circle.

All three are great talents, and bring slightly different skill sets that make the trio a threatening combination. The big question for the Fever is that with one shooter likely to be added to the mix, who won’t be back? Four shooters in the squad might not fit, so which of them won’t be wearing green in 2022?

In search of greener pastures

These are shooters who won’t be returning for 2022, as they are in search of new opportunities and combinations. They will be in new uniforms in 2022, but it’s not yet clear what uniforms those will be.

ShooterTeam
Sophie GarbinNSW Swifts
Kaylia StantonMelbourne Vixens

The NSW Swifts have long had Sophie Garbin as one of their most effective in-game weapons. After arriving at the Swifts in 2017, she has settled into her role and become a key part of the team, with court time in almost every match this season.

Garbin announced that she will be changing teams for season 2022. It’s expected that she will be looking for somewhere to start as a goal shooter, after years of promise, and Diamonds experience in that position.

It’s likely that Garbin will hear from teams around the league looking to upgrade the goal shooter position.

Kaylia Stanton came across to the Vixens in 2021 in the wake of the retirements of Caitlin Thwaites and Tegan Philip, but it’s fair to say the experiment was not as successful as was hoped.

Stanton struggled at times to gel with the on-court combinations with the midcourt and Kumwenda, and after a tough season in 2021, will be the one to move as the team looks to change.

While Stanton credits Simone McKinnis as a great coach, with McKinnis signing on for four more years, and Barkmeyer a younger talent, Stanton will be on the lookout for new opportunities for 2022.

Entering the foray

There are three names who regularly crop up in speculation as to which shooters will be part of the SSN in 2022. These three spent Season 2021 not on a Super Netball squad, despite connections to different squads and strong performances at different times.

ShooterTeam
Donnell WallamLeeds Rhinos (VNSL)
Rahni SamasonAriels (VNL)
Caitlin BassettWaikato Bay of Plenty Magic (ANZP)

Donnell Wallam started the season playing for Leeds Rhinos, before returning home to Australia late in the year for family reasons. Wallam has been repeatedly linked with the West Coast Fever, as a Perth native, and having spent 2021 playing under new Fever coach Dan Ryan.

It’s an obvious link to draw, but with the Fever’s potent shooting circle in 2021, there are questions as to how Wallam fits in, and how the Fever will make it work, but either way, expect Wallam to be playing Super Netball in 2022.

While she wasn’t on the Melbourne Vixens squad for 2021, Rahni Samason did pull on the blue dress, and she had a debut to remember. In what was one of the most iconic debut performances in Super Netball history, Samason was Player of the Match, and sealed the win with a Super Shot as time expired.

While she played only a few matches before being forced back off the Vixens squad, Samason made enough of an impression that she will be very likely to be on a roster full time in 2022.

Caitlin Bassett almost belongs in her own category. After playing for the West Coast Fever, Sunshine Coast Lightning and Giants since 2005, Bassett spent 2021 in New Zealand playing for the Waikato Bay of Plenty Magic.

Just a couple of weeks ago, Bassett indicated that she was returning to Australia for 2022, and after she recovers from knee surgery, she will be looking for a Super Netball side before the Commonwealth Games. The question is, who will take a chance on the experienced Diamond, coming off knee surgery?

Is there still a spot?

ShooterTeam
Samantha GoodenAdelaide Thunderbirds
Matisse LetherbarrowGiants Netball
Peace ProscoviaSunshine Coast Lightning

After being added to the Adelaide Thunderbirds squad in 2021, Samantha Gooden struggled to get on the court, as she played behind Potgieter and Horjus. Having played for the Magpies between 2017 and 2019, Gooden’s two years in South Australia have not yielded the results she would have hoped for.

As the Thunderbirds make changes to improve on a disappointing 2021, it’s fair to wonder whether Gooden has a place. After her time with Collingwood ended with her being a training partner in 2019, does the same fate await Gooden for her third year in South Australia?

As an injury replacement player, Matisse Letherbarrow spent most of the year on the bench, as cover for Sophie Dwyer, who was in turn covering for Kiera Austin. As Austin returns to fitness, it’s expected that Letherbarrow will return to training partner status.

Not to despair for the young Giant, she has a bright future ahead of her, and the Giants will be sure to keep her connected to the squad and her development on track.

The Sunshine Coast Lightning have already announced that Peace Proscovia will not be back in their team for 2022. The question is whether she remains in Super Netball and latches on to another team, or whether the 31-year-old Ugandan has finished her time in Australia.

The Wrap

With all players off-contract, and a few new names in the mix, there will be plenty of intrigue as to how the shooting circles fall out around the league. There is plenty of talent, and the biggest problem is how they all fit in the league.

As the musical chairs of contract talks start, and player movement gets underway, it’s fair to wonder, who will be where when the music stops, and will somebody be left without a seat?

That’s the big question.

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About Daniel Coppel 166 Articles
Daniel is a lawyer by trade. He covers netball and Olympics/Paralympics for The Inner Sanctum from Sydney. He has a particular focus on empowerment of sporting leaders off-field, and highlighting off-field contributions of athletes. He also appears on podcasts for a variety of sports.

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