The VNL have confirmed their Round 1 fixtures. Photo: Netball Victoria

The Victorian Netball League (VNL) has confirmed their round-one fixtures for the 2024 season as the starting date gets closer and closer.

In a league first, there will be an Under-23s division, which will replace the Under-19s and Division One sections. The league has also added three clubs, whilst the Ariels have foregone the competitions following last season’s conclusion.

The expansion of the Victorian Netball League is set to open more opportunities for regional netballers. The fixtures for Round 1 will begin with the City West Falcons taking on the Boroondara Express and end with North East Blaze versus the Gippsland Stars.

City West Falcons v Boroondara Express

To start off the round, it’s a Championship grand final rematch between the City West Falcons and Boroondara Express. Both teams have really talented lineups, and it will be an exciting match to watch. The Falcons and Express will go into next year with near-unchanged lineups so both know precisely what to expect.

The Falcons came out six-goal victors in the grand final as Montana Holmes was named MVP. It’ll be another tough battle between her and Casey Adamson in the midcourt, with bookends at both ends of the court.

Melbourne University Lightning v Hawks Netball

Melbourne University Lightning and Hawks Netball will go face to face again after both had relatively successful 2023 championship campaigns. The Lightning ended fourth on the ladder (on percentage) and the Hawks just fell short of finals. Both clubs didn’t start their seasons great, but they were dangerous when they got in the rhythm.

Tepaea Hobson has received a call-up into the Lightning’s championship squad after a stellar 2023 season, winning an Under-19s premiership and a Vic Fury elevation. Hobson will line up against veteran Kaylia Stanton, who has plenty of national and international experience. Lightning won’t fall short of any defensive combinations, though, as anyone they put on the court will work in their favour.

Western Warriors v Peninsula Waves

The first of three new clubs over the next five years is the Western Warriors. They will take on the Peninsula Waves who will want to perform better than this year. The Waves ended their championship season on two wins, ending ninth on the ladder.

Both the Warriors and the Waves have been quiet with their player announcements as other clubs are slowly making their squads public knowledge. However, April Bethune makes the step up from division one, where she was crowned MVP for the Waves, into the championship squad.

Not a direct competitor, but definitely one to look out for is former Hawk Simona De Filippo. She was the Under-19s MVP in 2022 and had a standout season in division one this year. De Filippo’s move to the Warriors will be big, playing a prominent role in the midcourt.

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Casey Demons v Geelong Cougars

The Demons couldn’t reach their potential last season, finishing sixth on the championship ladder. Meanwhile, the Cougars got off from a slow start to finish second. and were quickly one of the fans favourites to win the title and will be one again this season.

It’s tough to look past Demon’s shooting sensation Emma Ryde who can easily score a lot of goals really quickly. The former Vixen was the 2022 championship top scorer, being a strong and tall presence under the post.

It’s a battle for the ages between Ryde and Brooke Allan, with each one trading the upper hand each outing. The back-and-forth battle is hotly contested, and it never disappoints on any occasion. Allan goes into this season with the upper hand, being a part of the 2023 team of the year.

Southern Saints v Bendigo Strikers

Another new club that will flourish this season is the Strikers, which has signed multiple talented, experienced VNL and A-grade athletes. The Strikers is a much-needed club in the Bendigo area, where many don’t continue up the netball pathway due to the needed travel. Now, they can expose more players to the elite level.

The Saints also have a lot of potential, but they didn’t capitalise off it last season. They finished eighth, but they could be in the top five if they could back up each performance over to the following week.

Two Vic Fury teammates in the Saints, Emily Andrew, and the Strikers, Charlotte Sexton, will perfectly represent what’s to come in Australian netball.

Andrew was the ANC MVP after an outstanding performance for the Fury. The 20-year-old stepped into a Vixens dress twice this year, and although she didn’t play, she learned so much being a part of the game day squad while also being a training partner. Andrew is also a part of the Under-21 Australia squad.

Sexton had a breakout season starring for the Falcons in Under-19s this year but will make a move to the Stars in the championship division. She’s ready for it, making the Fury side this year in her first year of VNL.

Still, at such a young age, the Australia Under-19s squad member utilises her height well on tall holding shooters, but she’s not afraid to get on the move and go out for a hunt. Sexton and Andrew will complement each other well, as each can instantly change their game style.

North East Blaze v Gippsland Stars

Lastly, the North East Blaze will see some familiar faces amongst a new Gippsland Stars outfit. The Stars are the third new VNL club that features mostly make-up athletes from the Gippsland League. The Stars won’t don a championship team next year, so the focus will be on the youngsters.

It’s hard to look past Maddy George, who still has plenty of VNL experience at such a young age. George’s versatility will work wonders for the Blaze, able to play her at C, WD and GD. She played over 60 games for Blaze, from Under-19s to continuous appearances in their championship side this year.

Gippsland’s cross-code star Myah Healey is one to watch after being a standout Demon for the last few seasons. Being able to play both positions will come in handy when pushing for a successful Under-23s campaign.

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