The North West Flames coach Dorette Badenhorst is confident her side will continue where they left off as they look to amass all the points on offer to stay at the top of the Brutal Fruit Netball Premier League log. The log leaders will square off against the defending champions, the Free State Crinums whom they are equal on points with but are separated by goal difference on Friday. They will then wrap up their round three with a match against the Southern Stings who have also stamped their authority in the elite division.
The NPL second round is expected to deliver netball of a higher standard than the first round. The teams have had a chance to get used to the noise and razzmatazz, the flashing lights and the television cameras, and have also had time to settle down in their combinations. There should be plenty of excitement on offer at the Pretoria University Sports Centre on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
At this stage, it is difficult to predict which teams will play in the first division final on Sunday June 7. The Crinums, and the North West Flames, who finished fourth last year, are currently top of the log with six points each. The Gauteng Jaguars and the Southern Stings have four points and the Golden Fireballs have yet to win a match.
Last week, the Jaguars, Crinums and Stings were all affected by the withdrawal of their Proteas players, who were playing in the European Netball Championships in Belfast and all three team will no doubt be at their strongest this weekend. Badenhorst, however, said despite the return of the national team players she expected her team to stick to their game plan. The Flames coach said last weekend’s wins against the Golden Fireballs and the Jaguars was a major boast for them and she was impressed with how the girls stood their ground in making sure they win: ‘I want the girls to keep the ball a lot and also tighten our defence. We also still need to work on our combinations, because they might have worked against the Jaguars but it might not work against other teams. We need to be prepared for that. It was a physical game but I am glad the girls did not really focus on that and it paid off for us.’
Crinums coach Burta De Kock said her team would do well if they focused on the basics, remaining quietly confident with the return of their charismatic captain Maryka Holtzhausen, as well as defender Adele Niemand and centre Lauren-Lee Christians: ‘The fewer mistakes you make the better chance you stand to win. So we have to go back to basics and make sure we apply everything there is to make sure that we come out victorious. I used my younger players against the Fireballs. I knew they had quality players as well but I had to trust my players and give them a chance. See, you cannot just rely on your experienced players and I am glad they came to party and we stole a win. We made a few mistakes but we will redress them and come out stronger.’ The Stings won their first round match by only two goals, and the Jaguars will be seeking revenge. With players like last year’s find of the tournament, Lenize Potgieter, Melissa Myburgh and experienced centre Erin Burger back in action after their European tour with the Proteas, the Jaguars will provide formidable opposition.
But Stings also have back the likes of Mari-Lena Joubert, Rochelle Lawson and defensive rock Phumza Maweni. Coach Jenny Van Dyk wants her Jaguars side to brush off their weekend’s misfortunes and focus on getting back to winning ways. After enduring back-to-back losses at the hands of Southern Stings and North West Flames at the weekend, Van Dyk has warned her players of the kind of work that still needs to be done and she is glad they were able to see that now rather than later: ‘We have got a very big task on our hands for this weekend. I am sure after the losses, the girls now know how much work is still there and they must really work hard and make sure we don’t do the same mistakes again. They have got a lot of talent but they didn’t show it so we must really fix it. I am glad all this happened now and we can work on it.’
The Fireballs are hoping for a change of fortunes in round two and are yet to pick up a win, despite improved performances. The Fireballs played much better the second week than they had in the first, and they might be able to spring a few surprises, although their matches this weekend are against the two strongest teams, the Jaguars and the Crinums. In the second division, the Eastern Cape Aloes, who were relegated last year, have swept all before them in their quest to return to the top level.
They have won every match so far and have a full house of eight points. Their nearest rivals are the Kingdom Stars, who have lost only to the Aloes. Both teams are likely to win both of their matches this weekend.
The Mpumalanga Sunbirds, who have shown remarkable improvement since last year, will be determined to overcome the Limpopo Baobabs and maintain their middle of the log position, while the Northern Cape Diamonds have a really tough weekend, playing against the Aloes and the Stars.
Photo credit: Christiaan Kotze/SASPA