Jaguars The Title Favourites

The league section of the Brutal Fruit Netball Premier League (NPL) at the Pretoria University Sports Centre ended yesterday with the two strongest teams in the competition, the Gauteng Jaguars and the Free State Crinums, the most successful.  Although both teams have 12 points, the Jaguars finish at the top of the log, by virtue of a better goal difference.  The teams met on Sunday afternoon in an exciting match that many see as a rehearsal for the final next weekend.

The Jaguars won the match 55-34, but only got away from the Free State side in the second half, when Crinums’ coach Burta De Kock took her captain, Maryka Holtzhausen, off the court and introduced several of her younger players.  Audacious intercepts and thrilling turnovers were the order of the day, and the crowd became involved in the contest on court, cheering loudly for their teams.  The defenders in both circles were outstanding, making life hard for the shooters.

The Jaguars will play the Southern Stings in the semi-finals next Saturday, while the Crinums will play the third placed North West Flames.  The Stings had a mixed weekend, thrashing the Golden Fireballs 51-27 and then going down to the Crinums in their second match.  The Fireballs’ woeful tournament continued, as they also lost to the Flames, who beat them 51-35.

With not a single victory to their name, the Fireballs finished at the bottom of the log, and will have to play the winner of the second division in a promotion/relegation match.  The Flames also had a mixed weekend, losing 58-41 to the rampant Jaguars, but then bouncing back against the Fireballs.  In the second division, the match of the weekend was between the Eastern Cape Aloes and the Kingdom Stars.

The Aloes, who were relegated after losing to the Stings in the promotion/relegation match last year, went through the entire tournament without a single loss, but coach Ciska Kirchoff was taking nothing for granted.  She says:  ‘We beat the Stars by just four goals in both matches, so anything can happen.  But we believe we belong in the first division, and we are going to do everything we can to get back there.’  The Mpumalanga Sunbirds – the most improved team in the NPL – will play the Aloes in the semi-finals next weekend, while the Stars will take on the Northern Cape Diamonds.

The Limpopo Baobabs, with just one win, finished at the bottom of the log, and will take no further part in the NPL this year.  But even the Baobabs showed an improvement from last year, and all teams in the competition got better as the tournament continued.  National coach Benny Saayman says:  ‘It’s a fantastic competition.  All players need exposure to a lot of netball, and this is netball of a high standard.  I’m impressed by the way the teams have improved, and it has also been very good for the coaches, who have learnt a good deal from every match they played.’

Photo credit: Christiaan Kotze/SASPA