Netball Premier League Finals Weekend

It is play-offs time in the Brutal Fruit Netball Premier League (NPL) this weekend, with teams vying for bragging rights after four weeks of intense competition.  The Gauteng Jaguars and the Free State Crinums finished first and second on the first division log, but still have a few hurdles to clear before either can attempt to lay claim the title.  The Jaguars will play the Southern Stings in the semi-finals, and the Crinums will take on the North West Flames, who finished third on the log.

The Jaguars and the Crinums both know their path to the final cannot be taken for granted.  The Stings, who were promoted to the first division last year, beat the Jaguars 47-45 in their first round match.  Both teams were without a number of their star players at the time, with the Proteas taking part in the European netball championships that weekend.

The Jaguars were without five stars, and the Stings had three players missing.  The Stings though know what they are up against.  Team manager Shela Lekalakala says:  ‘The girls have proven why they are in the first division.  Now we have to prove that we are here to stay and we can do that by winning the title.  We will go in there and fight for the title, it is within our reach.’

The Jaguars won the second round match 45-33, but the Stings made the Jaguars work hard for their victory.   Key players for the Jaguars are likely to be shooters Lenize Potgieter and Melissa Myburgh, and captain and centre Erin Burger.  The shooters will be up against fellow Proteas Phumza Maweni and Rochelle Lawson.

Jaguars coach Jenny Van Dyk has made great strides with her team, while Stings coach Marlene Wagner is one of the most experienced coaches in the NLP.  The Jaguars are expected to go through to the final, but Van Dyk will ensure there is no complacency.  She says:  ‘The two wins were a motivation to the girls.  We will go in there and do our best because we want to be in the finals and win the finals.  We want to fix our mistakes from last year so that we come out victorious.  We want the title.’

The  Crinums will also take nothing for granted in their play-off against the Flames.  Coach Burta De Kock says:  ‘We only beat them by four goals in both our matches, so we can’t just assume we will bet them.  We have to make sure that we get off to a very good start – in our first match against them we started off slowly, and that could have meant trouble for us.  Their coach used to play for Free State, so she knows how we play.  We will have to be calm and disciplined throughout.’  The Flames’ coach Dorette Badenhorst said the Flames had made too many unforced errors against the Crinums, but she was confident that her team could eliminate the mistakes:  ‘Crinums are very strong.  We are very alert about that.  What we must do now is to work even harder in order to match their standard.  I trust my girls to give them a very tough time.  We have come this far and we cannot afford not to fight even harder so we are going all out this weekend.’

Proteas captain Maryka Holtzhausen, who is also Crinums captain and goal attack, will play a pivotal role in the match, but the Flames have one of the NPL’s most exciting up-and-coming stars in goalshooter Sigi Burger.  Crinums’ goal defence Karla Mostert has been one of the most effective defenders in the tournament, while Flames’ defender Kifiloe Tsotetsi was named player of the match more than once.   A Jaguars/Crinums final would be a replay of the 2014 final, which went into extra time before the Crinums won after the Jaguars made a tactical error.

The Jaguars are unlikely to make the same mistake again, but they will also be aware that while they beat the Crinums in both league matches, that means nothing when it comes to a final.  In division 2, the Eastern Aloes are expected to win their play-off match against the Mpumalanga Sunbirds to qualify for the second division final, while the Kingdom Stars should have a slightly trickier match against the Northern Cape Diamonds in the other semi-final.  While Stars are odds on favourites, the Diamonds won both their games last week and will be confident of another good performance.

The winner of the second division final will play the Golden Fireballs in a promotion/relegation match on Sunday.  The Eastern Aloes won all their league matches and are determined to regain their place in the first division, where they believe they belong.  The Golden Fireballs, who lost all their matches, will have an uphill battle to retain their first division spot.

The Aloes coach Ciska Kirchoff is one adamant coach and given her teams’ performance, no one can really blame her for being.  Kirchoff says:  ‘We have already beaten all the teams and my girls are playing good netball so we are definitely going for the title.  My defence has been very solid from day one and I think that is our strength.  We want the title and we want to be promoted back to the first division, that is the main goal and will be fighting all the way.’

Photo by: Catherine Kotze/SASPA