Netball 2016 Season Preview

By Hugh Maclean

Welcome to season 2016, a year which sees further growth in the burgeoning SFNL netball competition. The League, which had four divisions in 2014, grew to six divisions the following year. 2016 sees another two divisions created in the senior competition, as well as the establishment of a division of Under 19s for the first time.

Dingley enter 2016 in search of their fourth straight Division 1 premiership. Last season saw them invigorated by the entrance to the SFNL of their old rivals Keysborough. The Borough added to the competition from day one, and shocked the reigning premiers by taking first spot in the Grand Final. The Dingley girls, as if stung into greater deeds by the disturbance of the accepted order, eliminated the threat of Heatherton with some alacrity in the Preliminary Final, before proving an unstoppable force on the biggest stage the following week. Their 46 goal to 38 victory capped a year in which they only lost one match in the regular season, and remained the yardstick by which all Division 1 sides were measured.

The main danger to Dingley in 2016 comes not from within. Be in no doubt that these girls are as hungry for success as they ever have been, and almost as soon as Alicia Wise hoisted the trophy on Grand Final day, preparations began for the assault on title number four. However, as the competition has grown, so has the threat from the chasing pack.

Keysborough and Heatherton, as second and third last year, again loom as the major threats, knowing that they are within striking distance yet still need to develop their game further to bridge the gap. Both clubs have enhanced their depth, Heatherton adding three teams to be a part of all eight divisions. Keysborough build upon solid seasons in the lower grades and field three teams in the top four competitions.

Heatherton will be motivated by missing out on their almost-expected spot in the Division 1 Grand Final, and their one-point reverse in the Division 2 decider. This club is a very proud bunch, and will not take the disappointment lying down. Likewise, Keysborough will have spent a long, hot summer wondering what might have been. Injuries to key players cut deep at a time when they were least welcome, and they will feel that their best will be good enough to gain redemption in 2016.

Season 2016 brings another challenger to the top table. Bentleigh have finished the regular season in third place in each of the last three seasons without being able to make an impression on the premiers when finals have come around. As with last season, they field teams in the top two divisions, and none but the most foolhardy would see them sliding down the ladder this year. The question is whether they’re ready to take the further step. This year they look better equipped to do that than in previous years. Has the rest of the competition improved at the same rate? We shall soon know.

St Kilda City have been steadily building towards providing a sustained challenge. While their Division 1 side last year had a difficult time, only winning two matches, their Division 2 side showed a welcome knack of performing in the big games. They won a close match against Dingley in Round 15 to take the double chance, and reversed a close Semi Final defeat by triumphing over Heatherton to the tune of 30-29 in the Grand Final. They will look to make themselves more difficult to score against this season as they develop throughout their club.

The unknown in Division 1 this year is Caulfield. They improved steadily in Division 3 throughout 2015, before cutting a swathe through the finals series, culminating in a 54-37 victory over Dingley on the game’s biggest day. Now they are given a berth in division one, having also added teams in Divisions 3, 4 and 6. Caulfield are renowned as a club that is not afraid to bite the bullet. Their football club sought and accepted a position in Division 2 three years ago, well before outsiders thought they were ready. By all accounts they have recruited well, and it is their stated aim to develop to the point where they have as many registered netballers as footballers. Who is to say that they won’t be competitive at the top level of SFNL netball? Certainly not I...

Division 2 looks every bit as competitive as the top division. Last year’s finalists St Kilda City, Heatherton, Dingley and Mordialloc look as strong as they have traditionally been. They are joined by St Pauls, who played Division 1 last year, Bentleigh, Chelsea Heights, and Carrum Patterson Lakes from last year’s Division 3. This looms as a competition in which any team can beat any other team on any given day, and it would take a brave tipster to pick a final four.

Further down the divisions, the SFNL are delighted to welcome teams from East Brighton, Oakleigh Districts and Lyndhurst for the coming season. Many of our clubs are also to be congratulated on developing additional teams, hence contributing to the growth of the competition as a whole. As the competition begins with a three match grading phase, it is difficult to assess how the lower divisions could pan out.

As earlier mentioned, the Under 19 competition has been established for the first time. Mordialloc and Dingley have nominated two sides each for this division. This is the future of our competition, and we look forward to the Under 19s developing in the coming years.

The action begins at the Dingley Netball Centre this coming Saturday afternoon, with the centre pass in the first game taking place at midday. All at the SFNL wish every player the best of fortunes for the coming season. It could well be one of the most competitive seasons in our league’s history, and I look forward to watching it all unfold.

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