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Don’t forget the Vixens, say Sydney Super Netball rivals

Leaders: Kate Maloney of the Melbourne Vixens and Madi Robinson of the Collingwood Magpies will do battle for the first time this weekend. Photo: James BrickwoodAmid the clamour to hail Collingwood as the Super Netball standout before Saturday’s historic three-state series of opening-round derbies, the Melbourne Vixens have received some unexpected support from north of the border, via rival Sydney captains Kim Green and Abbey McCulloch.

McCulloch, who replaced Giants-bound Green as the Swifts’ leader for 2017, said she expected a compelling Hisense Arena contest between the emerging Vixens and all-star Magpies. Despite its relative inexperience, and the loss of captain Madi Robinson in particular, there is no doubting the quality of the Vixens’ young list, seven of whom are aged 23 or younger.

The question is: are they ready? Noting that the majority have spent several seasons together, McCulloch believes they are. “I think they’re going to be a little bit of a dark horse,” she said of a line-up bolstered by goal attack Tegan Philip’s return from a knee reconstruction and the recruitment of shooter Mwai Kumwenda and midcourter Khao Watts.

Green, too, nominated the established Melbourne team as – along with her depleted former club – a group that have been underrated. “Vixens and Swifts, I think, are going to be the dark horses, without a doubt. I think a lot of people are pushing them to the side, but they’re definitely ones to look out for.”

In an unofficial Fairfax Media captains’ poll, there was also broad support for the GWS Giants, in particular, and Storm-backed Sunshine Coast Lightning as potential challengers to the Magpies. The Queensland Firebirds have lost key defenders Laura Geitz and Clare McMeniman, and most recently starting centre Mahalia Cassidy to injury, but are a threat for as long as Romelda Aiken remains the focus in attack.

Aiken was a popular pick to be leading goal-scorer in the 14-week-plus-finals competition, although club allegiances played a part in nominations that included Kumwenda, Magpie Caitlin Thwaites and the Lightning’s Caitlin Bassett. Ditto for the league’s inaugural MVP, other than multiple bipartisan mentions for Collingwood defender Sharni Layton.

More broadly, West Coast captain Nat Medhurst played in both the previous national league and the trans-Tasman ANZ Championship that ended after 11 years, and believes the state rivalries will be an important drawcard as Super Netball seeks to build its audience and compete with the AFLW.

“I think the spread of talent is a lot greater, the depth, the competitiveness of all the teams across the board will be far greater than what people think, which is exciting,” said the veteran shooter. “There’s so many people out there who say they love the sport, but we need them to actually start going to games for our sport to continue to grow, and to watch it on TV, so those rivalry rounds will certainly have a bit of bite.”

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