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South primed for title defence

The build-up has been “frantic” but new Netball South coach Georgie Salter and her charges are eager to hear the first whistles of the 2017 Beko Netball League.

The defending champions head to Christchurch this weekend for the opening round where they take on Netball Mainland on Saturday while the league’s new side, the High Wire Trust Northern Comets, host Netball Central in Auckland.

An experienced Netball campaigner, Salter – who is a former Silver Fern, coached the NZU21 team and the Otago Rebels – is excited about the challenges ahead for her side and believes this year’s Beko Netball League will be yet another step up from the inaugural season.

“I think the physicality at the next level down from our elite players was always a bit needy but the fitness and athleticism being seen now is certainly seeing that gap being closed thanks to the Beko Netball League,” Salter said.

South are not shying away from the ‘defending champion’ tag but Salter said there would be no easy games in the six-strong league.

“We’ve played Mainland twice in pre-season and both times with about 30 seconds to go there was only one goal in it,” she said. “We know we’ve got a battle on our hands every time we step out there.”

Central poses as a major contender with new coach Natalie Milicich fielding the core of the side which finished runner-up last year and includes four members of the NZU21 squad.

The Comets are new to the Beko Netball League and have been introduced to align with ANZ Premiership side, the Northern Stars. They will be coached by Vicki Morgan and include two training partners for the Stars including defender Kate Burley and mid-courter Christina Oscar.

The newly named Northern Marvels (linked with the SKYCITY Mystics and formerly known as Netball Northern) are coached by Paula Smith who has had plenty of success guiding Mount Albert Grammar School at secondary school level.

The Marvels boast a strong defensive line including former Central Pulse player Jess Bourke and Mystics training partner Tauhi Lopeti, while Rebecca Greenhalgh steps up to head coach of Netball WBOP taking the reins from Margaret Forsyth.

The league culminates in a grand final in Auckland on June 18.