Ellis: Lightning and Magpies look the teams to beat
LIGHTNING wasn't supposed to strike twice in the same place.
Australian netball great Liz Ellis isn't discounting it happening for a third time.
The Sunshine Coast Lightning remains the only team to have won a Super Netball title, securing two from two campaigns.
The possibility of making it three from three looked remote when their two superstar bookends, goal shooter Caitlin Bassett (Giants) and goal keeper Geva Mentor (Magpies), departed following the grand final win over the West Coast Fever.
But Ellis is confident coach Noeline Taurua will be able to cover those two "huge losses".
"I really like the Lightning's chances," said Ellis (pictured), now a pillar of the Channel 9 broadcast team.
"When they lost Caitlin and Geva, I thought, 'Wow, they are really going to struggle to replace those two.'
"But then Noeline comes up with Peace Proscovia and Phumza Maweni."
A replacement for Bassett, Proscovia first turned heads in Australia when representing Uganda at the 2018 Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast. Previously she captained her country to the African championship in 2017.
The 193cm goal shooter, 27, has led the goalscoring in each of the past two seasons in England's own Superleague, playing for, coincidentally, the Loughborough Lightning.
A teammate at the UK Lightning, Maweni will help fill the void left by Mentor.
The 34-year-old Maweni is a South African representative, having formed a dynamic combination with fellow Protea and Sunshine Coast import Karla Pretorius.
"I'm excited about watching their defence," Ellis said.
"There's lots of talk about Shamera Sterling from the (Adelaide) Thunderbirds as a goal keep. I think she's going to be really exciting.
"But it has allowed Phumza to fly under the radar a little bit.
"The combination of her and Karla Pretorius, I really have enjoyed watching that develop at international level over the last few years.
"For those two to play under Noeline, I think we'll see some great performances from them."
All 8 Suncorp Super Netball captains spoke to us ahead of the 2019 season at the season launch in Melbourne.— Suncorp Super Netball (@SuperNetball) 26 April 2019
-@sc_lightning @FirebirdsQld @WestCoastFever @MelbourneVixens @magpies_netball @GIANTS_Netball @AdelaideTBirds @NSWSwifts pic.twitter.com/eLoOFfndmV
The Lightning also enjoys the benefit of welcoming back 2017 premiership-winner Laura Langman following her year back home in New Zealand. She takes over the captaincy from Mentor.
Ellis says the 32-year-old Kiwi "knows the club inside and out (and) is a superstar who has plenty to prove".
Down the road, the Queensland Firebirds have lost champion defender Laura Geitz for the last time. Retired, she has joined Ellis on the Channel 9 commentary team.
They are big shoes to fill, with Kim Jenner the heir apparent. "I love watching Kim ... I'm looking forward to seeing what she and Tara Hinchliffe can do in that defensive line," Ellis said. "They've got great potential."
Ellis, who represented the NSW Swifts for 10 seasons and made 122 appearances for Australia, does not understate the importance of a rock-solid defence.
"Every team has a world-class shooter, so you've got to have a great defence," she said.
Of course, one of them is Firebird veteran Romelda Aiken - when she began playing for Jamaica in the mid-2000s, she was confronted by Ellis.
"I love the way her game has changed," Ellis said of the goal-shooting record-holder of the now defunct ANZ Championship.
"When I first played against her, she was a tall, skinny goal shooter who you could push around a little bit ... great in the air. Now she's far stronger through her body, she's not just one-dimensional.
"She's got this great combination with Gretel Tippett - they are incredibly dangerous together."
Aiken lost her goalscoring crown last season, when fellow Jamaican Jhaniele Fowler downed 783 to lead her team into the championship-decider against the Lightning.
"I look at her and I'm grateful I'm retired," Ellis said, before adding that certain rivals had the capability to curb Fowler's influence.
"She will be put under all sort of pressure this year."
While Ellis expects the Lighting to again vie for the title, she says it could ultimately be English international Mentor who experiences three successive premierships.
Having led the competition for defensive rebounds (67) and deflections (192) in 2018, she replaces Sharni Layton at the Magpies.
"Every year I tip the Magpies and every year they disappoint me," Ellis said.
"But you can't look past Geva Mentor and what she will bring to that team."