Pre-season battle of the champions

A heavyweight battle looms large for Sunshine Coast Lightning as it gets set to travel abroad for the first time next year to face the might of ANZ Premiership champion, Southern Steel in two exhibition matches.

In a showdown highly-anticipated by netball fans, Steel, winner of New Zealand’s 2017 ANZ Premiership, will host the Suncorp Super Netball winning club as both teams prepare for their respective national league seasons.

The first game will be played in Dunedin on Thursday 15 March followed by a re-match in Invercargill the following day.

Lightning Coach, Noeline Taurua said she was delighted to be returning to her former club which she coached to the Minor Premiership in 2016.

“It is a tremendous opportunity for Lightning to play netball in another country and in a part of the world dear to me,” she said.

“Both clubs will trial new players in new positions so we will need to prepare accordingly. Steel was the benchmark this season in New Zealand so what better way to test ourselves than two fixtures in two days away from home.

“Lightning and Steel will gain plenty from the experience and it’s wonderful to see the relationship between these two regional sides blossoming.

“The South Island is passionate about Steel and there’s a real community just like here at Lightning so I’m sure the fans will be out in full force for the clashes.”

Former Steel defender, Erena Mikaere echoed her Coach’s views.

“Playing at Steel was a great time for me personally and I’m looking forward to returning to New Zealand and catching up with my friends and former teammates,” Mikaere said.

“We are always trying to improve as a team so this is a great chance to play an international rival and fine-tune our pre-season training.

“I expect both matches to be high quality, up-tempo contests.”

Steel Coach, Reinga Bloxham said the Lightning encounters would form a vital part of the team’s preparation for its ANZ Premiership title defence.

“It’s massive for us. It’s going to provide us with some vital high intensity international game play with a quality side,” she said.

“We’ll both have our full quota of respective Silver Ferns and Australian Diamonds players so it will be fantastic for our community to see some really high-performing netball and superstars of the sport in action on our home turf.”

Earlier this year, Steel travelled to the Sunshine Coast for two pre-season practice matches, igniting a sister-club relationship between the two franchises.

“When we first met in February, it was all a bit of an unknown as we both prepared for completely new competitions here and in Australia. But it couldn’t have worked out better for both of us as now it’s the two champion teams set to battle it out so it will be exciting to see what emerges.” Bloxham said.

Original story via sunshinecoastlightning.com.au