Netball: Defending champions Dolphins eager to continue unbeaten streak in 2023 league

Jamie Lim (second from right) challenging Lee Pei Shan (far right) during the Blaze Dolphins' training session. ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR

SINGAPORE – When the top-tier Netball Super League (NSL) returned in 2022 after a two-year hiatus, the Blaze Dolphins shook off their ring rust and defied expectations to finish as unbeaten champions.

While all eyes are on them ahead of the Deloitte NSL 2023, Dolphins coach Wang Jing Qing said there is no pressure for the new season, noting that the team will be without veteran shooter Chen Huifen – who gave birth to her third child in December – and captain Tan Ci Hui, who opted out to allow younger players to step up.

She said: “It’s a new year and there are changes to all the teams, so we’ll just take it game by game. We have some younger ones with potential, but they are still quite raw, so hopefully they will step up this season.

“We just have to stick to our game plan, get our basics right and be consistent.”

The Dolphins, along with Llabten Narwhals, have the highest number of Under-21 players (five) out of the six local teams. But they also have five national players, the most in the league, tied with Sneakers Stingrays, their opponents in the season opener at Our Tampines Hub on Saturday.

Dolphins captain Tan Shi Ni, who hopes to retain their title, is excited for the season as “every year brings a new set of challenges”, but she hopes the team will work well together and be adaptable.

She said: “We also put pressure on ourselves because we want to play to our best as well as be satisfied with our own play and the outcome. No matter what happens, we want to be happy.”

Stingrays player Angelina Lim, 23, is keen to start the season on a winning note, after losing to the Dolphins thrice in 2022, including in the final.

She said: “Sometimes, we think too much and overcomplicate things but, this year, we’re going to take things simple and do things we’re confident in.”

Other teams who are looking to give last season’s top two a run for their money include Fier Orcas, with coach Kok Mun Wai hoping to improve on her side’s third-placed finish.

Narwhals co-captain Kwok Shuyi, 32, is also eager to put on a good show on her team’s return to the top-tier league. Each year, the bottom NSL side play a challenger – the team who did not qualify for the top tier that year – and they beat Magic Marlins over two play-off games in October to seal their return.

She said: “We’ve been training for this for two years, so we were able to build chemistry and work on some set-ups we might not have the luxury to do previously. That’s really key to our preparation.

“We’re excited about the competition because there are some really great teams out there and we’ll be able to grow our club with the experience.”

Llabten Narwhals preparing for the Deloitte Netball Super League 2023. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

Players will also compete against the Brunei and Thailand national sides in the NSL for the first time when the teams join the league in the second round.

While Tan, who will be competing in her 12th NSL, welcomed the news, she also highlighted that the packed schedule in the second round might be challenging for players.

With the addition of the two teams, weekday matches have been introduced and teams can play as many as four matches in six days.

Tan, 27, said: “We really have to rest and recover well physically and mentally. If you don’t perform well in one game, it can’t be carried over to the next game.

“Hopefully, this season helps to build everyone’s mental stamina as well.”

Narwhals coach Dewi Zainal acknowledged the importance of recovering well during the hectic period, but added: “I’m comfortable with having all my players take the court. I just have to do my part and strategise which players to use for each game.”

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