Netball: Super League champions Blaze Dolphins gunning to retain title as U-21 player rule adds spice

Blaze Dolphins’ Lee Pei Shan taking a shot against Sneakers Stingrays in last year's preliminary final. The Dolphins won 47-41 and went on to beat defending champions Mission Mannas 46-41 in the final on May 12, 2018. PHOTO: NETBALL SINGAPORE

SINGAPORE - Netball Super League (NSL) defending champions Blaze Dolphins are aiming to be the first team since the Magic Marlins to successfully defend their domestic title.

But the team - who count former Singapore internationals such as Micky Lin, Premila Hirubalan and Chen Huifen among their ranks - are taking nothing for granted, as they start their 2019 campaign against the Sneakers Stingrays on Saturday (Feb 16).

The 2015 SEA Games gold medallist Lin said: "Every year, everything changes so I really don't know.

"The team always changes so much and with the inclusion of the Under-21 players, it may shift things a little too.

The former national captain was referring to the rule change this season, which requires the six teams - the other three are the Mission Mannas, Swifts Barracudas and Llabten Narwhals - to field at least two U-21 players in each match, each for at least half the game.

Lin said: "We're playing to win but it really depends. It goes back to our training sessions the past few months.

"We're trying different combinations on court to see which works against different teams and a lot of it involves our U-21 players as well."

Stingrays coach Goh Seck Tuck is looking forward to Saturday's match, and said: "Whether we win or not, it will be interesting. I'm all prepared for it as a coach and we never go into a game thinking we're going to lose.

"But it will really depend on the players' performance on court, who's more geared up, who's stronger and who's hungrier.

"It will be a real test and we are looking forward to that test," he said, adding that he will also have to strategise when to play the four U-21 players in his team.

Said Stingrays and national player Toh Kai Wei: "Leading up to the competition, the team has been focusing on strengthening connections and understanding on court.

"We've also put in extra time for fitness to ensure our bodies will be in an ideal state this weekend.

"I feel nervous but I hope the adrenaline rush will help me perform my best."

But for new side Narwhals, who play the Mannas on Saturday, coach Huang Po Chin is focusing on her team's improvement.

"As it's the first time we're competing as a team, we're looking at how the individuals come together and progress from there."

"Our approach is to be consistent regardless of who we're facing. If we can achieve our goal too, that will be great," said Huang, who hopes her team will make the semi-finals.

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