Netball is coming home - Why you should be excited ahead of 2019
Coverage of the 2019 Vitality Superleague begins on Saturday January 5 with all five games from Super 10 live on Sky Sports Mix from 10:45am
By Lucy Marley, Emma Thurston and Paul Prenderville
Last Updated: 04/01/19 5:30pm
After an unforgettable 2018, netball now has the chance to seize the day further in 2019 as the eyes of the world fix on England.
There has never been a more exciting time to not only be a netball player, but also a Superleague spectator and an international follower.
With great opportunity comes great pressure, but netball has never had a better chance to maximise its potential for growth.
"Off the back of the Commonwealth Games the surge in popularity in terms of media attention has been huge," former England international and new Loughborough Lightning director of netball Sara Bayman told Sky Sports.
"The Nike deal was massive for England, I just think if netball can get some big sponsors in, get some money invested into it and really get Superleague buzzing then I think it's got the product - and it's always had the product.
"It's now just getting the platform where people can see it and that's what the success of the England team is allowing, and hopefully will continue to allow.
"A home World Cup is massive, the eyes of the world will be on Liverpool in terms of netball and I think for us to put on a good spectacle and a good World Cup will be huge and another massive showcase of what the sport has to offer - from a sporting perspective and from a commercial perspective. Then it just snowballs."
England's victory at the Commonwealth Games last summer has heightened expectations for 2019, when the eyes of the netball world focus on the World Cup, which is being hosted by England.
Domestically the Vitality Superleague is entering its third year as a 10-team competition - Wasps are chasing an unprecedented third successive title and a new team are joining the party. Former players, current players and directors of netball are already earmarking it as one of the most competitive seasons yet.
Sky Live: Netball Super 10
Super 10 is back to kick-off the most exciting year in netball to date...it's time for a new Vitality Netball Superleague season.
London Pulse have been confirmed as the newest additions, headlining their squad with Ama Agbeze. The England captain, who is returning home after a spell in the Southern Hemisphere, is relishing being back and is well aware of the enormity of the year ahead.
"It's really exciting. I'm so glad that I made the decision to come home. Netball is exciting and it's going places. It's just nice to feel that buzz and feel the energy." Agbeze told Sky Sports.
As well as the Roses' captain, arguably the world's best netballer, Serena Guthrie, will be plying her trade in Superleague.
Guthrie's return to Team Bath was much trumpeted last year and, after almost a decade playing in the Southern Hemisphere, the mid-court superstar feels it's time to give something back.
"It's been on my radar for a little while - I always wanted to come back and play my netball in the UK again," she told Sky Sports shortly after her return was confirmed.
"I am older, a more senior player and it's quite important to me to add value to the league where I started. It's a World Cup year and that will be a pretty cool thing to be a part of that on home soil - at the Commonwealths it was great to get a gold medal but we didn't get any of that buzz on the ground."
"We saw it all on social media and that made me realise for the first time the support that netball has back home and the lift that the gold medal has given the game."
It is not unusual to see England's international talent spending seasons abroad. The tactics, set-plays and general experiences they are exposed to fundamentally helps with creativity on the international stage and Australia and New Zealand are home to the best of the best.
Geva Mentor CBE 🎖— England Netball 🌹🏅 (@EnglandNetball) December 29, 2018
Huge congratulations to our incredible Vitality Rose on being awarded a CBE for services to netball in the New Year Honours! 👏
📸: @GevaMentor after winning gold at the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games pic.twitter.com/nUNqMRGyQY
Geva Mentor was awarded a CBE in the New Year Honours list. The defender has, amongst a number of achievements, the award of the World's Best Netball Player in 2014 to her name.
Mentor's contribution to netball, at international and domestic levels, and in both hemispheres, is second to none. As one of the most decorated netballers worldwide, her success has only increased the publicity around British netball and inspired young girls and women.
Others are now following too. Guthrie's ability made huge waves during her time over the other side of the world. Helen Housby is making a massive impact at the New South Wales Swifts, and there is little doubt such experience contributed to her unforgettable winning goal at the Commonwealths.
She will be joined at Swifts by Nat Haythornthwaite while Beth Cobden and Layla Guscoth will line up in Australia too. Fellow Roses star Jo Harten joins Mentor and Housby in embarking on another season in the Southern Hemisphere too.
Mavericks partner with Saracens
Mavericks and Saracens Rugby Club have formed a mutually beneficial partnership
The UK still has plenty to do but investment is coming, with tie-ups and buy-ins from rugby league and rugby union teams underlining the progress.
"Mavericks linking up with Saracens is another step in the right direction, it happened with Wasps, it has happened with Rhinos, there is commercial value in what they can really achieve," former England player Tamsin Greenway told Sky Sports.
"The financial backing, the name, it all helps the sport in pushing it forward. Sirens have done it well commercially, and Pulse and the Copper Box have really got a chance.
"It's good to see some of the traditional and established franchises going that way too. It sends a message to some of the teams that have been backed by counties or universities that there is a way to move forward and change the game."
It is thrilling to see the return of Agbeze and Guthrie and in a World Cup year, with all eyes focused on this weekend's start of the Superleague, their arrival could not be better timed. The creativity and dedication of these international players will be an added delight in the coming months as the domestic season plays out to bigger crowds in bigger arenas than ever before.
Sky Sports' Greenway often talks about the sporting narrative, the head-to-head, the heroes and villains. The next step for netball is more headlines around exciting games, more press coverage of world-class athletes and more noise surrounding the Superleague leading into a World Cup crescendo in Liverpool.
The Roses followed up their gold medal by winning the Team of the Year award at the Sportswomen of the Year Awards and then the same gong at Sports Personality of the Year as well as the Moment of the Year award, beating off competition from the England men's football team, Tyson Fury and Tiger Woods. That is the true measure of what Tracey Neville's team achieved on the Gold Coast.
Now, it's time for netball to seize the day and to capitalise on this time in the spotlight. For the former England captain Pamela Cookey, the path to doing that starts right now:
"I think the Roses need to put out a solid performance in January to keep that momentum going. The girls did so, so well in 2018 and you can just feel the momentum building," said Cookey to Sky Sports.
"There's so much support around it, so many people are supporting and want to continue to support so I think definitely a good performance in January for the England squad will really boost that.
Pamela Cookey's five to follow
Pamela Cookey selects five players to follow this Vitality Netball Superleague season including "game changer" Serena Guthrie
"The same for the Superleague because, in effect, it goes hand in hand. We've had so many imports who've come in his year from around the world who will also be playing in the World Cup for their respective teams. So, it's a chance for them to shine in this build-up ready for the World Cup.
"I think if we can make it a good show, so that every event is something that makes them [fans] say, 'wow I want to come back again', whether you're watching it on TV or whether you're live there at the event, you want people to come away thinking, 'that was amazing, how awesome are these athletes? That game was exciting I want to see the next game '.
"And, if we can keep doing that week in, week out with the Superleague and then with the Test series in January, people will be hooked."
A huge 2019 for netball on Sky Sports gets underway on Saturday with all 10 teams in action, coverage on Sky Sports Mix, Arena and Main Event begins at 10.45am