Cape Town - The Gauteng Jaguars are proving to be an unstoppable force in the Telkom Netball League championship, and look set to wrap up a fifth title when competition resumes tomorrow at the Sun City Superbowl.
The Jaguars signed off at the end of the first leg of the Division A competition with a 100% record after winning all six matches by runaway margins in Tshwane last month.
Nearest rivals, the Stings from the Western Cape, are second on the standings after suffering one defeat in their opening six matches.
All the players and team management checked in at the Royal Bafokeng Sports Palace last weekend and were subjected to a final round of Covid-19 testing.
Everyone, including match officials, have since moved on to the tournament bio-bubble at Sun City.
At one stage it seemed that the members of the Proteas team would be winging their way to Sun City after the Margaret Beckford Sunshine Series against Jamaica and Trinidad & Tobago was called off because of Covid-19 restrictions in the Caribbean countries.
However, Netball South Africa have since managed to set up a tour to Great Britain, and the team will fly out to Ireland tomorrow.
“It was disappointing for us that we could not send the Proteas to Jamaica,” said NSA president Cecilia Molokwane.
“The players who are selected for the national team have put in all the hard work ahead of the Jamaica series.
However, saving lives has always and will always be our number one priority.
“We, therefore, needed to make the best decision for the team, players and country as well.
“At the same time, we could not allow their hard work and preparation to go to waste. It was therefore important that we enter into negotiations with other countries immediately to make sure that we give the team muchneeded game time.”
Proteas coach Dorette Badenhorst has stressed the importance of getting game time for the team as part of preparing for the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham in July.
The team will play their opening tour match against Ireland, and later will move on to Northern Ireland. Later in the month, they take on Wales and Scotland before they return home at the end of October.
Without the national team players, the Telkom League teams all have key players who could be relied on to impose themselves on matches.
The Jaguars have Marlize de Bruin, who is usually supremely fit and never seems to tire.
“From personal experience, it feels the fitter I am, the better I play,” said De Bruin.
“You can focus on the game and not worry about how much time is left, or small things like breathing correctly.”
The Jaguars also have a kingpin in Danielle van Zyl, their captain.
“It had been pretty amazing to keep on winning,” said De Bruin. “Each year, there were those who had predicted we were going to lose. But we didn’t. What helped is that the Jaguars have a winning culture.
“It did not matter what happened at any time on the court. We believed that we would win in the end – even if it was in the dying seconds.
“This week, the focus will be to get our structures in place when we play. If we can gel as a team, things are going to get interesting.”
Other players like defender Tumelo Nkoe (Mpumalanga Sunbirds), goal shooter Muhluri Hlatshwayo (Limpopo Baobabs), the versatile Michelle Geduld (NW Flames), shooter Owethu Ngubane, centre Tarle Mathe (both Kingdom Stars) and goal defence Eureka Mentoor (Northern Cape Diamonds) are capable of making an impact.
Nnusi Gazi, the NSA communications manager, said the Jaguars have been formidable, but the Stings have shown promising form.
“There is an interesting mix of teams to look out for in this leg at Sun City,” said Gazi.
“The Jaguars, the defending champs for Division A, have made their intentions clear to defend the title successfully. They have gone six games without a loss in the first leg.
“The Jaguars are the most successful team in the history of the Telkom League to date. They have won this league four times in eight tournaments.
“The Stings from the Western Cape have been to two finals, but are yet to win it.
“They have become strong contenders this season, and are currently in second position on the log. The Crinums from Free State are the second most successful team in the league as they have won the title three times. They must not be written off. They are lying third on the log and can cause an upset.
“In Division B, there are three teams that can challenge for the title. The Tornados, who finished second last season in this division, are strong contenders to win it this season.
“Last year winners, EC Aloes, are also in the running to defend their B Section title even though they are sitting second on the log.
“Last year’s bottom-of-the-log team, Baobabs, have been a surprise package. They are currently third on the log. They have shown huge improvement this season.”
The top four teams play semi-final matches (first versus fourth and second versus third) next Saturday, with the winners facing off the next day.
The winner of Division B will play a play-off match against the team that finishes last in Division A. Should the team from Division B win, they will be promoted to Division A at the expense of the Division A team.