Netball Superleague season: Serena Guthrie on players to watch & which teams could win

Serena Guthrie
Serena Guthrie returns to Team Bath having spent two seasons down under in New Zealand and Australia

England's Commonwealth gold medallist Serena Guthrie will make her return for Team Bath on Saturday in the netball Superleague after almost five years playing in Australia and New Zealand. The season gets under way with all 10 teams playing on one day in Birmingham as Guthrie's side face Celtic Dragons.

In her first BBC Sport column, 28-year-old Guthrie explains why she has returned to England and picks out what to watch from the new season.

When I announced I was coming home in August last year, I didn't realise the reaction would be like it was. I'd been living in my own bubble but I felt very privileged for English fans to be messaging me. It meant a lot and made me realise I'd made the right decision.

The black and white of it is that I wanted to come home. I've always been proud of English netball. I am an England netballer and as great as it is playing out in Australia and New Zealand, I want to have a good impact on my own league. And I'm fortunate enough that I can do that while at the top of my game.

I had a choice to stay out there or come back and challenge myself in a different way - and for me it was a no brainer. I want to help the league get better, not just come back when I'm grey and old. I want to show our league is something worth watching and investing in.

The league has come on leaps and bounds since I left. Players are getting contracts and we're getting TV airtime. For me, it's exciting to be back and part of it.

I have missed English netball, and I am proud of it.

Super Netball v Superleague

Helen Housby
Housby joined Super Netball side new South Wales Swift in 2017 from Manchester Thunder

There's been plenty said about the impact of English players playing in Super Netball after we won Commonwealth gold at the Games on the Gold Coast in April.

I moved to Kiwi side Northern Mystics in 2015 before playing for the Giants in Australia in 2017. Shooters Helen Housby, Jo Harten and Chelsea Pitman have also played in Australia for several seasons and now Natalie Haythornthwaite and Beth Cobden have moved down under for the 2019 season. It's great to have so many Roses representing overseas.

There's no getting away from the fact that playing in the types of games and pressured moments in Super Netball helps you - of course it does. But you also have to remember a lot of those Australian players who lost to England in the final had also been playing in that league. I believe every player on court that day had been given an equal opportunity in terms of leagues they were in, training and experiences.

We've got one of the best cultures we've ever had in England Netball and we've never had that before, and now the Superleague has improved. It's like we had a recipe and all the right ingredients at the same time - and no-one can ever take that away from us. I am incredibly proud of that. It wasn't a fluke or penalty-shot controversy that got us over the line - it was pure hard work, execution and togetherness in that journey.

We want the Superleague to be the best in the world, but the domestic league is not the sole reason the national teams are great.

It also helps we have a home Netball World Cup in Liverpool in July this year - it brings the sport into the spotlight. It was always going to be a big year for netball, even if we hadn't won the gold.

We are on a whole new level because of our success in 2018. The buzz has filtered through from the top level to all the Superleague clubs, the fan, the coaches and the young players who are going out there training harder than ever because they want to become an England player

The hype is great and it's a once-in-a-lifetime year. I didn't think we could top last year, but it is possible!

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Time to rewrite history at Bath

When I was last at Bath I was young and still learning a lot on and off the court. I've come back far more experienced.

There's been familiar faces to come back to and we've got a good mix of old and young.

I really want Team Bath to be in a final series again this season. We were a success a long time ago but that's history now. It's time to see if we can be successful again.

Serena Guthrie
Guthrie, 28, was part of the England team that won gold at the 2018 Commonwealth Games

The players and teams to watch

The team to watch out for this season are Wasps.

It sounds silly saying that when they've won the past two titles but we played them in pre-season and you can't get away from the fact they're a well-oiled machine. They look like champions in the way they play and how they go about their work.

But Strathclyde Sirens can do some damage with Cat Tuivaiti in attack and Loughborough Lightning are looking strong with no-nonsense Sara Bayman at the helm. They also have a bee in their bonnet because they have come so close the past couple of years and not won it.

Teams have strengths in so many different areas. Manchester Thunder have Liana Leota, who is still one of the best wing attacks in the game. She is incredibly smart, with quick hands and it's so hard to mark her. You have to be able to adjust your game week to week - you could be up against the calm head of Jade Clarke or the pace of Sasha Corbin.

London Pulse have got nothing to lose. They are young and if they don't go well this year, they will be a force to be reckoned with next year. They are also playing at the Copper Box, which is one of my favourite arenas.

We play our first game of the season against Celtic Dragons and you can't underestimate them. You can't relax against any team in this league - they are all pushing, they all want to ride the hype and get on that train.

Success gets you on that train and everyone wants a ticket!

Facing friends

Jade Clarke in action for Wasps
Jade Clarke (centre) won the Superleague with Wasps last season

Sara Bayman is the new Loughborough Lightning head coach and Jade Clarke, who plays in centre court for Wasps, are two of my best friends. But when it comes to playing against them, they are the toughest competitors.

Jade will not turn it down for anyone and there is certainly no love lost when you play her. I want her to give me a hard time on court - I would give her a hard time if she didn't. We give each other the best game we have got and then see who comes out on top to get the bragging rights at the end.

That's the beauty of being part of netball: everyone has their on-court persona and if you took everyone for that, no-one would be friends.

I also want the best for Sara all year apart from when they play us! She has potential to challenge for the championship and that's exciting for her.

I would like a Lightning v Team Bath final - let's see if anyone can topple Wasps in the semis!

Predictions

It's all about getting a good start, but my top four at the end of the regular season, in no particular order would be: Wasps, Loughborough, Bath and Thunder or Mavericks as I can't decide between those two, sorry!

Serena Guthrie was talking to BBC Sport's Denise Evans.

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