The defending champions, the Free State Crinums, notched up their first victory of the Brutal Fruit Netball Premier League (NPL) with a comprehensive 47-39 victory over the Golden Fireballs at the Heartfelt Arena on Friday night.

The two teams traded goal for goal for the first 10 minutes before the Fireballs moved into the lead, finishing the first quarter 12-8 ahead.  But Crinums coach Burta de Kock changed her goal shooter, bringing on Gertriana Retief, who played  a blinder.  Playing in her first NPL match, Retief ended up being named Player of the Match.  Whereas the Fireballs goalshooter Deanke Rhode appeared to have lost her nerve, missing goals she would normally get in, Retief remained calm and the Crinums first drew level and then passed the Gauteng team.  By halftime, the Crinums had a lead of 25 goals to 21.  In the third quarter, they outscored the Fireballs by 12 goals to six and stretched their lead to the crucial 10 goal margin, leading 37-27.

The Fireballs made something of a recovery in the final quarter, winning it by 12 goals to 10, but it was too little, too late.

De Kock said getting the win was a monkey off the team’s back.

“I am very pleased with them,” she said.

“There were more good moments than bad.  This isn’t the same team that won the title last year.  We have a lot of youngsters, but we have excellent leadership from Maryke Holtzhausen and Lauren-Lee Christians, and what really pleased me was they stuck to the game plan throughout.  There are still thing we can work on, but they did well tonight.”

Fireballs coach Elsje Jordaan said it had been torture watching her team.

“They just couldn’t get their rhythm, and they made too many mistakes, but that’s how you learn and grow,” she said.

“We are rebuilding the team and it’s going to be a hard year.  But all credit to the Crinums, who played very well.”

Last year’s finalists, the Jaguars, stamped their authority in their match against the Eastern Cape Aloes, beating them by 61 goals to 33.  The Aloes struggled to get going, and five minutes had passed before they scored their first goal.  By the end of the first quarter, the Aloes were 16-7 ahead, but they came back strongly in the second quarter, where each team scored 14 goals.  It was a fast-paced match, and the Eastern Cape team fought valiantly throughout.

“We can take a lot out of this match,” said Aloes coach Desiree Neville.

“We drew the second quarter, and I have told them that if they can draw one quarter, they can draw all four.

“I was able to put all 12 members of the squad under pressure.  There is no point in waiting to play the weaker teams to play everyone – they all learnt a lot from playing one of the top teams.”

Jaguars coach Jenny de Klerk said she was never totally happy with her team’s performance, because she always felt they could do better.

“They aren’t playing the way I want them to play yet, but I am very pleased with the way some of the younger players performed.  Ina-Marie Venter, who has tended to be overshadowed by Lindie Lombard, had a good game as goalshooter,” she said.

“I knew the Aloes would give us a good game, even though they are one of the weaker teams.  They never give up, and they play a fast, physical game.  WE can never take any of  the teams for granted,” said De Klerk.

The first match on Saturday is between the Mpumalanga Sunbirds and the Kingdom Stars.  Play starts at 2pm.