After three straight seasons beginning with Souths Lions as the defending champions, club coach Trude Yen is welcoming the “refreshing new challenges”.

The league will also see change with the relegation of Junction Stella from the championship after a round-robin grading tournament last weekend.

The Junction side was replaced in the league by Wests League Balance 2, who will join the seven other clubs as they battle for a chance to be crowned the best in Newcastle.

It’s a move Lions’ Yen thinks will boost their rivals to another level, with “even more top tier talent to draw on for the future”, and she welcomes the “new challenges”.

“We don’t really have a crystal ball for the season ahead, because things do change from injuries, form players, and anything can upset the apple cart,” she said.

“That being said, it’s going to be a very tight competition I think, and when I watched the grading games from last weekend there were five really strong teams playing there and they will be right in the mix for the new season.

“We’re just looking forward to putting our best netball out there, no matter who’s in front of us we at Souths want to play the very best that we can and if that leads us back to the grand final this year then that’s just even better. That’s our hope.”

On the other side of the grand final results, West Leagues Balance 1 are entering the league as the ‘team to beat’ for the first time after their stellar 2017 campaign.

While the new season, and the ever strengthening competition, doesn’t exactly make Wests head coach Tracey Baggs “nervous”, she admitted she’s certainly “really excited for the season to begin”.

“The competition has become very strong, and all eight teams have recruited really well in the offseason,” Baggs said. “It’s good for the region to continue to strengthen.”

“It’s so hard to predict what’s going to happen in the opening weeks of the competition, and so much of it hinges on which players are out week to week because of how close it is. We’re looking forward to it all, for both Wests 1 and 2.”

The first round of the Newcastle Open Championship will see defending premiers West Leagues Balance 1 face off against Maryville Tavern Alize, while Souths Lion will welcome Wests 2 to the competition.

Forsythes will play BNC Whanau in the other 2.30pm match on Saturday, while Souths Pride and Nova Thunder round out the opening four matches of the season.

First published as: Wests prepare for title defence