That is admittedly a bold and possibly foolhardy thing to say about any Wellington-based sporting franchise, but this Central Pulse season does have a fair bit of optimism about it.
Since the inception of the ANZ Championship, the going has been tough. At times the Pulse were the laughing stock of the competition, and any win could be considered the highlight of the season. Gradually this has turned around. Since the appointment of Robyn Broughton and Katrina Grant as coach and captain, respectively, in 2012, there has been clear improvement on the court, and an increasingly optimistic vibe off it (including a new naming rights sponsor in Mojo coffee).
Adding to this is the announcement of a modified tournament structure for 2015. The new format, which is similar to that currently used in Super Rugby, sees the Australian and New Zealand teams split into two conferences. A guaranteed three teams from these conferences will then progress through to a restructured finals series. The reality is that finishing in the top three New Zealand sides is demonstrably easier than finishing in the top four in a combined table.
Some people have criticised this format, arguing that it does not guarantee that the six best teams make the play-offs, and that conference systems should be confined to US competitions. But if any franchise benefits from the change, it is the Central Pulse.
This is our year. The year when the former cellar dwellers make it onto the big stage. The history of the franchise is partly why Wellingtonians are embracing the steady improvement. We are used to accepting disappointment with self-deprecating humour and we cherish the good times.
That is why the Pulse is connecting with its fan base. This is not the over-commercialised face of modern sport — we see the players out and about, they have other jobs, and we can identify with them.
Children under 16 make up 22 percent of season ticket-holders, which is a particularly refreshing statistic in an era when professional sport is viewed as increasingly disconnected from those playing at grassroots level.
A quick look through the playing roster highlights the diversity within the squad. Ama Agbeze, the former England international, is a qualified lawyer. Elias Shadrock works at the ASB Sports Centre. Whitney Souness is at university, and is seen as a star of the future. Hannah Poff returns to netball after a stint playing rugby sevens. These are real people with diverse back stories. Fans can relate to that.
In addition, the teams includes some big names in netball. Silver Fern Katrina Grant is the captain, and Joline Henry, another member of the national squad, is the vice captain. These two are both entering their fourth season for the Pulse franchise and form the backbone of the side.
The international experience does not end there though. Te Huinga Reo Selby-Rickit is another from the class of 2012, and Liana Leota, who played for the Pulse five weeks after giving birth last season, is now a regular in the mid-court.
The new signings strengthen the squad further. Former Queenslander Ameliaranne Wells completes her nationality switch, and Jodi Brown, the 42-test veteran, joins the squad, adding even more experience.
Then there is the farewell season for Irene Van Dyk. We have forgiven her for those years playing in Hamilton, and this is the last chance to see arguably the world’s best netballer in action.
That all adds up to an exciting year ahead. As the tagline for the 2015 season says, “All Charged Up”.
The ANZ Championship starts on 28 February and the Mojo Pulse’s first home game is on 8 March at Te Rauparaha Arena in Porirua against the Queensland Firebirds. Memberships are on sale now from pulse.org.nz.