Steel set to embark on pre-season tour - February 4, 2017
Two games against Australia’s newest team, the Sunshine Coast Lightning, will add an increased intensity to the Ascot Park Hotel Southern Steel’s preseason campaign.
The squad departs for Australia on Tuesday, albeit without Silver Ferns Shannon Francois, Gina Crampton. Te Paea Selby-Rickit and Jane Watson who are on tour in the UK. Coach Reinga Bloxham has opted to bolster the ranks with training partner Ngawai Eyles and Netball South development squad members Sophie Erwood, Aliyah Dunn and Dani Gray.
Bloxham is eager to add tough match play into the mix as the team prepares for the inaugural ANZ Premiership season. The Lightning boasts a formidable roster of international stars the calibre of Silver Fern legend Laura Langman, Australian Diamonds shooters Caitlin Bassett and Stephanie Wood, South African defender Karla Mostert and England’s Geva Mentor.
“Our main objective is to obviously get on the court and run some combinations against a quality side in a different training environment. We won’t have our Silver Ferns but it gives the others a chance to get out on court and experience that next level of high performance netball. It’s a wonderful chance for them to show us what they’ve got,” Bloxham said.
In the ANZ Premiership, teams contract just 10 players for the season so the trip will prove valuable exposure for the Steel’s fringe players.
“With this new competition structure, we have training partners who at any moment could be called into the squad if there’s a niggle or an injury so it’s important to know we have some depth in our stocks.”
Towering 1.98m Jamaican sharpshooter Jhaniele Fowler-Reid arrived in Invercargill on Saturday and will make her first appearance with the team for 2017.
“It’s fantastic to welcome Jhaniele back to her Steel family. It will be nice for her to just be amongst us again and get back on the court after the off-season. It might be a bit of a baptism of fire but at least she won’t have to acclimatise too much initially on the Sunshine Coast compared to Invercargill,” Bloxham said.
The trip to warmer climes will also provide an important team-building element as the southerners prepare for an intense ANZ Premiership campaign.
“For these players, even though netball is their job, they play this game because they love it. This provides us with a good opportunity to build on our team culture as well as our performance culture while we’re over there so it’s hugely important that they just have an opportunity to just hang out in a different environment while living and breathing the game for a whole week.”
The Steel will reconnect with former coach and mentor Noeline Taurua, who is now at the helm of the Lightning.
“We’re really keen to link in with the Sunshine Coast Lightning prior to our game days just to do some netball skills with Noeline and her crew – just have a real run against each other in a training environment first and then get into some match play.
“The beauty of having somebody like Noels in their ranks, she’s just taking everything and rolling with it so I’m sure the Lightning realise just how lucky they are to have a leader like her. It’s an amazing opportunity for us to go over there. It’s all new – the franchise is new, the facilities are new but the people there are already so welcoming and we’re really looking forward to it.”
The Steel’s opening ANZ Premiership game is against the Northern Stars in Hamilton on March 26 – the first of three Super Sunday events featuring all six teams competing at the same venue. While its first home game is against the Magic at ILT Stadium on April 10, the Steel will host a Super Sunday on April 30 and play a total of five games in Invercargill and two in Dunedin.
Memberships for the 2017 season are now on sale from ILT Stadium Southland, the Edgar Centre or online at www.ticketdirect.co.nz.