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Steel adds more firepower to established squad - July 7, 2022

The Ascot Park Hotel Southern Steel has retained the bulk of its squad and added international calibre midcourter Sam Winders to the mix for the 2023 season.

After nine years with the Splice Construction Magic, Winders, 27, ventures south to link with the Steel for next year’s ANZ Premiership and joins a formidable midcourt featuring Silver Ferns Shannon Saunders and Kate Heffernan along with the talented Renee Savai’inaea.

Head coach Reinga Bloxham expected intense competition to earn bibs.

“Sam is a player that I consider to have high standards and great professional habits. I’m hoping she will bring that intensity and drive to our training environment to raise the bar for others. She will bring an edge to our midcourt that provides competition. Everyone will need to bring their best to fight for those bibs. She is always up for a challenge and she will provide our midcourt versatility,” she said.

“When you get too comfortable you can sometimes relax and in a high performance environment you should feel challenged and feel a little tension constantly. So, I think there will be great competition in the midcourt.”

Winders, who has 47 Silver Ferns tests to her credit, is the only addition to the Steel squad. England international George Fisher spearheads the attack with shooters Saviour Tui and Georgia Heffernan, while Te Huinga Reo Selby-Rickit, Kate Burley and Sarahpheinna Woulf provide the defensive prowess.

“George returning was an easy decision for us. She brings so much to our team on and off the court. She has embraced living here in the south and is very engaging with the community. She always has something to contribute to our team meetings and isn’t afraid to share her thoughts. We have quite a number of players who are quiet and George brings noise and spark to our team culture.”

Bloxham felt the team was bursting with potential.

“What I want is for us to show that each week while improving on our performances. It excites me to think that we have so much more to give,” she said.

“It’s awesome to keep most of the team to help with momentum and growth. I felt we found some good performances throughout the season and with more time together we will solidify those performances,” Bloxham said.

“In terms of knowing each other it gives us a step ahead but we also need to know how to get the best out of each other which will be our next step. Our culture is always something we pride ourselves on building so to have those connections early will help.

“Having settled combinations has been something that we have all been challenged with this season. With all the changes and adaptions it has made us coaches think differently so I’m ok with not having a ‘settled combination’ because it allows us to grow depth, trust and hunger to fight for the bib.”

It was a case of ‘unfinished business’.

“2022 was a season like no other I have experienced. There are moments within the season that I was happy with and performances that we all can be very proud of but our goal was to make top 3 so that doesn’t sit well with me,” Bloxham said.

“2023 allows us another chance to try and go a step further and, with most of the squad returning, it feels like unfinished business. I will be expecting my players to take a step up now that they have had a fair amount of court time.”

Bloxham paid tribute to hardworking midcourter Ali Wilshier who has been a strong contributor to the team over the past two seasons.

“Recruitment is a time when some of the toughest decisions have to be made as a coach,” Bloxham said.

“What Ali did bring to our Steel whanau was her best self. She was an absolute beast in the gym. She never backed down to one of our strength and conditioning coach Mikey’s horrible sessions – in fact, she would rise to the challenge to show him it could be done.”


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