Netball: Bird can be jewel in netball crown

By Anendra Singh

She certainly wasn't an early bird - Ellie Bird, that is.

Okay, a cheap play on her name but the PlusRehab Hastings High School Old Girls' Huias player will be the first to admit she has only just woken up to the realisation that she could rock the netball world if she wanted.

The 19-year-old was earmarked as a potential New Zealand player from a young age and anyone who has seen  her stature on the netball court will tell you why.

At an imposing 1.95cm, the goal shoot offers glimpses of Silver Fern/Magic goal shoot Irene van Dyk, who is 5cm shorter.

Bird last night shot 73 per cent (30/41) as the Huias succumbed 56-37 to unbeaten defending champions Speights Ale House Otane Force in their Hastings Pak'n Save Premier Netball League in Napier.

The league leaders again stamped their supremacy although Huias showed promise in the first quarter (11-9) and the last (10-10) but the Annmarie Kupa-Petera-coached Otane tore their heart out in the middle stages - 26-18 (15-9) at halftime and 46-27 (20-9) in the third spell.

While any hopes of a nail-biting game were dashed, suffice it to say Bird showed she is a rough diamond who, with some coaching, can be a daunting prospect for any opposition.

While basketballers talk about how one cannot coach height, Huias coach Kaylene Higgs has her work cut out.

"She's got huge potential and we've tried to nurture her," Higgs said, emphasising there has to be a sense of dedication from both parties if Bird is to materialise into a jewel in the netball crown.

"You've got to have the natural ability and that kind of attitude and I think she's kind of grown up because she went to Australia," Higgs said, adding the former Iona College pupil was still a work in progress and had grown 2.5cm in a year.

Pedigree isn't something Bird lacks. She is the sister of Otane shooter Jess Bird (1.85m tall) who is still at Iona under coach Becky Kupa and also a sibling of former CHB and New Zealand age-group representative Dominic Bird, who is in the Crusaders Development squad this year.

"I've been adventuring [sic] in Western Australia for 11 months, 11 days.

"A day before I arrived here I decided I wanted to come back home because I was missing my family," she said last night.

The ex-St Joseph's School pupil, of Waipukurau, said she got pushed around into myriad positions at the primary age before finding a niche as a shooter.

"I was just talking to my father [John Bird] and decided last Sunday night I want to go to the Eastern trials [on June 30]."

As Otane assistant coach Tammy Kupa pointed out, shooters are only as good as their feeders. Regrettably only Huias centre Leanne Taylor had the foresight to loop the ball to Bird in an inverted U fashion. Others, too often, rifled passes at Bird's chest, making them easy intercepts for young Otane GK Rhiarna Ferris and GD Briar Chalmers.

Higgs felt her girls failed to stick to their game plan probably partly because they didn't understand it.

"We can't run with Otane. We need to niggle them a little bit."

Tammy Kupa said it felt harder last night with Bird creating some havoc in their defensive circle.

"Rhi [Ferris] got there in the end but she had to adjust," the player/assistant coach said, adding it was something to work on.

Otane GS Chris Leppien lifted her accuracy to 80 per cent (38/47) before hobbling off but still has a way to go to hit that magical 90-plus mark.

Starting as WA before going to GA, Tammy Kupa shot 67 per cent (16/24) while Amanda Hynes struggled at 14 per cent (1/7).

Huias goal attack Millie Ironside shot 54 per cent before hobbling off with an ankle injury in the final quarter.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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