Concerns that the young talent in the Northern Mystics line-up may be wasted away on the bench in this year's transtasman league have been dismissed by coach Debbie Fuller.
Having added English import Jade Clarke and former Canterbury defender Charlotte Kight to the team that contested the ANZ Championship grand final last year, Fuller has a wealth of talent at her disposal, particularly in the defence end.
How she plans to juggle all that talent will become clearer in tomorrow's round one clash against the Central Pulse at Trusts Stadium, but Fuller has promised to make full use of the depth in her squad this year.
"Benching" is no longer a word in the Mystics vocabulary - instead the term "interchange" is preferred.
"When you call it benching it kind of has negative connotations, and that's not how we view it. We see it as all the players in the team are fully capable and we are looking to use the strengths of our entire squad," said Fuller. "Some players suit a certain style of game, some might suit others, so we just want to change the whole approach around replacing players."
But no matter how politely you word it, no player enjoys sitting on the sideline.
The challenge for Fuller is ensuring her players buy in to the approach, and don't become disillusioned when they are not getting the same court time they have come to expect. The Mystics coach stresses she is not running a rotational policy, and any changes made will be strategic and considered.
Fuller said the pre-season tournament in Tauranga this month allowed her to test her line-up against different styles of play, which gave her plenty of data on which combinations are most effective against those styles.
"We've been able to narrow down our lines to counter certain opposition," she said.
While on the surface tomorrow's game between last year's beaten finalists and the perennial strugglers in the league appears a rather uninspiring match-up, the events of the off-season have added plenty of interest in the clash.
It will be the first time former Steel stalwart Robyn Broughton officially leads her new side in yellow, becoming the first ANZ Championship coach to lead two separate teams in the competition.
The arrival of Broughton in Wellington, plus some clever recruiting, means the Pulse come in to the 2012 season in the unusual position of having big expectations placed on them
The new-look side includes Joline Henry, who will no doubt be motivated against her former side, and shooter Paula Griffin. The pair round out a competitive line-up at the Pulse that includes their Silver Fern team mates Katrina Grant and Camilla Lees, along with highly-rated Australian shooter Caitlin Thwaites.
The Thunderbirds and the NSW Swifts will contest the opening game of the 2012 season in Adelaide today. New Swifts coach Lisa Beehag will be looking to get her reign off to a strong start, but she is missing a key defensive weapon with Mo'onia Gerrard still hampered by an ankle injury.
The Firebirds will open their season tomorrow afternoon on the same court they blitzed their way past the Mystics in last year's grand final to claim the ANZ crown. The Queensland side face the Melbourne Vixens in Brisbane.
In Monday night's clash, the Waikato/Bay of Plenty Magic take on the Southern Steel in Invercargill - the first test for their new lean, mean touring squad. The Magic will be taking just 10 players on the road this season in an effort to reduce costs and maintain a competitive environment in their squad.By Dana Johannsen Email Dana