Dana Johannsen

Dana Johannsen is a NZ Herald’s chief sports reporter

Netball: Youngsters invited on to midcourt

The experienced Irene van Dyk remains the pick of the New Zealand shooters.  Photo / Dean Purcell
The experienced Irene van Dyk remains the pick of the New Zealand shooters. Photo / Dean Purcell

The midcourt is shaping up to be the biggest selection headache for the Silver Ferns coaching team as they look to plug the gaps left by the loss of three experienced campaigners.

A group of 25 of the country's elite players are trialling for a place in the 2012-13 squad in Auckland this week and coach Waimarama Taumaunu is keeping a close eye on the development of her midcourters.

With Liana Leota and Joline Henry taking time away from the game for family reasons, and Temepara George retiring, Laura Langman is the only midcourter remaining from last year's world championship team.

The Pulse's Millie Lees and Mystics utility Grace Rasmussen are the most experienced contenders for the attacking positions, with Kayla Cullen likely to slot in to Henry's wing defence role.

But Taumaunu is keen to canvas all her options, inviting several young players including Elias Shadrock (Magic), Shannon Francois (Steel) and Gina Crampton (Steel) to trial alongside accelerant squad members Daya Wiffen and Jess Tuki.

Lees' opportunities at international level have been curtailed by her medical studies in recent seasons, but the 23-year-old hopes she'll be able to combine the two this year.

"There is a bit of a gap there in the midcourt and I'm really focusing on trying to get in to that spot," said Lees. "It is a bit of a juggle with uni because I graduate at the end of the year, so if I do get in to the team it is a matter of trying to work out how much time I can take off."

At the beginning of the season Australian-born Kiwi Courtney Tairi had been tipped as another possible solution to the Ferns' midcourt crisis. Tairi is eligible to represent New Zealand and Australia, but with fierce competition across the Tasman for spots on the midcourt, the former Australian under-21 star made the decision to switch allegiances.

Her transition in to the Ferns hit a road block when she suffered a season-ending knee injury playing for the Southern Steel in round seven of the transtasman league.

Tairi, who has returned to Sydney for the off-season, joined the New Zealand squad in camp this week, although her participation on court has been limited to delivering protein shakes for her teammates. But Silver Ferns management are keen to keep Tairi involved with the programme and support her during her recovery from a knee reconstruction. The 24-year-old had surgery 11 weeks ago and she is pleased with the way her knee is progressing.

Competition for spots in other areas of the court is extremely tight.

The shooting end - traditionally a problem area for the Ferns in terms of depth - is all of a sudden flush with talent, with Julianna Naoupu emerging as a genuine option this season and Jodi Brown returning to challenge the incumbents.

But Irene van Dyk remains the pick of New Zealand's shooters. Fresh off a rock solid performance in the Magic's ANZ Championship grand final win, van Dyk was a stand-out at trials yesterday, darting and weaving her way along the baseline to put on a masterclass in shooting.

- NZ Herald

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