Dana Johannsen

Dana Johannsen is the NZ Herald’s chief sports reporter

Netball: Med student to cure midcourt headache

Ferns' muddled performance against Australia highlights Lees' sudden rise.

Camilla Lees says she is excited to be considered an integral part of the team now.  Photo / Sarah Ivey
Camilla Lees says she is excited to be considered an integral part of the team now. Photo / Sarah Ivey

Waimarama Taumaunu accepted the Silver Ferns' midcourt was going to be a headache for her this season, but the cold compress has probably been getting more use than she'd like.

As the Ferns embark on the New Zealand leg of the Quad Series, beginning against England in Wellington tonight, Taumaunu finds herself back at square one with her midcourt.

With the absence of Camilla Lees reducing their already very limited options, the Ferns struggled over the first half of the series in Australia, which culminated in a confidence-sapping 20-goal thumping at the hands of the Diamonds.

Newcomer Bailey Mes has not progressed as swiftly as Taumaunu had hoped, while Grace Rasmussen's late withdrawal from the tour through injury did not help matters.

It meant that in Sunday's test against Australia all three midcourters - Anna Harrison, Kayla Cullen and Laura Langman - were effectively playing out of position.

The results were disastrous.

The Ferns' muddled performance against Australia highlighted Lees' sudden rise through the team ranks.

In the space of three games the 23-year-old medical student, who rejoined the team in Wellington this week, has gone from a fringe player to a key member of the national programme.

Lees said she was excited to be considered an integral part of the team now.

"I feel like it is a huge pat on the back that Wai is pleased to have me back and thinks I can offer that stability in the midcourt," said Lees.

Taumaunu said it was fortunate that Lees had stood up as well as she did over the Constellation Cup series as the New Zealand coach would now otherwise be staring into a rather bare midcourt cupboard.

"She just got an opportunity in the Constellation Cup which ... a lot of people were taking a deep breath wondering how it would turn out," said Taumaunu. "She grasped it with both hands and away she went. So she's now someone who would be considered an incumbent and other people coming back off injury and retirement or babies have to be thinking pretty hard about how they get rid of her."

Despite having Lees back, Taumaunu isn't about to shelve plans to convert Cullen into a centre.

The youngster copped a lot of the blame for the Ferns' bungled attack and lacklustre defensive showing against the Diamonds, but Taumaunu is convinced Cullen is a star midcourter in the making.

But the biggest question mark over Cullen's shift to the midcourt has not been her suitability for the role, but rather the wisdom of playing Langman - the best centre in the world on current form - at wing attack.

Langman admits she is finding the new position tough going.

"It's really challenging, it's a hard position to get your head around," she said. "You're playing the game with your back to where you want to go, so that is completely different to centre where you have free rein to run on to the game."

Lees and Jodi Brown, who also missed the first half of the series in Australia, are likely to feature prominently tonight and in Sunday's match against South Africa to allow the pair a chance to re-establish their combinations.

Quad Series - leg 4

TSB Bank Arena, Wellington
Tonight, Live on Sky Sport 1
6pm: Australia v South Africa
8.20pm: Silver Ferns v England.

- NZ Herald

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