Mystics shooter has not slotted into the attack line as seamlessly as hoped
The reality of life without Temepara George is only just hitting home for Silver Ferns shooter Cathrine Latu.
With no obvious successor at wing attack, the retirement of the dynamic midcourt star was always going to have a massive impact on the New Zealand midcourt this season. But what was perhaps overlooked was the impact the loss of George (now Bailey) would have on the development of new shooting combinations.
Ever since she was a raw teenage talent lining up for the Northern Force, Latu has always had Bailey out in front of her delivering the ball into the shooting circle and offering endless chatter.
Latu said over the years she developed an intuitive link with Bailey, which in the end she took for granted.
It is only now dawning on Latu the work she has to do to build those same connections with Silver Ferns midcourters Laura Langman and Camilla Lees.
"There was always going to have to be life after Bubby, I do miss her, but it's about getting the same connection I had with her with the rest of these players," said Latu.
"We knew each other's play inside and out, and that's what Irene and Laura have and that's what we're trying to develop with me as well."
With Latu the most accurate shooter in the transtasman league this season, the Ferns in theory should lose little by throwing her into the shooting circle in place of van Dyk. But the Mystics shooter, who turned 26 on Thursday, has not slotted into the New Zealand attack line as seamlessly as hoped.
Having previously been used off the bench, Latu has been handed a new challenge during the Quad Series, starting for the Ferns in all four of their matches thus far.
But the 1.89m shooter has failed to make the most of her opportunities, with her productivity well down on what it has been at ANZ Championship level.
Latu cannot seem to get the volume of ball from her midcourters that van Dyk gets, which was clearly illustrated with the Ferns' mixed performance against the English on Thursday.
Trialling a new shooting combination of Latu and Jodi Brown in the first half, the New Zealand side went into the main break down 26-24. Once van Dyk and Maria Tutaia were introduced at halftime, it did not take long for the Ferns to wrestle back control of the match from England, going on to record a 57-46 win.
Far from being deterred from continuing to start Latu, the Ferns' performance in Wellington only emphasised to coach Waimarama Taumaunu the need to develop a game plan that doesn't depend so heavily on van Dyk.
She said Latu's struggles during the Quad Series were as much about the way the midcourters are feeding her as about the shooter's movement.
"It is really disappointing we aren't able to get the ball to Cat the way we would like to. So that is going to remain the focus," said Taumaunu.
"With Cat it's still a work in progress to get her to present in a way that we can find her and give her the ball quickly. She is working hard at it, but those connections still have a way to go."
The Silver Ferns will get the chance to work on their combinations in a less pressured environment tomorrow. The Ferns take on South Africa in the fifth leg of the Quad Series in Tauranga. The Proteas have shown steady improvement over the course of the series, but are unlikely to post a competitive scoreline against New Zealand. Australia will meet England in the earlier match-up.
Quad Series - leg 5
Tomorrow, TECT Arena, Tauranga
5.45pm Australia v England
7.55pm Silver Ferns v South Africa