Daniel Richardson is a Wellington-based sports journalist for NZME. News Service.

Netball: Leota completes the Pulse puzzle

The final piece of the Central Pulse puzzle has arrived in a 1.68m package all the way from England in the form of Liana Leota. Photo / Getty Images.
The final piece of the Central Pulse puzzle has arrived in a 1.68m package all the way from England in the form of Liana Leota. Photo / Getty Images.

The final piece of the Central Pulse puzzle has arrived in a 1.68m package all the way from England.

It's Liana Leota, the former Silver Fern and mother of two, who has spent the past 18 months overseas with rugby-playing husband Johnny and their young family, including eight-month-old son Torres.

Leota returned to New Zealand with Torres two weeks ago, while husband Johnny and daughter, Brooklyn, 10, will head home in May when Johnny's playing commitments with the Sale Sharks wrap up for the season.

It's taken the better part of six years but the Central Pulse finally have a roster that can genuinely contend for the playoffs in the ANZ Championship because they boast an international-quality player in each starting position.

Shooters Caitlin Thwaites and Donna Wilkins have played at the highest level before while the mid-court of Liana Leota, Camilla Lees and Joline Henry is dynamic and the defensive pairing of Katrina Grant and Te Huinga Reo Selby-Rickit was one of the competition's best last season.

Selby-Rickit is the only one of those seven to have not played a full international but has played for the New Zealand under-21 side and the national Fast5 team.

Wing defence Henry is unlikely to be available for the season's opening game against the Adelaide Thunderbirds in South Australia on Sunday as she recovers from the birth of her first child in the off-season but Daya Wiffen will deputise in her absence.

Wing attack has long been a position of concern for the Pulse and although Lees was a standout there when she pulled on the WA bib last year it meant other positions in the mid-court had to be shuffled and the depth was stretched.

Leota spent time training with English Superleague outfit Manchester Thunder while she was away and played club netball for Trafford but said she wanted to come back to the Pulse in top gear.

"I trained my butt off. I was scared that I'd come back and be the one at the back," she said. "So that was the incentive for me to train hard and I didn't want the excuse that I'd just had the baby. If I was coming back, I was coming back to play."

And there's no doubt that Leota can play.

The 28-year-old was the transtasman league's MVP in 2010 when she played for the Southern Steel and picked up a Commonwealth Games winner's medal with the Silver Ferns in the same year.

Goal attack Wilkins was the Pulse's other major off-season acquisition, which suits Leota just fine given their history playing together in Invercargill - which also took place under Pulse coach Robyn Broughton when she used to direct traffic at the Steel.

Leota had only been back in New Zealand four days when her and Wilkins returned to the court in a practice game for the Pulse last week.

"I felt like we had never left each other," Leota said. "We'd just turn and let the ball go and sometimes I couldn't even see her and I was letting the ball the ball go so that makes it easy."

That on-court chemistry has rarely existed in the yellow dress of the Pulse after constant roster changes during their first five years of existence so expect to hear plenty about the Leota to Wilkins delivery in to the shooting circle this season.


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