Netball: Franchises forced overseas to fill spots

By Dana Johannsen

A number of Kiwi franchises have been forced to look offshore to fill gaps in their squads for next year's transtasman league with the Waikato/Bay of Plenty Magic grabbing the bulk of the Silver Ferns talent.

The ANZ Championship squads were released last night, with confirmation the Magic have signed defender Leana de Bruin, bringing the number of Silver Ferns in their line-up to six.

With the Magic holding the powerbase of New Zealand netball, three Kiwi teams have included overseas players in their line-ups.

The Northern Mystics have signed English shooter Pamela Cookey, while the Canterbury Tactix have pulled off a major coup in signing star defender Sonia Mkoloma.

The Pulse are yet to reveal which import they have settled on, with competition organisers granting the beleaguered franchise another 20 working days to finalise their line-up.

Both the Pulse and the Tactix applied to Netball New Zealand for dispensation to sign a second overseas player, but their applications were turned down by the national body.

Netball New Zealand chief executive Raelene Castle acknowledged having the Ferns players concentrated in one area has made it extremely difficult for the remaining franchises to assemble competitive teams.

"It does make it very challenging for other franchises when a large portion of the Silver Ferns are all with one franchise and certainly for guaranteeing the competitiveness of the competition that's not our ideal scenario moving forward," she said.

Mystics chief executive Mark Cameron said with New Zealand light on experienced shooters, he had no option but to look to international players to plug a gap in his squad.

"There's a lot of exciting young talent coming through, but we just need that little bit more experience. Ideally we would love to have one of the Silver Ferns in that mix, but that wasn't to be so we have looked offshore."

But Cameron said he was thrilled to be able to lure a player of Cookey's calibre to Auckland.

The inclusion of Cookey will shore up the Mystics' shooting end following the loss of Paula Griffin to the Pulse. While Cookey had a poor series against the Ferns in England's October tour, she was one of the stand-out players for England at the World Champs, and is rated very highly by her national coach Sue Hawkins.

With the Mystics having already signed Cathrine Latu and Vilimaina Davu as their ineligible players, it took a great deal of reshuffling to make room for the English shooter.

The Mystics have applied to the international netball federation (IFNA) to have Latu declared eligible to represent the Silver Ferns, while Davu has applied for New Zealand citizenship to ensure the Auckland franchise meet Netball NZ's rules of having one import a resident of New Zealand.

Latu was born in New Zealand and has played all her netball here, but was deemed an import in the league as she turned out for Samoa at the last World Champs.

Cameron said any change in national allegiances requires IFNA approval.

"[IFNA] have to approve a change in eligibility and what they're really looking for is an indication from Cathrine that she is committed to playing for New Zealand and she isn't going to do a flip-flop and go back to playing for Samoa when it suits her."

Mkoloma's inclusion in the Tactix came as somewhat of a surprise with the English star attracting offers from several Australian clubs. At one stage she looked likely to join the defending champion NSW Swifts but it is understood the athletic defender's unavailability for the pre-season was the deal-breaker.

For the Tactix, the signing of Mkoloma comes at the expense of former Australian shooter Jo Morgan, who was named in the Canterbury side's preliminary squad.

With the Tactix application for a second overseas import denied, they were forced to choose between Morgan and Mkoloma. The Tactix have been granted a further 20 days to fill the remaining spot on their roster.

The Southern Steel also have one spot available in their squad after losing the battle to sign Australian shooter Megan Dehn.

The Steel had hoped to re-sign Dehn, who played for them last year, after Jenny-May Coffin withdrew from the squad. But Dehn made a late decision to join the Queensland Firebirds next year, leaving the Steel still searching for a replacement.

- NZ Herald

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