Netball: Williams, George back into the fray

Silver Fern Casey Williams. Photo / NZPA
Silver Fern Casey Williams. Photo / NZPA

Bradley Two of New Zealand's biggest names in netball yesterday made their return to the court after lengthy lay-offs.

New Zealand captain Casey Williams and her former Ferns lieutenant Temepara George both made their first top-class appearances since July last year on the opening day of the ANZ Championship preseason tournament in Tauranga.

With last year's transtasman season cut short to accommodate the world netball championships in Singapore, the preseason tournament marks the end of a nine-month break for the competition.

Eighteen players have switched teams during a busy off-season, including Silver Ferns Joline Henry (Mystics to Pulse), Leana de Bruin (Steel to Magic) and Paula Griffin (Steel to Pulse).

The tournament also offered the first glimpse of the new imports who are making their debut this year including English stars Jo Harten and Stacey Francis (Tactix) and Eboni Beckford-Chambers (Fever).

But it was the old-timers who were suffering the most from pre-tournament jitters.

Williams had her first competitive hit-out yesterday after undergoing ankle surgery last September.

Clutching a cold compress to her head following the Magic's opening win over the Southern Steel, an exhausted Williams triumphantly proclaimed - "I survived!"

Williams played three quarters in the Magic's 40-30 win over the Steel and was delighted her lungs were able to last the distance.

"I was very, very nervous. I guess I haven't played a proper game since July so as we were driving over this morning I was getting a bit jittery."

Playing at both goal-keep and goal-defence, Williams proved she hasn't lost her knack of pulling off spectacular intercepts.

But the defender believes her timing and vision could still be improved.

Mystics captain Temepara George, who retired from international netball after the world championships but has committed to one more ANZ season, gave a more generous assessment of her first hit-out since July in the 48-46 win over the Canterbury Tactix.

"I was a bit nervous actually coming into this competition because I hadn't played since the world championships.

"We've had a few training games but the intensity is not the same, but after the games so far I'm really happy with where I'm at, and where our team is at."

Mystics coach Debbie Fuller ran different line-ups in the first and second half of the match, as she juggles the depth in her squad.

Last year's beaten finalists have added strength to their midcourt and defence this season, picking up English import Jade Clarke and former Tactix defender Charlotte Kight.

- NZ Herald

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