Netball: Steel much more than meets the eye

By Adrian Seconi

Natasha Chokljat of the Steel looks to pass the ball during the round eight ANZ Championship match between the Melbourne Vixens and the Southern Steel. Photo / Getty Images
Natasha Chokljat of the Steel looks to pass the ball during the round eight ANZ Championship match between the Melbourne Vixens and the Southern Steel. Photo / Getty Images

Otago-Southland team have seen major upheaval with just three players returning from last season.

There will be no excuses coming out of the Steel camp this season. It is just everybody else who is excusing the franchise.

The combined Otago-Southland team have been through a huge upheaval during the past 12 months. The franchise has a new management team, the coaching staff has changed and, incredibly, there are just three players returning from last season.

The new-look Steel lost all five games during the ANZ Championship pre-season tournament in Tauranga, which helped to further lower expectations.

The team has been widely written off in the media, by the public and by just about everyone. And that suits captain Jodi Brown just fine.

The former Silver Ferns shooter has some inside knowledge. While the team appears new, it actually bears a close resemblance to the Otago Rebels side of 2007.

Brown captained that side, sister-in-law Janine Southby coached the team and is now the Steel co-coach, Phillipa Finch helped control the tempo in the midcourt, and defender Demelza McCloud was a standout performer. The foursome have been reunited at the Steel this season.

When you factor in experienced shooter Donna Wilkins and defender Sheryl Scanlan, the team has a hardened core of experienced players.

"There is a sense that we are underdogs and a lot of people have written us off already," Brown said. "That suits us fine because I think we've got experience, plus you can't discount some of our younger players.

"I think the key for us, if we do start getting on a losing streak, is that we don't use the excuse 'we're a young team, we are still coming together'. We need to pinpoint what went wrong on court rather than highlight any inexperience."

Most of the Steel's firepower is at the attack end, with both Brown and Wilkins having played for the Silver Ferns. It is an area where the Steel feel they can be very competitive.

"If we can get our attacking end working properly we could be one of the best attacking ends in New Zealand. We've got Donna and myself in the shooting circle and Courtney [Tairi] and Shannon [Francois] playing in the midcourt - that's a pretty lethal combination."

Perhaps surprisingly, Brown is feeling nervous about her role as captain and had some reservations about how she would manage her relationship with co-coach Southby.

The pair worked together at the Rebels and the last thing you want is for a contest of ideas to develop into a full-scale family feud. That was never the case during their stint with the Rebels, but Southby was new to coaching at that level and Brown was still developing in her role.

"I think we both learned a lot from that situation and, to be fair, there was a little bit of apprehension when Janine was appointed coach and I had signed. But I think we've both taken huge strides since then and we've both learned from some of the little things. It is about getting that balance between family life and netball life. We know when to switch off when we're at family functions and not talk about netball and things like that."

As far as the captaincy goes, Brown will get plenty of help from some of her more ebullient teammates.

"On court I'm not a talker at all and I kind of go into my own shell and concentrate on what I'm doing. But we've got Demelza and Donna, who just bark orders wherever they are and pick up the slack, which is great. But I have to make sure I'm leading the way off court."

The Steel open their campaign against the Waikato-Bay of Plenty Magic in Invercargill on Monday.

- Otago Daily Times

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